AFL heavyweights Hawthorn and Essendon have lashed out after being excluded from plans to expand the AFL Women’s competition to 14 teams.
The AFL Commission has granted six new licences for the fledgling competition, with North Melbourne and Geelong to lead the charge in 2019.
Richmond, West Coast, St Kilda and Gold Coast will follow in 2020 under an ambitious plan announced by AFL chief Gillon McLachlan on Wednesday.
All six of the new teams had already been granted provisional licences, having applied to field a team in last year’s inaugural season.
The Hawks and Bombers chose not to submit applications last year, effectively putting them at the back of the queue.
Both clubs however responded angrily to their exclusion and expressed frustration that there was no definitive timeline for their entry.
“Hawthorn presented an incredibly strong case to the AFL that highlighted the club’s solid talent pathways, financial strength and ability to contribute to the growth of the game,” Hawks chief Tracey Gaudry said.
“Given the strength of our submission, it’s incredibly disappointing to be denied a licence for not only the 2019 but the 2020 competition.”
Port Adelaide and Sydney are yet to apply for a licence but it’s expected they will eventually follow the lead of rival clubs.
Several factors helped Geelong and North Melbourne over the line for 2019, including the fact that both will play in the women’s VFL next year.
The Roos are expected to host some games in Tasmania and will draw upon the talent pool from the island state.
“I think the real clincher was to have regional presence that we don’t currently have,” McLachlan told reporters.
“(North Melbourne’s addition) is a real win for female football in Tasmania, and clearly Geelong represents a huge region of participation for us.
“Both of their submissions were outstanding. They had a very clear plan and a lot of things bolted down.”
McLachlan acknowledged that Hawthorn and Essendon would be disappointed to miss out but said there was a chance both could join as early as 2021.
The AFL supremo confirmed there were no plans to make supporters pay to attend games in 2018 and said he expected the quality of play to increase next season.
“I think you’ll find … with the injection of talent and with another pre-season under the women’s belts, the standard will increase,” he said.
“We look forward to taking games nationally to different venues and different spots.
“We will take the game to places it hasn’t been and we’ll look forward then to the expansion in 2019.”