Women loving the chance to work in AFL environment
AFL: Sharni Webb can not only consider herself an inspiration for young sporting girls, but also the boys she teaches at an all-male Brisbane high school.
The physical education teacher, who is now preparing for the official launch of the Women's AFL competition with the Brisbane Lions, coached the boys' under-14 Australian rules team at Ambrose Treacy College last year.
"I got an email from one of the dads at the end of the season saying 'I'm so glad that you are my son's coach because it's so great for them to have strong female role models',” she recalled to News Regional Media ahead of the Lions' first practice match against the GWS Giants tomorrow.
"That made me well up a bit.”
Embarking on her quest to become a part of a watershed year for women's footy, the 25-year-old said the backing from the school and its students had been "awesome”.
"It's so funny, when the draft was on (in October) we had it live streamed when I was supposed to be ... ah, teaching,” she says with a laugh. "My pick came up and they (the students) all went crazy.”
Webb will continue to teach while she steps out for the Lions during the landmark seven-round, eight-team competition backed by the AFL that will be screened on Channel Seven and Fox Footy.
"I've just bought a house in the last six months so I can't afford to take time off,” she said.
"I might just have a day off here and there for travel recovery and they (the school) are fine with it.
"It's only up until Easter, so it's only term one that it's affecting.”
While not on the pay level of their male counterparts yet, Webb and her teammates have embraced the opportunity to work in an AFL environment.
She said preparation has been "a big step up” from club commitments with the University of Queensland and even state level with Queensland, "but I think everyone's really liking the professional side of things”, she added.
"Recovery is so good, we're taken such good care of. We're not going home wrecked and dreading the next session,” she said.
"The expectation has obviously gone up quite a lot with how we prepare.
"We're all getting that disciplined mentality, even down to what you do on your weekend, our diet ... but it's all for the benefit for the upcoming season.”
A former volleyball player who began her football career as a defender, Webb has pinched-hit in the ruck, but found her niche in attack.
She first discovered Aussie rules when living on the Sunshine Coast.
"My three brothers played,” she recalled. "I'd go and watch them most weekends and pick up the ball and have a bit of a kick around.
"I never thought I'd actually play.”
Herself inspired by the only girl playing footy on the Coast, Aasta O'Connor, who is now with the Western Bulldogs, Webb later "begged mum and dad to let me play” with the Caloundra Panthers before shifting to Brisbane for university.
"I look back now and I'm jealous of all the pathways for the youth girls, because there wasn't really an opportunity to be spotted for your talent without travelling to Brisbane,” she said.
Fast forward a decade and things have certainly changed with Aussie rules the fastest-growing female sport in the country - even before a fully fledged club-based national competition has kicked off
"The thought was that it was going to happen in 2020,” Webb said. "The fact that it's starting in 2017 is awesome because there's so many of us who have been playing for a long time who thought when 2020 comes around it's probably too late.
"Everyone is just buzzing.”
The Lions will take the field tomorrow at 2.30pm (AEST) at Giffin Park, Coorparoo, ahead of the first round on February 4.