Bethany refers to this flicker of inspiration as a “guilty thought”, something which would now carry no guilt at all, as AFLW athletes can be selected by any of the 18 eighteen elite clubs for next season.
“Eventually I saw AFLW on the big screen in the first or second season, and it woke me up to the opportunity that I might be able to do that,” she said.
Tom admits he gave her some frank brotherly advice after hearing her voice those exact words.
“I just said to her, it’s pretty easy to sit back and say, ‘Oh, I could get it on a team if I wanted’ but what are you doing about it? Well, if you want to do it have a crack at it.”
That was motivation enough for Bethany who started with Richmond’s VFLW side, before being signed by North Melbourne as an AFLW rookie in 2018. It wasn’t all smooth sailing; Bethany played eight games over three years and was eventually delisted 2021, but bounced back as a train-on player for Richmond this pre-season.
In recent weeks, she’s found herself in the side, playing on a big stadium as she imagined.
As Tom approaches his 200-game milestone in 2022, the league he knows intimately has always been highly structured. AFL athletes are expected at the club most days, their contractual obligations lie with the club, and they are remunerated for this.
Bethany is a full-time nurse at the Northern Hospital, currently working in the mental health ward, which she juggles with three training sessions at the club a week, as well as a captain’s run and, of course, game day during the season, and that’s before any travel.
Not a week has passed this season where the AFLW fixture has remained unchanged thanks to COVID-19, making the tightrope Bethany walks infinitely finer. She describes the parallels between her and Tom’s footy careers as “two different worlds”.
“I work all day, and then I’ll finish work and go to the club from five to nine, obviously, the boys are different because they just go home after footy,” she said.
While Bethany says she’d “definitely put [her] hand up” to be a full-time athlete, she points out the difficulty such a dynamic shift would inevitably cause for many current players.
“It’s work and then footy at this stage, because footy’s only for six months so your main employer has to be your full-time job for the whole year.”
Having only just broken into the AFLW side this season, Bethany is under no illusions, knowing sport can be a fraught business, and admits that the part-time aspect does have a silver lining.
“As someone that’s a bottom-tier player, it’s a lot easier when you’ve got another job to switch off from footy,” she said.
“When you become full-time, and something the boys would struggle with, footy is everything, so if you’re not doing well, then it’s your whole life and it’s hard to switch off. It’s like anything, it’s great when it’s great and a lot tougher when it’s not.”
Tom says their training schedules are so opposite they barely cross paths (partly due to COVID-19 measures) but that the male cohort are eager to see more collaboration.
“The males have spoken at length about wanting to get more involved with the females going forward, and that includes the VFL men and women as well because we pride ourselves at Richmond as being one club,” Tom said.
The Tigers have dedicated their round 10 AFLW home game to International Women’s Day, which is on Tuesday, March 8, and its theme “break the bias”.
Tom says having open discussions goes towards breaking down any prejudice between the two leagues.
“It’s a good healthy debate and it’s actually great we’re having these conversations,” he said. “It’s great to see the rapid growth in this small space of time that we’re at the point of talking about AFLW going professional.”
Bethany has a straightforward approach to it. “I think it’s just about working on that mentality of ‘we’re here and we’re here to stay’.”
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