ACL injuries highlight plight of semi-professional AFLW athletes
“It makes me sick to my stomach just thinking about it,” said Bec Goddard in commentary for Channel Seven.
The incident, as they so often do, looked innocuous.
Isabel Huntington, the Bulldogs’ number one draft pick from 2017, led up to a marking contest, the ball sailing over her fingertips as she bundled to the turf clutching her knee.
There was no need for a medical assessment; the wry shake of the head said it all.
“It’s the knee for Huntington,” Jason Bennett said.
“Please, no,” the commentator pleaded.
On the sidelines, as much as in the box, all thoughts of the scoreboard were suspended.
Bulldogs and Demons fans alike fell silent as it became apparent that the 2020 Rising Star could be lost to the competition for yet another year.
As premiership coach Goddard went on to add, however, the impact of ACL injuries in AFLW are felt far wider than football.
“It’s her life, it’s her study, it’s her work,” said the Hawks’ soon-to-be AFLW coach.
“It impacts everything, aside from the fact she’s going to be out of the game for a lengthy period of time if [an ACL injury] has happened.
Then, with just under four minutes remaining in the traditional round-one match-up between Carlton and Collingwood, last year’s co-best and fairest winner Bri Davey was felled in the same action — a last-minute change of direction in an attempt to tackle her opponent.
From a biomechanical perspective, they appeared to be textbook ACL injuries, which often occur when players either land on one leg or decelerate to stop and change direction.
Much has been written about the greater incidence of AFLW players injuring their ACLs (in comparison with AFL players), with a
On-field highlights aplenty but crowds down due to COVID-19
The devastating injuries cast a pall over a round that otherwise served up a multitude of on-field highlights.
In one passage of play from the round opener, Gabby Seymour’s contested ruck work kickstarted a string of six slick Tiger handballs that ended with Katie Brennan coolly hitting up Courtney Wakefield for a contested mark.
It was a spectacular example of the year-on-year improvement of AFLW, fittingly occurring on the opening night of season 2022.
Over in Western Australia, Ebony Antonio set the Fremantle Oval crowd alight with three majors including a goal-of-the-year contender that saw her rove the ball from 50m before converting with a snap banana from the boundary line, all while off balance after a push from her opponent.
At Arden Street, meanwhile, Ash Riddell continued to push her claim for one of the competition’s most underrated players with a stunning 35 disposals and seven tackles, all the more remarkable for AFLW’s shorter duration compared to the AFL men’s competition.
And, in the grand final re-match over in South Australia, Ash Woodland ran rampant with four impressive goals.
Apart from the three suspected ACLs, perhaps the one lowlight of the round was that more spectators were not present to witness such highlights, as COVID-19 continued to wreak havoc on the competition for another year.
Understandably, crowds were down across the round, as many in Victoria in particular chose to stay away as caseloads soared to unprecedented heights.
Teams were also variously impacted, with the most high profile being former competition best and fairest and Kangaroos captain Emma Kearney who was missing under the AFL’s Health and Safety Protocol.
The situation will continue to be a difficult one to manage for the part-timers as Fremantle and West Coast get set to embark on a month on the road in order to keep the season operational.
It’s yet another example of the enormous sacrifices the players are choosing to make as the season enters its sixth year.