A new era of media scrutiny has dawned upon the AFLW.
It is something the players will have to get used to because once it starts, there is no turning back.
For the first three seasons, mainstream media has been very positive and even kind to the AFLW program and its players. You are far more likely to read about a player travelling long distances to live her dream than how she isn’t living up to expectations in the field.
However all of this is about to change.
In the first few weeks we had Melbourne's Libby Birch make some comments about her old club. Soon after we had a Collingwood player call her opponent, Tayla Harris, useless when the ball was in the ground.
Naturally, this type of controversial talk attracts attention.
You can’t blame the mainstream media editors from noticing the extra eyeballs it attracted and then issuing an edict to their journos to take the gloves off.
Mark Robinson from the Herald Sun jumped in with gusto, targeting Richmond captain Katie Brennan. While much of Robbo's article couldn’t be argued against and was in fact very positive about the growth in talent, it was the dig at Brennan that caught everyone’s eye.
Yes, Katie did want more time in the midfield and Richmond did use this as bait to attract her to the club. But to say the experiment was failing and that Brennan wasn’t living up to her reputation after just two games was very harsh.
Even if you are a great player, changing positions from key forward to midfielder does take some getting used to. And let’s remember that the AFLW players have one sanctioned practice match to prepare for the season, not a whole series to get match-ready like the men do.
Many of the players were shocked by the article and leapt to Brennan’s defence. They were slightly outraged at the tone taken and the seemingly unnecessary need to write anything negative in the first place.
Whilst they are used to faceless online trolls making disparaging and sexist comments, the chief football writer for a major paper was a significant change.
Every club would have noticed the shift and handled it in a different manner. At the Bulldogs we spoke to the players and informed them that we have indeed entered a new media phase.
Instead of positioning this as a negative, we saw it as a positive in several ways.
In my mind it further legitimises the league. As with all elite competitions, those who underperform or misbehave are open to scrutiny. The men’s league and its players are undoubtedly open to intense and, at times, suffocating scrutiny. So in the interest of equality why shouldn’t female players be also?
The answer is of course they should. If they are going to reap the benefits from good performances then they must be prepared to deflect the arrows that will be fired at them for poor performance.
The two go hand in hand when you are playing professional sport.
My only proviso is that we have to ensure we maintain a balance. At times the desire to find a negative in the men’s league outweighs the desire for truth. Never let the facts get in the way of a good story, as they say.
We have to be diligent to ensure that any negative story is in fact based in truth.
If this becomes the way forward, then we can handle it. We can handle the truth, be it good or bad.
It’s a new landscape for the women and it will take some getting used to. They are profoundly protective of each other, even those in other teams. It is a sisterhood of pioneering women.
Like it or not, they are about to be pioneers in a brand new era of AFLW.
Nathan Burke is a former St Kilda captain who played 323 AFL games for the Saints, winning three Trevor Barker Awards as best-and-fairest player.