Inaugural AFLW 2017

3 May 2017
Dr Rachel Harris

Early 2017 saw the commencement of the inaugural Women’s AFL National competition, and ACSEP Registrars were soon to be involved in the medical care of players across the country. Seven of the eight teams in this year’s competition were lucky enough to have ACSEP Registrars as their team Doctors, and we were honoured to be involved in this inaugural competition.

Adelaide was represented by Drs Duncan Walker and Viran de Silva, who can now claim to be part of the first ever winning premiership team. Adelaide Football Club was unique in that half of its players were NT based and the other half were SA based, so having a Doctor in each state provided coverage of the players during the week, with Duncan and Viran sharing game coverage. ACSEP Registrars provided medical coverage to six other teams in the competition:

  • Dr Danielle Hope at Carlton
  • Dr Andrew Aldous at Collingwood
  • Dr Casey Whife and Dr Rachel Harris at Fremantle
  • Dr Anthony Henderson at GWS
  • Dr Laura Lallenec at Melbourne
  • Dr Samantha May at Western Bulldogs

We also had several other Registrars who covered for one-off games and many of the Fellows involved at the AFL level and in the medical departments of the respective football clubs.

Registrar involvement for each team included:

  • Pre-season screening of players for injuries, cardiac abnormalities and illnesses
  • Baseline and post-concussion assessment
  • Optimisation of players’ overall health
  • Education on anti-doping, medication use and supplements
  • Injury assessment, investigation and management
  • Overall player well being
  • Ensuring compliance with AFLW medical policies

The competition represented a milestone in the previously male dominated AFL competition, and was a huge milestone in representation of women in the greater sporting landscape, with 2017 also seeing free to air coverage of Super Netball and Cricket.

Challenges for our Doctors included ACL injuries and concussions, iron deficiency, team travel with minimal pre- and post-game time to recover from travel, athletes working full time jobs and attempting to fit in a full training load, and a short 8-week season meaning minor musculoskeletal injuries could end a season for a player. It was unique for us to start from scratch with policy and implementation, and to create a club environment that would enable optimisation of the health of our players.

There were unique challenges for the competition, with a large group of athletes who had had limited exposure to semi-elite sport, many who had been recruited from sports vastly different to AFL, and finite resources and time to screen and manage players. Involvement in the competition allowed multi-disciplinary team work with coaches, strength and conditioning, physios, football managers, players and allied health professionals including dietitians, psychologists, podiatrists and player welfare. The challenges of working in the inaugural competition were far outweighed by the opportunity to be a part of equality in the Australian sporting landscape. It showcased the fulfilment of dreams of playing, coaching and working in AFL at the highest levels, and seeing sport as a vehicle for societal change.