FREMANTLE'S All-Australian forward Gemma Houghton has been on an AFLW list since 2017 and has seen first-hand the development of Indigenous players in the competition.
There are currently 20 Indigenous AFLW players in the competition, one fewer than last year, but nine more than the inaugural year of 2017 (which had six fewer teams).
Of those 20, five – Houghton, Tiah Haynes, Mikayla Morrison, Jasmin Stewart and Tarnee Tester – play for Fremantle, the most of any side.
Gold Coast and Brisbane have three Indigenous players each on their respective lists.
"You see the impact [Indigenous Round] has on the men's AFL games, and that's now coming into the women's side of the game," Houghton told womens.afl.
"There are so many young Indigenous talents across all the sides coming through and paving the way. Just to see the AFLW get behind that and support us is incredible.
"We've got Tiah Haynes coming back into the side and she's a leader in her own right, then you've got Mikayla Morrison who's yet to take the field (appendicitis), but I already know she has such a strong impact on the Indigenous community and she's a leader for so many younger girls as well."
Houghton said Indigenous culture is well supported and celebrated at the club, both in the AFL and AFLW spaces.
"We're very fortunate to have Uncle (Dr) Richard Walley and Aunty Colleen Hayward involved in our program a lot," Houghton said.
"We've done a lot of work with them with smoking ceremonies (at the start of seasons). Even just along the way, in previous years we've had Michael Johnson involved in the women's program and we now have Roger Hayden (former AFL Dockers), so we're growing as a club and learning more about our culture and the history of our culture.
"It's something all the girls are invested in, and you can really see that in all the work that's done around the club."
Houghton is confident in the percentage of AFLW Indigenous players rising over time, as younger girls have the confidence and take the plunge to switch sports.
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"It'll probably be something that will improve over time. I've personally seen a growth in women's footy in WA, and a lot of Indigenous girls who are playing basketball and netball are slowly starting to change over to footy," she said.
"It's just providing support (and acknowledgement) of it is something different, but it's OK to challenge yourself and try something new and really enjoy it. I find a lot of the girls are starting to do that and the competition keeps growing."
Houghton has now fully shaken off the dislocated thumb which affected the second half of her 2020 season and, as she said with a laugh, affected her goal-kicking (4.10) due to the heavy strapping and protective guard.
She spent her time away from the club working with former player and assistant coach Lisa Webb on her running, with Webb having an elite running background.
"I'm pretty sure I was just trying to keep up with her nine times out of 10 when we went running, but she's a great role model away from the field and through her running," Houghton said.
"They were some hard sessions, but you'd rather have that pain in the off-season and just enjoy the season itself, rather than struggling with running.
"But the biggest thing I've spent time on is my goalkicking, just learning how to do different types of shots. I've been very fortunate to have Tony Walters, who was a former assistant coach at Fremantle, help me out with some extra training sessions."
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