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In their second season in AFLW, it appears that all eyes are on the Sydney Swans as they prepare for their first finals appearance against the Gold Coast Suns.
At the Swans’ headquarters yesterday, new AFL CEO Andrew Dillon was an interested spectator as the club prepared for the elimination final.
Sydney finished the regular AFLW season with the league’s highest average home attendance of 4637, well ahead of their nearest rival Adelaide who averaged 4073 fans.
The Swans have played their home games across two venues, North Sydney Oval and Henson Park, helping them to tap into two distinct markets that reflect the breadth of their fanbase in the city.
There were 5722 fans who attended their final home fixture against Collingwood at Henson Park, which sits strongly against the league average of 2589 fans.
The AFL’s general manager of women’s football and former Olympic swimmer Nicole Livingstone applauded the Swans’ use of both grounds to drive crowds and attract new fans.
Laura Gardiner during the round nine AFLW match between Sydney and Collingwood at Henson Park.Credit: Getty
“I think they’ve both worked really well and I think they probably both present ever so slightly differently,” Livingstone said.
“We still have families coming to both [venues], but I think the inner-city Henson Park crowd, they like an event, they like a day out they’d like to be able to connect with their community as well.
“I also think North Sydney people are getting more used to coming to women’s sport and it’s been a beautiful thing for us.
“I think both of those venues have really enabled people to come and grab hold of AFLW, celebrate it and have a great day out.”
Lisa Steane of the Swans with fans.Credit: Getty
This year has been quite the turnaround for the Swans who finished their first AFLW season winless and bottom of the ladder.
They booked their place in the finals with a thrilling victory in their final regular season game against Fremantle in Perth last Sunday, inspired by their captain Chloe Molloy, recruited from Collingwood at the start of the season on a multiyear deal.
Molloy leads a diverse group of players, including 2022 No.1 draft pick Montana Ham and a talented Irish trio, Paris McCarthy, Jennifer Higgins, and Julie O’Sullivan.
The team is a blend of youthful energy and experienced AFLW campaigners like former GWS Giant Rebecca Privitelli.
Signing Molloy, one of the league’s marquee players, was a sign of intent for the Swans, and the player herself has thrived in her new environment as a leader and admitted to being pleasantly surprised by the size of the Sydney crowds.
“I did not expect it at all,” Molloy said. “Every football club preaches that ‘we’ve got the best fan base’, but then you come up here and we average the highest crowd attendances across all our games and I’m like ‘god, that’s a flex’.
“Growing up, I never had the version of myself on the TV, I never saw girls playing footy on it. Now in Sydney, I’ve got young boys coming up to me and they know nothing differently apart from girls playing football, and that’s amazing.
“This team is incredible to be a part of and [coach] Scott Gowans is always saying that when you’re 80 years old, sitting in your lounge chair, you’ll be sitting there saying I used to sign little boys’ and girls’ footy cards once.
“These are the parts of my career that I will retell one day to my kids.”
Swans captain Chloe Molloy in action at Henson Park.Credit: Getty
Gowans has helped to build an infectious atmosphere at the club that has taken them to an elimination final against Gold Coast.
Gowans battled back from a cancer diagnosis early in 2023 and credits the club for its support on and off the field.
“I haven’t ever had one scheduled meeting with [men’s coach] John Longmire, but we’ve talked numerous times with each other most weeks and we just have a chat about footy, and that’s unusual from talking to other clubs.
“Everyone here is so genuine and the supporter base at Sydney is amazing. I love the fact that they’ve followed us this year and got on the journey and from what I hear, we’re going to have a really big contingent up in the Gold Coast, which is great. So bring it on.”
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