Lifestyle

Stereotypes get the boot

NATIONAL TEAM: Australia’s Heather Ann Garriock in action for the Matildas.
NATIONAL TEAM: Australia’s Heather Ann Garriock in action for the Matildas. Li Yulongap

TACKLES are coming thick and fast on the muddy field.

The players are taking some hard knocks and the crowd is loving the spectacle.

But it's just another Friday night on the park for the Sunshine Coast's dedicated women in football.

Not too long ago, all football codes were considered off-limits to women and strictly men's business.

But here on the Coast, the fairer sex is proving Australian rules, football (soccer), rugby league and rugby union are no longer just for the boys and they too can mix it up on the pitch.

In fact, the number of female participants is on the rise in most codes.

Australian rules

Australian rules has a strong female supporter base and the girls' participation levels on the Coast aren't just confined to the juniors.

Caloundra Panthers Football Club this season started an under-15s girls team which will compete against other sides from across the Coast, including Maroochydore, Noosa, Coolum, Kawana and Nambour.

Club spokeswoman Christian Hunt said women's football was coming along nicely and players definitely gave their all at training and on game day - just like the boys.

"The girls are great," he said.

"Their aerial skills are quite good.

"They have a good understanding of space and they keep moving the ball fast.

"You'd be surprised by how physical some of the girls are.

"The hard men in footy are the guys who are happy to get their head over the ball and win it, and the girls certainly aren't afraid to do that."

Hunt said women's football was something that had been a long time in the making.

"We've been planning for this since November 2010," he said.

"We are just trying to create an extra pathway for girls to go on and keep playing (after the junior ranks)."

Hunt is also optimistic that the start of the under-15 girls' competition will flow on to the introduction of more women's football teams and maybe even the revival of an open women's team on the Sunshine Coast.

Thirteen-year-old footballer Stephanie Glover said she was excited to play against other girls on the Coast and is looking forward to the season ahead.

"I'm really excited," she said.

"We've been working on our skills with a special coach.

"We are really good at defence. Hopefully, we can win a few games."

Rugby league

Anyone who thinks women are too "soft" to put on a textbook tackle or take a big hit better not voice their opinion to the Beerwah Bulldogs open women's rugby league team.

Bulldogs captain-coach Tegan Rolfe said the women were just as every bit prepared as their male counterparts.

"We did our pre-season with the blokes and I think we definitely surprised a few of them," she said.

"We showed that we can throw as well as them and even hit as hard as some of them."

Rolfe said the women's side played against Brisbane teams and the competition was fierce.

"We are definitely in it to win it," she said.

"If we weren't serious then we wouldn't be here."

Rolfe said the team had been formed by an amalgamation of players between the Bribie Island and Sunshine Coast Sirens football clubs, making Beerwah home to several female footy talents.

"We've got a few rep players in the side," she said.

"We just want to show the young girls that there is a pathway for when you finish playing juniors. You can take it to that next level."

Soccer

The Sunshine Coast Football Federation last year had more than 1200 registered female players - and numbers are expected to increase this year.

The Coast also has its own open women's representative team which plays against other top teams from Brisbane.

Representative side skipper Amber Vonhoff, 21, said that in the past few years, women's football had definitely received a shot in the arm in terms of participation and that the standard of play was ever-improving.

"The quality and the standard is a lot higher," Vonhoff said.

"Because it's premier women's, there is an expectation for players to go pretty hard.

"You know you have to work hard because you're playing against Brisbane teams and they are physically and technically stronger."

Vonhoff said football these days offered a lot more opportunity for women and girls to strive for rep team selection, with the pinnacle the Matildas national team level, while some even see their football as a possible stepping stone to a career path overseas.

"When I started out playing, there wasn't a lot for girls," she said.

"The way the structure is now, there is a lot of opportunity for development.

"There is a lot to still come.

"Female football is the one that gets squashed and goes under the radar but it is really coming out now and it's good to see that there have been improvements."

Vonhoff said that while women's football might not have the following of the senior men on the Coast, fans of the game might be surprised to see the extent of skill levels and abilities of the women's teams.

"We are obviously not as physical as the boys," she admitted.

"(But) In terms of motivation and dedication and technical ability, women have potential to be on par.

"We give it every bit as much effort as the boys."

Rugby union

Rugby union is the only football code that will not field a local women's team this year on the Coast. One of the four women's teams folded, causing the collapse of the competition.

USC Rugby Club president Shane Bridley said due to a lack of player numbers, the club was unable to field a women's side this season.

As former Coast champions, USC's decision to pull out had been "very disappointing", he said.

"We had always been a bit of a powerhouse in women's rugby - certainly in the time that I've been involved at the club," Bridley said.

"We had a couple of players interested and I contacted the girls that were previously involved, but I guess with things like work commitments and people moving away, circumstances change."

"We are obviously not as physical as the boys. (But) In terms of motivation and dedication and technical ability, women have potential to be on par."

>> Read more lifestyle stories.

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