'Invest in Sydney': Aussie rules on the rise in NSW

When GWS Giants captain Alicia Eva made the switch from Collingwood in 2017, she expected Australian women's football to go under the radar.

Eva has since proven herself wrong, leading her side into a packed North Sydney Oval for a clash on Sunday against cross-town rivals Sydney.

More than 5000 fans filled the venue from its grassy hill to its three grandstands to watch the hotly anticipated derby.

The Swans snatched their maiden AFLW win with a 7.9 (51) to 7.4 (46) upset over the Giants that brought fans from both sides to their feet.

“There is a presence of AFL, it’s just very different to what I'd experienced in Melbourne,” Eva told AAP.

“It's well documented that NSW for a long time has been a rugby heartland.

“Up here, we've got to do things differently but I really love the opportunity.”

Outgoing AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan boldly claimed Queensland as an Australian footballing state earlier this year in July, with its participation rates hitting a new record of 68,000 registered players.

AFLW chief Nicole Livingstone said the AFL was confident it can do the same in NSW.

“We need an oval a week for the next five years to be able to keep up with the growth that we have already,” Livingstone told AAP.

“We have funding that's gone into Henson Park (in Sydney’s inner-west) and then obviously, we have Manuka Oval in the ACT so we are strategically spreading AFLW so that it can get to more fans.”

The women's competition has had a palpable impact in the region, resulting in a 60 per cent increase of girls participating in the AFL’s junior program Auskick in NSW and the ACT.

This increase has meant the introduction in NSW of a stand-alone under-9s girls competition in 2024, breaking away from the current mixed age group.

Women and girls comprise 27 per cent of all community footballers in 2023, with girls representing 30 per cent of all Auskickers in NSW and the ACT.

Eva said the next major step for the AFL was to develop a second-tier state competition, similar to the VFL and SANFL, to provide a clearer path to professionalism for women.

“It’s a critical part of retaining talent in NSW,” the midfielder said.

“We've seen a lot of young girls come up through junior pathways and they want to play footy as a profession and they want to take their game to the next level.

“A lot of the VFL clubs are aligned to current AFLW programs, so those players are getting access to AFLW-like facilities, coaches, and education for 12-months.

“That's probably something that players miss out on up here and they look for other opportunities interstate or elsewhere."

Eva said she hoped the AFL would continue to invest in Sydney, "in ways where we can get creative".

“(The Giants) have to do things differently as a club because we're young, but also because we've got a really multicultural supporter base," she said.

“We want to bring new people into the game, people that haven't necessarily grown up with AFL.

“I think it only strengthens the game when we bring in a more diverse supporter base.

“We've just got to continue to invest to create pathways to get more of those athletes through the doors.”

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