Collingwood AFLW star Ash Brazill (Picture: AFL, Design by Will Cuckson)

Taking place over Rounds Seven and Eight, Pride Round is now a fixture for all clubs in season seven of the AFLW. For players and supporters, the significance isn’t just the rainbow-themed guernseys donned during the round but the message of acceptance.

Collingwood AFLW star Ash Brazill spoke exclusively to The Inner Sanctum about what the round means to the players, the fans, and the wider LGBTIQ+ community.

“For me personally I think it’s massive, growing up as a netballer where we didn’t really celebrate Pride Round or anything LGBTIQ+, I think it’s massive for young kids to be able to visually see how important it is and to know that you can be anyone you want and still live your dream,” Brazill told The Inner Sanctum.

“I think that was my biggest thing growing up. I was nervous coming out and talking about my sexuality because I always thought if I did, I’d never make it as an elite athlete whereas now, it’s so visible that to any adult or child that you can be who you wanna be and I think is pretty special and important.”

Last week’s match was also a celebration for the Magpies with captain Steph Chiocci finally playing her 50th game after serving a week’s suspension to put the milestone off. A real pioneer in the women’s game Chiocci has captained Collingwood since its inception.

Brazill speaks about Steph’s impact at the club and how Chiocci celebrated her own milestone during the week.

“She’s a cracker, I think she sent everyone her highlight reel from the previous years, which is just classic Steph but she’s purely our leader and our captain because of how much she cares about our team and not just our team but every person individually,” Brazill explained.

“She knows what each person needs and if they just need a pat on the back or if they actually do need a hug. It’s obviously easier to captain when you’ve got a good young group around you but the fact that she knows how to support the older athletes as well everyone loves her and it wouldn’t be our team without her.”

When looking at her season as a whole, Brazill has played down forward which is a change in role for her moving from half-back. When asked about the move she explained that it was sparked by a conversation with head coach Stephen Symonds during the previous season, she says she’s still learning but enjoying the challenge.

“I think the best thing for me was to have a change-up, I spoke to Steve in previous seasons and I was like I want to change, I want to learn something different. I’m a wing defence in netball and I’m a halfback playing footy, it’s pretty much the same position,” Brazill recalled.

“I’d always joke, just let me try something different and was purely joking because half the time I can’t even kick straight, to be honest [down] forward so Steve took that on board.

“Learning something new is a big thing for me and it’s definitely challenging. I’m a defender at heart and instinctively a defender so learning a big new role but loving it because it’s so different.”

Season seven marks the first time the AFLW has had two seasons run within the same calendar year over the traditional summer fixture as well as the post-AFL fixture of the current season. Seeing how this timeslot for the fixture is handled by the players is the most important thing and Brazill agrees with the move for the most part.

“When I signed [up], I signed up for a summer sport and now I’m playing a winter sport so it is freezing, I hate training in the rain, I’m definitely a netballer in that regard,” Brazill explained.

“I think it’s great for the sport I think they should definitely keep it here. One thing I did find was when it was summertime we had great attendance because everyone missed footy and so people who probably weren’t going to AFLW or weren’t a fan before but loved footy, in general, would come to our games.

“As soon as the men’s game would start which would be AFLW finals time, the numbers would drop off so I love that there’s no conflicting games now so if you love footy, you are gonna be there and support the players regardless of if they are male or female, I definitely love that it’s this time of the year.”

A big talking point for the team has been the season-ending injuries in season six to co-captain Bri Davey and star midfielder Brittany Bonnici. With 82 games worth of AFLW experience, it was feared that the Magpies would struggle without the duo.

Moving into roles off-field this season, Brazill details their impact on game-day and around the club helping players on-field with their performance.

“Obviously we miss them, can’t imagine what our team would look like having them back in, I think they are our missing piece at the moment,” she said.

“‘Britta’ (Bonnici) is in the box every single game so she’s learning a completely new role and hearing new things and learning completely different languages with what the coaches are saying.

“‘Bri’ (Davey) is just the heart and soul of our team. She’s [been] on the bench so I know like last week I felt that I had an off game and to be able to come off and sit next to her and be [able to ask her] like what am I doing and [her] giving me some pointers, she’s someone that can just read the game so well and give me something so simple to focus on.

“They are both players you know you are always gonna say everyone’s replaceable and that but they are players that you can’t replace. [Bonnici’s] grit over the ball, head over the ball first mentality is unbelievable. And ‘Bri’ is someone that you can’t ever take to ground no matter how many players are on her so we’ve lost our best forward and our best back.”

She also explains how their omissions have made way for the development of the dynamic young pair in Ruby Schleicher (47 games) and Chloe Molloy (42 games). Both with sizeable games totals under their belt, the pair have had solid contributions within the midfield rotation instead of down forward (Molloy) and down back (Schleicher).

“Chloe Molloy and Ruby Schleicher being in the middle as much as we miss them at either end, I think they’ve stepped up in the middle and learning a new role but would love to see Molloy probably back in the forward line a bit more.”

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