The inaugural AFL Women’s league might be over for Fremantle Dockers star Kirby Bentley, but the motivation to inspire positive change in the lives of young women only grows.
“I think it’s probably empowered me to do something with the opportunity that I have,” Bentley told NITV of her experience in the AFLW.
“With the Kirby Bentley Cup, the Fremantle Dockers, being a vice captain or a player there, I get the exposure then to be able to hand it back.
“So I feel more empowered as a player and as a person to be able to help our next generation of footballers, whether they’re Indigenous girls or non-Indigenous girls - I think that’s the biggest thing that I get out of it, outside of playing.”
A guest on Thursday’s season premiere of The Marngrook Footy Show, Bentley is excited to share her experiences from the ground-breaking AFLW with her community.
But football has long been a part of her being, with the Dockers’ pre-draft priority pick the face of the Kirby Bentley Cup, a program that showcases the talents of young Indigenous female footballers from around WA.
“Ever since the start of it it’s grown in numbers,” Bentley said of the program.
“I think the first year we had 100 or so (girls involved) and then the following year we had 180-plus, then the following year we had about 200 and this year we had nearly 280 girls attend.
“For 14-to-17 year olds and Indigenous girls, it’s just more of an opportunity to just play and then be selected or to be asked to step in to the mainstream (football pathways).”
The AFLW season continues to be a massive success, with a huge crowd expected to attend the inaugural grand final between Brisbane and Adelaide on Saturday.
Although Fremantle didn’t produce the results they wanted on the field, with serious injuries playing a big part in their finish of seventh, Bentley says the competition has been about much more than just the scoreboard.
“I think the AFLW has created a big market point for (the Kirby Bentley Cup) and introduce more young girls to come and play footy.
“I’d like to grow the program so that the young girls are actually getting life skills out of it.
“So teach them about nutrition and drugs and alcohol and the risk that that has on them, and how to train an elite mindset.
“I think with all the access that we now have as AFL players, we can utilise those things and introduce them to these young kids so that they’re making the most of their opportunity with this.
“But footy is our key. Footy is what brings us together, and then we can look to develop something in other directions.”
From the start of the AFLW season, Bentley, who due to travel commitments relinquished her job as a fly-in, fly-out explosives expert in the mines for a different role with the same company in the city of Perth, has been thankful for the opportunity to play in the league.
“It’s been an exciting and unknown journey. From the very beginning we knew it was going to be a good competition, but to the extent that it was (a success), it’s probably a huge privilege and honour to play in the first-ever AFL Women’s competition,” the 31-year-old said.
“It’s been an exciting journey and the AFL competition wasn’t something I expected to play in my era. I’m a little bit older.
“If they were going to play in 2020, it would have been a really fine line to have an opportunity, so I’m grateful for it all.”
Although the exact makeup of the AFLW going forwards is unknown, expect to see plenty more of the impressive Bentley, on and off the field.
“I need to educate myself to make sure that I’m sending the right messages to our young girls and the next generation of players,” Bentley said of her next moves.
“I’ve got three or four years left in me (of playing), but these girls are then going to set in stone a solid pathway and I want to make sure that they’re getting and making the most out of it. That they’re in their prime, that their opportunities are taken with both hands.”
You can follow Kirby Bentley on her Instagram at: https://www.instagram.com/kirbybentley/
Hear more from Kirby Bentley on Thursday as she joins Grant Hansen, Gilbert McAdam and the rest of an all-star guest list for the first episode of The Marngrook Footy Show for 2017, live on NITV from 7.30pm AEDT, Thursday March 23.