PATHWAYS to the elite level for talented female footballers will be strengthened by a partnership between the Bendigo Thunder and Richmond Football Club.
That is the view of Richmond general manager - football talent Dan Richardson, who was in Bendigo on Sunday for a come and try talent day at Weeroona Oval.
He brought with him Tigers defender Dylan Grimes, who was one of his side's best players in last Thursday night's win over Collingwood.
The talent day was open to girls and boys aged 11 to 15 who live in Richmond's central and northern Victoria zone as part of the Next Generation Academy program.
Under the partnership, Thunder players and coaches will be granted development opportunities with Richmond coaches, players and staff and assistance with recruiting players.
The Thunder will also play some home games at Richmond's Punt Road Oval.
Richardson said the academy program would provide more opportunities for female footballers and indigenous and multicultural youths.
"The AFL saw the success of some of the northern zone academies like Sydney and GWS and the way they were able to develop and nurture talent and bring them into the AFL," he said.
"Ultimately that is the outcome Richmond and other clubs are after.
"We were given a significant regional area. We are in the process of working through the strategy and appointing staff."
Grimes, who is in his eighth season with the Tigers and has played 80 games, said he was a strong supporter of the AFL Women's competition.
"I watched the first game, not live because it was a packed house, but I watched it on TV and straight away I was so blown away by the level of skill for one, and the level of endeavour as well," he said.
"I love watching the game live."
The come and try day was followed by a pair of practice matches for the Thunder against Echuca and North Bendigo.
The club will field two teams in 2017.
One team will compete in the Northern Football League and be the only regional team competing against eight metropolitan teams.
The club has recently established a new team to compete in the Goulburn Murray and Central Victorian League.
Coach Cherie O'Neill felt the partnership with Richmond could only make things easier for footballers who followed in the footsteps of the six Thunder girls who made their way onto AFLW lists in the inaugural season.
"These (six) girls have full-time jobs and are finishing at 4pm, driving down to Melbourne and getting home at midnight and doing it all over again," she said.
"Hats off to those six girls who've made it, they've really done well for themselves. They've put in the hard work.
"It would be great to see in the future that they mightn't have to travel (as much)."