Peel Thunderbirds developing the next generation of WA’s female footballers

From left: Baldivis Brumby Mikaela Fitzgerald, Peel Thunderbirds Mikaela Schoenfeld and Sabreena Duffy and Safety Bay’s Grace Wilson
From left: Baldivis Brumby Mikaela Fitzgerald, Peel Thunderbirds Mikaela Schoenfeld and Sabreena Duffy and Safety Bay’s Grace Wilson

IT is no secret women’s football is growing and the Peel Thunderbirds are at the head of the charge.

Talent is at an all-time high with a national level women’s competition being put on the table by the AFL to start in 2017.

While many of the Thunderbirds have their eyes on footy’s biggest stage, it has not stopped them from going back to where it all began and inspiring the next crop of talented footballers.

Numbers have been growing with close to 50,000 women and girls competing state-wide last year and expectations for this year far exceed that number.

Peel Thunderbirds head coach of youth girls Justin Hocking said the creation of a club-based youth girls league in Peel was a step in the right direction.

“We’re absolutely rapt,” he said.

“At Peel Thunder alone with the Thunderbirds we’ve got 38 girls and we’ve just introduced two or three more.”

“We’ve debuted around 14, 15, 16 new girls this year and we have the new teams in the Peel District.”

Since having a bye for the past couple of weeks, the Peel Thunderbirds have made use of the time off and headed to a number of grass roots clubs, encouraging girls to give it a go and develop their skills.

“We want to encourage the Peel Thunderbirds to go back and work with the community level and show them the skills and something they can aspire to in footy,” Hocking said.

“The more players we can get down in the grassroots, the more players we can feed into the state based WAWFL; it’s starting to go from strength to strength.”

The coach said the launch of a national league was a real motivator for some of the girls.

“We are looking at anywhere from 6-10 AFL licenses so it means a lot of West Australian girls get an opportunity,” he said.

“Some of the state based players that represent Peel have got some quality skills that match it with the guys we’ve got playing at the moment.”

The Peel region has a reputation for producing football talent from the mercurial Daniel Wells to the silky smooth Harley Bennell but now we are seeing female heroes like Courtney Hodder.

Hodder, a proud Peel Thunderbird, was named most valuable player at last months AFL youth girls championship.

She also picked All Australian honours alongside fellow Thunderbird Demi Okely.

Thunderbird skipper and fellow state player, Sabreena Duffy said it had been ‘mind-blowing’ to see how many girls have made Aussie rules their sport of choice.

“It’s not just a men’s sport anymore, anyone can play footy now,” she said.

“It’s good to see so many communities and so many clubs want a girl’s team now.”

The 16-year-old soccer convert said she made the switch when she learnt there were girl’s teams.

“I didn’t know there were girls teams until I played school footy one day,” she said.

“(Peel District development officer) Emma Swanson said ‘you should come try out for the Thunderbirds’ so I had my first game that week for Peel and I quit soccer the next day.”

Hocking urged anyone who was thinking about it to give it a go.

“I always encourage, no matter what the skill set, come down and have a try,” he said.

“Until you have a turn of throwing your hand at it, you don’t know how much you’ll enjoy it.”

Those who want to give women’s football a go can contact Peel Thunderbirds on Facebook, or call Thunderbirds president Ann Fenton on 0400 990 621.