FOOTBALL pioneer and respected commentator Chyloe Kurdas still remembers the first time women played on the hallowed turf of the MCG.
After a decorated playing career as a premiership captain with Melbourne Uni, a Victorian representative and All-Australian midfielder, Kurdas went on to be the long-term female football development manager for AFL Victoria and the national female academy director in the lead-up to the AFLW.
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But as a young girl, football was an "invite-only" space, meaning the ground-breaking Victorian Women's Football League game in 2004 was an emotional occasion.
"When I was five, I discovered two things: one, that I'm really good at playing football, and two, that I'll never get to play professionally because I'm female," Kurdas told Darcy Vescio on the Cutting Oranges podcast.
"The message it left me was to be female is to be deficient, because if I was worthy, you would have provided a platform for me to play on, just as you've done for boys and men.
"Yes, I played footy at school with the boys, but it was upon their invitation, and they were letting me play."
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Kurdas was eventually offered that invite by a friend to join Parkdale when she was 20, with karate having been her sporting outlet up until that point.
And come 2004, Kurdas' Melbourne Uni and arch-rivals St Albans played on the 'G on Mothers' Day in a Grand Final rematch, the pairing coincidentally fixtured to be playing that round anyway. It was one hell of a ground change.
"The AFL was starting to explore some of the conversations around 'respect and responsibility' and implementing a women's round," Kurdas said.
"A lot of the conversations around women's round at the time had been mothers, partners and staff even, but there hadn't been much of a conversation around players.
"Through some of the great advocacy of Debbie Lee and Nicole Graves – who was at AFL Victoria at the time – in some of the AFL's exploration on what female football was about, I think that opportunity came about.
"We came out of the race, and I was very much a 'process, process' player, but as soon as I put my foot on the grass, I just burst into tears. We were stepping onto the ground, but we were doing something for the many women who missed out beforehand.
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"Even now, I can't talk about it without feeling really emotional. It was an amazing day, and I was really cognisant of all those women before us that never go that chance.
"We lost the Grand Final that year, but we beat St Albans on the MCG and it was a bloody awesome day. I think a teammate of mine kicked six goals or something, she loved it. I had four bounces, that was fun. It's so burnt in our consciousness, and it's still one of the happiest days of my life."
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