Essendon AFLW coach and female football trailblazer Natalie Wood believes the recent Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) reached between the AFL and AFLPA is a 'significant' moment for the future of the game.
The Warrnambool born and raised coach, in the midst of building her inaugural Essendon AFLW list ahead of the upcoming season, told The Standard it was one of those moments in time that can set the foundations for generations of budding female footballers to come.
"Getting the clarity of the CBA and seeing the reward for the players, the conditions improve, it's great and we hope to see that with the evolution of the game," she said of the agreement.
"To see the growth in the sport and where they've landed for now is phenomenal, we wouldn't have thought the growth could be this significant in such a small amount of time.
"But we could easily flip that on its head and say we're still playing catch up from 150 years ago as it should - but it's a really positive step forward for the industry to be a potential full-time option for the players.
"For some players it does mean it can be their full-time career, it isn't still for all players but it's a big step forward."
The experienced campaigner, who served a long apprenticeship in the coaching career with the Western Bulldogs as AFLW midfield coach, Geelong VFLW senior coach and AFLW midfield coach.
Wood retired from playing the game after almost two decades in what was a decorated career so has seen it all.
To see the growth in the sport and where they've landed for now is phenomenal, we wouldn't have thought the growth could be this significant in such a small amount of time.- Essendon AFLW coach Natalie Wood
One of the major agreements as part of the CBA is an increased pay deal which ensures the average salary of the 540 players across 18 clubs rises 94 per cent from $23,904 to $46,280, with the pay rate split into four tiers of $71,935 (tier four), $55,559 (tier three), $47,372 (tier two) and $39,184 (tier one).
It is estimated more than 40 of the top players across the competition will be paid more than $100,000 for the seventh season - up from 12 players in the previous season.
"There's some really intelligent, influential invested women on the AFLPA as reps, current players, and the perseverance with working through the CBA is a real testament to them and that's across a range of clubs across our competition," Wood said.
"I know all the players I've spoken to are thrilled with what they've been able to achieve and for us it means they're getting paid for all the things they were already doing outside their hours.
"What it means from a program point of view for us is we can structure our week to enable them to be the best possible athlete they can be, so there's the football skill component, education, nutrition, recovery, there's greater capacity to fit that in the program."
The season start date is now locked away for the 2022 AFLW season, with the campaign to begin in the final weekend of August and pre-season to begin on June 13, with list sizes to stay at 30 with the inclusion of four new clubs - including the Bombers - with player contracts to run from May 15 to December 31.
The AFL has also confirmed an increased capacity within the AFLW soft cap policy so all clubs can provide additional support for players.
The former Panmure local - who spent her childhood surrounded by community football in the south-west - said it was a major relief for the industry to get this important level of clarity.
"Once we saw that go through the CBA, the confirmation of key dates, and although there's no fixture, to get the expansion signing dates too is great," she said.
"We've been given about three weeks to prepare for pre-season so that will kick off in about two weeks which is exciting, so it's all come really fast."
Like all clubs - particularly the expansion teams - the frenzy of player movement has well and truly kicked off, with the Bombers building strongly ahead of their debut season.
The Bombers have landed some key names from rival clubs, particularly the likes of Carlton's Georgia Gee, Bulldog Bonnie Toogood, Fremantle's Steph Cain and Blue Maddy Prespakis.
"We've got 16 of our 30 players we're allowed to sign confirmed, but we're still working through a few, but we're happy with our signings," Wood said.
"We've been able to showcase our facilities, our staffing structure, our philosophies and values as the Essendon Football Club.
"I think it's been an attractive place for players to shift to, reset their careers a little bit and launch into the new season.
"We're thrilled with the work of our recruitment department in securing these players with a few more in the pipeline."
Our journalists work hard to provide local, up-to-date news to the community. This is how you can access our trusted content:
Now just one tap with our new app: Digital subscribers now have the convenience of faster news, right at your fingertips with The Standard:
Have you signed up to The Standard's daily newsletter and breaking news emails? You can register
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.