AFLW’s first-round ACL injury streak highlights plight of semi-professional athletes

“It hurts my stomach just thinking about it,” Bec Goddard said in a commentary for Channel Seven.

The incident, as they so often do, seemed trivial.

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Isabel Huntington, the Bulldogs’ first draft pick in 2017, led in a scoring contest, the ball passing over her fingers as she gathered against the turf, hugging her knee.

There was no need for a medical evaluation; the wry nod said it all.

“It’s the knee for Huntington,” said Jason Bennett.

“Please, no,” pleaded the commentator.

In the margin, as much as in the surface, all thoughts of the dashboard were suspended.

Bulldogs and Demons fans fell silent when it became clear that the 2020 rising star would be lost to the competition for another year.

However, as Premiership coach Goddard added, ACL’s impact in AFLW is felt far more than football.

“It’s his life, it’s his study, it’s his job,” said the future AFLW Hawks coach.

“This has an impact on everything except the fact that she will be out of the game for a long time if [an ACL injury] arrived.

On Monday afternoon, the club confirmed that Huntington had severed his right ACL.

“We are absolutely devastated for Izzy,” said Debbie Lee, general manager of women’s football for the West Bulldogs.

“She is a beloved figure in the kennel, and everyone is well aware of her battles with injuries, so we are heartbroken for her.”

AFLW players’ sacrifices are evident in the scourge of ACL

In a devastating blow to the competition, a similar scene repeated itself not once but twice on Sunday.

The first casualty was Kate Lutkins, 33, the Lions’ best on floor during their PM breakthrough against Adelaide last season.

The three-time All Australian defender chased down the Crows’ Danielle Ponter before a last-minute change in management left her face in the grass.

Then, with just under four minutes to play in the traditional first round match between Carlton and Collingwood, last year’s co-best and fairest winner Bri Davey was shot in the same action – a change of last minute direction in an attempt to confront his opponent.

From a biomechanical standpoint, these were classic ACL injuries, which often occur when players land on one leg or decelerate to stop and change direction.

Much has been written about the greater incidence of AFLW players injuring their ACLs (compared to AFL players), with a multitude of contributing factors at play.

One of them, which is worth mentioning in light of Goddard’s comments, is the semi-professional nature of the competition which sees players balancing careers, education and livelihoods with the short AFLW season.

Players who suffer from ACL and other serious injuries are on a six-month contract but must readjust year-round for a three-month season.

The mental toll this brings to the players cannot be ignored and is something star footballer and netballer Ash Brazill spoke about for the CBA last year.

“Once you’re injured you become a person – you don’t hear from your teammates anymore, you don’t hear as much from your coaches as before – and it was really hard for me,” he said. she stated at the time.

Against this backdrop, the AFL’s recently released vision for women’s football, which aims to make the highest paid AFLW female players of all domestic women’s competitions in Australia, is a welcome first step.

As Paul Marsh, CEO of the AFL Players Association (AFLPA) recently told the ABC, however, more detail was needed on how and when the AFL saw professionalization occur, with players apparently at “breaking point”.

Field highlights abound but crowds are dwindling due to COVID-19

The devastating injuries cast a veil over a sleeve that has otherwise served a multitude of field highlights.

In a stint of play from the first round, Gabby Seymour’s contested ruck job threw a series of six smooth Tiger handballs that ended with Katie Brennan coldly hitting Courtney Wakefield for a contested mark.

It was a spectacular example of the year-over-year improvement in AFLW, which aptly happened on the opening night of the 2022 season.

In Western Australia, Ebony Antonio ignited the Fremantle Oval crowd with three majors, including a goal-of-the-year contender who saw her run the ball 50m before converting with an instant banana from the line. of demarcation, while being unbalanced after a push from his opponent.

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At Arden Street, meanwhile, Ash Riddell went on to claim one of the competition’s most underrated players with 35 eliminations and 22 contested possessions.

The numbers equaled AFLW’s record for disposals, set a new record for contested possessions and broke his club’s record number of disposals.

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Finally, in the second leg of the Grand Final in South Australia, Ash Woodland went wild with four impressive goals.

Aside from the confirmed one and two suspected ACLs, perhaps the only weak spot in the round was that more spectators were not present to witness such highlights, as COVID-19 continued to wreak havoc in the region. competition for another year.

Understandably, crowds were on the decline throughout the cycle, as many in Victoria in particular chose to stay away as the number of cases soared to all-time highs.

The teams were also impacted in various ways, with the most publicized being the former Best and Fairest in the competition and Kangaroos captain Emma Kearney who was in breach of AFL health and safety protocol.

The situation will continue to be difficult for part-time workers to manage as Fremantle and the West Coast prepare to embark on the road for a month to keep the season operational.

It’s yet another example of the huge sacrifices players are choosing to make as the season enters its sixth year.

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