11 September, 2015, Crown Casino, Melbourne, Australia
Let me take a moment just to soak that up, because I didn't think I'd ever get awarded Best and Fairest Award at a Melbourne Football Club Best and Fairest night, so I won't rush into this. This really is one of the most meaningful awards I've ever received. When I was told on Tuesday that I was going to receive this, I was amazed at how proud and honoured I felt. I mean, at the moment this team comes together for eight days a year. We train just four times together, and we only get to play in this club's wonderful red and blue jumper twice a year, but somehow tonight, winning this award, and when we run out onto the MCG or Etihad, we are fully-fledged Melbourne people.
I think my sense of pride is so enormous, not only because this is the pinnacle, the highest level at which us women can play AFL footy, but more because I am so honoured to be involved and connected to this club. When you think of the history of the Melbourne Football Club, it has forever been peppered with pioneers. I probably don't need to educate this audience, but the Melbourne Football Club wrote the rules of our game. It lobbied to recruit a young guy named Ron Barassi, trumping his own system through the innovation of the father-son rule. Barassi became a pioneer in his own right. As a player, the first of what was to become known as the ruck rover, and later as a revolutionary coach, demanding unprecedented discipline and dedication from his team.
it was Barassi and Melbourne that invented the Irish experiment, and through an ad in a local newspaper, recruited a lanky 18 year old from Dublin, who had previously only seen Australian football on TV. Six years later, in 1991, that lanky Irishman, the late Jim Stynes, won a Brownlow medal and the first of four 'Bluey' Truscott trophies.
It's now 2015. The father-son rule is commonplace. Ruck rovers are standard. Barassi's expectations from players in terms of how they prepared and committed to their careers has been the catalyst for the level of professionalism we see from AFL footballers today. There's an Irishman running around in nearly every game of AFL footy we see. None of them have won a Brownlow medal, but Jim Stynes was special, and his legacy goes far above and beyond what he achieved on the football field.
It is fitting, then, that the Melbourne women's team is here tonight. I was the first female ever drafted to an AFL club. It is no coincidence that that club was Melbourne. Again, the Melbourne Football Club has been the pioneers. It lobbied hard for the first ever AFL women's team, and was the driving force that convinced the AFL, through its passion and commitment to women in football, to sanction the first ever AFL women's game in 2013.
We've won all four AFL women's matches since, despite the AFL game development team's best efforts to even up the sides. Again, in my opinion, this is no fluke, because so far no number of flash new players rivals the amount of genuine support we have had from this club since the day we first walked into AAMI Park. Nothing rivals Paul Roos biting his nails from the boundary line late in the last quarter of our games, or Jack Grimes, Jordie McKenzie and Jack Viney, who have all helped to coach the women's team, doing fist pumps on the bench when we've kicked crucial goals.
Our coach, Michelle Cowan's leadership and ability to make us want to play good team footy for our red and blue jumper is unmatched. Nothing rivals the influence of the fact that this club genuinely cares. There are so many people to mention and thank for making this team not only possible but successful. Peter Jackson, CEO and Jennifer Watt, General Manager Marketing and Communications, your direction and leadership around women in football clearly influences this whole football club and organisation. Debbie Lee, community manager who not only seamlessly manages and coordinates our team, but has been a pioneer for women in football and was significant in getting the women's games off the ground. Russell Robertson, Club Development Manager, for enthusiastically helping to promote awareness and fundraising for the women's team and women's football in general since day one.
To Anna Harrington, Ryan Larkin and Matthew Goodrope, Matt Burgan, Sam Laidlaw and Ryan Earles, for your work through the media and your energy profiling us players in the women's game. To Paul and Tami Roos, Josh Mahoney, all the assistant coaches and the entire playing group for not only embracing us and not only making us feel welcome in your workplace and football club, but sharing your insights and expertise with us so that we have the best possible experience. To our team, Michelle Cowan, Shaun O'Loughlin, Adrian Pavese, Raoul Smith, Andy Hood, Martine Pearman, [Costi Denalo 00:05:45], Ashleigh Guest and Anthony DeJong, and to all the Melbourne members for your ongoing support, financially through donations on the team bus, a special mention here goes to Anthony Micallef who sponsored me this year, thank you.
And, to all Melbourne fans, for your presence and encouragement at our games. A special mention there to Sean Ducks, who I can hear yelling out. He hasn't missed a training, let alone a game. I thank all of you for not only improving me as a footballer and person, so that I stand up here tonight receiving the Melbourne Football Club Best Female Player for the first time, but also for the role you have played in giving all my teammates and generations of women and girls after us, the opportunity to play AFL footy at the highest level. The AFL has announced that they are committed to creating a national women's competition, which means that in 30 or 40 years time, football people will tell of how the Melbourne Football Club wrote the rules to the game. No doubt they'll still talk about Ron Barassi and Jim Stynes, but they will also talk about how the Melbourne Football Club were pioneers and started the first women's team. They might talk about the mother-son rule or the father-daughter rule, or better still, the mother-and-father-son rule, where you bypass the draft system altogether.
Thanks again, and I hope everyone has a great night, and congratulations to all the other award winners.