A new era has dawned for women’s AFL in the Illawarra and South Coast. The Tom Smith Lightning Cup gala day was held across the region on the weekend – the first time women’s AFL has been played in the region.

The pre-season cup had six teams play four games each, and brought together teams from Ulladulla to the northern districts.

Wollongong Saints player Nicola Lombardi, who played her first game of AFL at the gala day, said the support and encouragement shown to players of all skills levels was the best part of the event.

“It’s also just expanding horizons for women’s sport down here, there’s more and more options for women and girls to play all different codes of footy, and they’re able to start much younger now too which is amazing to see because it really allows for development of skills, something that’s really important as the AFLW starts gaining even more traction,” Lombardi said.

Wollongong local Rebecca McCready said the AFL South Coast women’s competition was a huge step forward for women’s sport in the Illawarra. She played for Wollondilly in the Sydney competition last year because it was the closest available.

“The furthest we have to travel for the South Coast comp is Nowra, and in the Sydney comp it goes all the way up to Manly which not only is further, but driving through Sydney traffic really takes up your whole entire Saturday,” McCready said.

The Wollongong Lions played a pre-season game against the Wollondilly Knights in the lead-up to the main competition.

“[The trial match] was really remarkable considering most of our girls haven’t played, or the ones that have don’t have a heap of experience, like me. We do have one girl who’s really good and has played for quite a while … she’s really helpful and giving us pointers,” McCready said.

There are nine registered teams in the first grade South Coast competition: Bomaderry Tigers, Dapto Unicorns, Kiama Power, Northern Districts Tigers, Nowra Albatross Vikings, Ulladulla Dockers, Wollongong Bulldogs, Wollongong Lions, Wollongong Saints.

The season-proper begins Saturday, April 4.

[soundcloud url=”https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/421146720″ params=”color=#ff5500&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false&show_teaser=true&visual=true” width=”100%” height=”300″ iframe=”true” /]

Feature image: South Coast AFL Facebook