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Daisy Pearce doesn’t just deserve a statue


Since the great Daisy Pearce announced her retirement from the AFLW during the week, debate has raged over how Pearce’s achievements should be commemorated – and from certain corners, if at all. .

There’s been the usual mix of bad faith attacks on the standard of women’s footy (which, as usual, completely miss the point), along with more reasonable suggestions that honoring Pearce should be limited to code only and to the league that she is synonymous with, or that others might be more deserving of the enthusiastic praise bestowed upon her for her playing career.

It’s true that several women’s soccer stars, notably Erin Phillips, have been more outstanding on the pitch than Pearce in the AFLW’s seven seasons to date.

It’s also true that AFLW accolades should and probably will bear his name in the future – certainly the AFLPA Top Captain award would suit him perfectly after winning four times.

But Daisy Pearce’s legacy extends beyond the AFLW into the code as a whole (and, I would argue, into all of Australian sport). She’s not just a women’s football legend – she’s one of the most important figures in Australian rules football.

If ever an athlete deserved a statue, it’s her.

More than any other player, and as much as any other person periodshe has taken women’s soccer from the unseen periphery of the suburban scene into a national competition where fans flock in their thousands to see their heroes take to the biggest stadiums in the country.

She inspired a generation of young girls who love the game to think they can follow in her footsteps to the big time. Just like they pick up a tennis racket in the backyard and pretend to be Ash Barty, or score a goal on the football field and attempt a Sam Kerr backflip, or try to replicate Alyssa Healy’s fearsome straight drive. , they also catch a Sherrin and dream of being Daisy.

The AFL, and sport in general, does not necessarily limit its accolades to the playing field. The AFL’s Fairest and Best Player award goes to the VFL’s first administrator, Chas Brownlow. The statue outside the Westpac Centre, Collingwood’s base of operations, is of Lou Richards, a man whose legacy and impact on the game was far greater off the pitch than on the pitch .

It’s also important to note that while Pearce may not have the AFLW accolades that Phillips has, her career before was filled to the brim with just about every award she could claim.

She won a ridiculous 10 VFLW premierships with the Darebin Falcons, seven as skipper, making the team the undisputed powerhouse in this competition.

Along the way, she won seven Helen Lambert Medals for the league’s best and fairest player in an eight-year span leading up to the AFLW’s inauguration. This medal now also bears his name.

She was best on the pitch in two of those big final wins, won five best and best Falcons in a stacked squad and, of course, dominated the first women’s exhibition game between her Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs in June 2013, the game that really set the wheels in motion for domestic competition came less than four years later.

The thing is, Pearce was an outrageously good footballer who peaked before the AFLW was founded. She had to wait until she was 28 to prove herself on the big stage, a time when most athletes begin their decline.

That she still excelled was almost as remarkable that Phillips also dominated despite being three years older.

Demons’ Daisy Pearce celebrates a goal. (Photo by Mark Brake/Getty Images)

It shouldn’t be a competition between Pearce and Phillips, though. When Phillips ends her illustrious career, there can be some debate over whether she also deserves a statue – and I sneakily suspect that many of the same people argue that Pearce doesn’t warrant a statue because Phillips was better off. the won’t exactly come out to ask for one for her then.

It’s exactly the same as the sneer when the Tayla Harris statue was unveiled in September 2019, with people everywhere coming out to say there were plenty of female athletes more deserving of a statue.

Yes, Cathy Freeman, Sally Pearson, Pearce and many others should have statues: but nothing prevented them from having one too! Unless the argument that Harris would get a statue would delegitimize all other statues created afterward and render them all utterly worthless, it didn’t make sense then and doesn’t make sense now.

Finally, the rise of the AFLW has, in my view, been the most significant step forward in Australian rules football since the official launch of the AFL as a national competition over 30 years ago.

According to AFL statistics, a year ago the number of women and girls playing football at all levels stood at almost 600,000, or almost a third of all participants in the national scale. A number unthinkable even seven years ago, when the number prior to the arrival of the AFLW was around 320,000.

Whatever your opinion of the AFLW competition – and I expect to read a lot of it in the comments – we can certainly all agree that such a surge of interest in the game and in children participating in local sport is absolutely fantastic .

For a long time Australian rules football kept its code and only allowed men.

That’s not the case now – and the sport is far healthier, fuller and better than ever.

None of this happens without the arrival of the AFLW and its growing public footprint – you can’t be what you can’t see. And no one has embodied that better throughout her playing career than Daisy Pearce.

She was the VFLW’s biggest star at a time when she was becoming a mainstay of Victorian community sport, and she was so great that she made the powers that be sit up, take notice and realize that national competition might be viable after all. .

During the AFLW’s first season, when most players were still relative unknowns or code-hoppers from other sports, she was the only known name. Basketball-loving footy fans would have recognized Phillips (but would have had a hard time realizing what a megastar she had become), but everyone knew who Daisy Pearce was.

We are now beginning to see the fruits of her long, dedicated, often frustrating and almost totally unpaid labor: the first graduates of dedicated junior women’s football pathways are slipping onto the AFL stage, girls who grew up mostly playing Aussie rules and didn’t need to be drawn to basketball, or netball, or sports that have always been much more open and welcoming to talented young people looking to make a career out of it.

Perhaps one day soon, the AFLW will become partially or fully professionalized, and players can focus on full-time play rather than something to work around their day job.

Pearce won’t be around to claim those awards, but she’s set in motion the rolling stone that’s growing in momentum year after year. When that landmark is finally reached, it will be largely thanks to her.

A statue wouldn’t even come close to giving Pearce the credit she deserves for where women’s football stands today, or commemorating the significance of her impact on it. But it would be a good start.

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