Collective member Kate O’Halloran has returned to the 3RRR airwaves in time for AFLW season 2020. The show’s assistant producer Emily Fox asked Kate five quick questions about the show, AFLW and her love of sport so we can learn what to expect for the season.
You have a renowned passion for women’s sport, was there any one person in your life that inspired your love of women making sport their own?
Not quite… although I come from a sport-mad family and was constantly inspired by my Grandma, who died last year. She was the first ever woman to win the Australian Open of tenpin bowling – something I’ll tell anyone who will listen! She was very humble and always downplayed it but I’m super proud of her legacy.
My passion for gender equity in sport though is largely driven by my own experience having represented Victoria in cricket when I was much younger. I often tell this story, but I remember some moments that really crystalise my experience of feeling like a “second-class citizen”. This includes the time we were given our “team kit” which was actually hand-me-down Victorian men’s clothes that were very ill-fitting and uncomfortable. They even had the Bushrangers (then Vic men’s mascot) logo on them, and our coach asked if our Mums could sew our Victorian Women’s Cricket Association logo over them! We paid our way to the national championships and when I injured myself (I had bulging discs from age 14 – pitfalls of being a fast bowler) there were no resources or staff to support me. We had no team physio, doctor or anything of the like and I gradually just faded out of the program despite having been such a promising cricketer.
Had I been playing now – given the improvements in pay, resources and facilities for women cricketers – I think my injury would’ve been managed properly and I could’ve stayed active and involved. It’s something I find pretty heartbreaking to reflect on as sport was my life. I guess I channelled all of that frustration into improving conditions for other women in sport now.
This is your second season of Kick Like a Girl and the 4th year of the AFLW. How has women’s football changed for you in these last four years?
I’ve been writing on women’s footy since the exhibition games between Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs – pre-AFLW – and I’ve seen enormous changes in that time. The big one is probably the public interest and credibility – 53k showing up to the grand final last year was so emotionally uplifting for me; what an endorsement of women’s footy!
I still see lots of challenges with the way the competition is managed (particularly the issue of work/life balance as exemplified by Fridge quitting on the verge of the season – as well as several others who have either quit footy or quit their jobs/taken unpaid leave to sustain their participation). I’m a firm believer that we should make AFLW professional as soon as possible and I think the AFL could do that right now if that was a priority (look at the profit they’ve made for several years running – and they’re a not for profit entity!) Surely that carries with it a social responsibility to invest in gender equity and redress more than a century of marginalisation and exclusion of women in sport. But on the positive side – what a joy it is to watch women run out and play who have had uninterrupted pathways to AFLW. I think of the natural footy sense/talent of someone like Maddy Prespakis and I can’t help but be super optimistic for the future. We are still a long way from seeing women and girls reach their full potential in Australian Rules Football – but we’re on a journey there and it’s the one I want to be on board!
We have four new teams and the retention of the conference system this year in an eight round season, do you feel this builds the best competition to showcase women’s football?
Short answer – no. I’m really disappointed that the conference system has been retained. I know there are some champions of women’s football who genuinely back the conference system but I think it’s unnecessarily confusing for fans (particularly those new to Aussie Rules) and I think it’s a sure fire way to undermine the integrity of the competition. Just look at last year and the lopsided Grand Final – I don’t think Carlton should have even played finals when you look at the teams that missed out in Conference A. The only time I see conferences working is when it’s a geographical division like in the U.S. You could plausibly replicate that in Oz, but we haven’t – and we are in a situation where teams don’t JUST play other teams in their conference – they play crossover games too! (Which are randomly determined by “rivalries” defined by the AFL). All for the sake of shortening the season. I believe that fairness of the competition (and gender equity) means that each team plays each other once. We know the men want a shorter season so why not shorten it if you are worried about overlap? So the women play 13 rounds and men play 17? That just makes sense to me… this was really driven home for me when I found out that Meg McDonald would miss half the season with a broken finger. It’s just not fair…
Peta Searle makes her debut this year as the only current female head coach of an AFLW team, what do you think the AFL needs to do to get more women coaching at the highest level?
So many things. You can talk about the need for coaching pathways for women, targeted scholarships and all that – and while I think all that is necessary, I think that’s not the primary issue. There are women coaches out there now (e.g. Bec Goddard) who can’t get a job as a head coach in AFLW despite having all the necessary credentials and experience. That’s crazy to me given someone like Bec has won a premiership. Then there’s Michelle Cowan, Jane Lange… the list goes on. I think the primary issue is nepotism (clubs hiring “who they know”) and gender stereotypes about what a senior coach is like. I think we’re starting to see some shift in AFLM away from the authoritative, alpha male coach, but that hasn’t translated into hiring more women and valuing what women who’ve spent their lives coaching women and girls bring to the game. It’s a different game and just because men have succeeded as players in AFLM doesn’t make them the best people for the job in AFLW. I could go on about this one forever, but I’m extremely saddened to see only one woman as a senior coach and so few assistants. There are a lot of women out there who are much more qualified than some of the men who are coaching at an assistant level and it’s just not right.
Coming into the 2020 season, which new players do you hope to see light up the field?
Nell Morris-Dalton is the one I’m most excited about. She’s got x-factor, grunt and personality in spades. So glad she’s a Bulldog!