Neil Balme has reflected candidly on his path to embracing AFLW fully - a status that only truly solidified for the footy veteran after Richmond won a top women’s league licence.
In a special AFLW debut match episode of The Originals podcast, Balme – a two-time Tigers premiership player turned AFL coach and revered footy operations boss – describes how his understanding of AFLW has evolved.
“I was at Collingwood when they first brought in the AFLW, and they sort of did it almost too quickly,” he says.
“I wasn’t quite sure where it fit, and I wasn’t quite as engaged with it then anywhere near as I am now.
“So it did take a little while. Because I’m probably an old-fashioned thinker, I’ve been involved in men’s footy forever.
“This is a really significant thing for the Richmond footy club to have an AFLW team.
“We love it and it’s a wonderful part of what we do.”
Speaking after the Tigers debuted in the AFLW competition, against Carlton, last Friday night, Balme said the process of Richmond’s successful recruitment of league stars Katie Brennan, Sabrina Frederick and Monique Conti was enlightening for him.
Football icon Kevin Bartlett, and present day Tigers men’s champion Jack Riewoldt, were part of a player jumper presentation in the rooms before Richmond played its first AFLW game.
Balme invited Bartlett. He addressed the entire team and also presented Tigers women’s captain Katie Brennan with her guernsey in what was said to be a particularly moving address.
“It was just great to see the camaraderie and the spirit that was down there,” Bartlett reflects in the podcast.
Also featured in the third episode of The Originals is AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan, one of the guests at the first AFLW match day function hosted by Richmond president Peggy O’Neal.
McLachlan describes Richmond joining AFLW as: “A big step in completing the story.
“…to have them join the league gives the league just that much more substance,” he says.
Governor of Victoria and former AFL Commissioner, Linda Dessau, was also among the season launch pre-match function attendees. Another - AFL executive Tanya Hosch - reflects in the podcast, on the topic of AFLW: “I remember when there would be nervous conversations about how much talent we had.
“But now I’m just seeing excitement about positivity about where this code is heading … and I don’t feel like it feels remarkable any more, which I think is a really good sign.”