Western Jets’ girls ready for lift off

Western Jets’ youngster Madison Lister, seventh from left, was one of 12 players representing each TAC Cup girls club at the season launch. Picture AFL Victoria

The advent of the new TAC Cup girls competition will provide future AFL Women’s players with an elite pathway to the big league.

The next generation will be more skilful, more athletic and more attuned to the intricacies of playing football at the elite level once they have completed their apprenticeships in the competition that was launched last week.

Shane Sexton has long been the regional manager of the Western Jets – employed to recruit, develop and nurture the next wave of star western suburbs footballers – and he is already impressed by the talented girls coming through his club’s ranks.

Sexton got to glimpse some of the young players further down the development track when the Jets played a practice game against Calder Cannons … and he has no doubts that the future of women’s football will be bright.

“I don’t think it’s the unknown any more,” Sexton said. “By and large, they’re [the Cannons program] a year in front of us.

“And the skill of some of their girls – some of our kids were really good too – but they had a couple of players who were right foot, left foot, take a mark over your head … clearance work at the stoppages was impressive, it was just outstanding footy. The girls have got the talent, and there’s going to be enough of them coming through.

“Some of those girls I saw last weekend, in a couple of years’ time, they’ll be playing AFL women’s footy, no doubt about it.”

Western Jets was involved with youth girls football last season. They teamed up with Geelong Falcons to form a combined side to play against a selection of other TAC Cup clubs.

“Those girls played in a series of matches last year,” Sexton said. “This year it has developed again.

“Now every TAC Cup club has got a team,” he said.

The inaugural TAC Cup girls competition will feature 12 clubs and the season will be played over five rounds.

The premiership team will be the side that finishes on top of the ladder, with no finals to be played in the competition’s first season.

The long-term vision for the competition is to eventually run it side-by-side with the TAC Cup.

At the moment, though, it would be seen as too much of a burden on local clubs to overcome losses of their elite players, so that dream is on hold.

“It’s open-ended in terms of how quick this will develop, but there could be a fully fledged TAC Cup girls competition not too far down the track,” Sexton said.

“It was purposely set up to start before the domestic season so the girls can go back to play for their local clubs.

“When the time is right and there are sufficient girls in clubs all over the place, they’ll extend the season.”

The Western Jets will play its first game on March 18 against the Greater Western Victoria Rebels.

The side will be coached by Bridget Barker, who also works in development at North Melbourne Football Club.

Barker and her assistants have been working with a training squad of about 70 Jets hopefuls, with the first team to be picked for round one next week.

“Bridget’s really enthusiastic and is doing a great job,” Sexton said. “She’s come with a fairly significant football background.

“Out of a staff of about 10 people we’ve put together, we’ve only got two males.

“We wanted to have a strong female presence in terms of our coaches.

“It’s going to be a very significant day on March 18 because it’s going to be the first time that it’s ever happened.”