The Bendigo Pioneers' opening pre-season training session on Sunday was testament to the growth and development of female football in the Pioneers' region.
This time last year the Bendigo Pioneers were in two minds as to whether they should field a NAB League girls team.
12 months on, Pioneers' coach Danny O'Bree is excited about the progress the program has made.
"Last year we had 24 players at the first training session. On Sunday we had 64 girls at training,'' O'Bree said.
"We also had a few absentees that had been training with Essendon's VFL squad that will be back training with us on Wednesday.
"We've got massive numbers this year, which is really pleasing for the program. It's not just about the numbers, it's the quality as well.
"It's amazing the difference in 12 months."
O'Bree said the establishment of a strong pathway from juniors to the elite NAB League and then senior football had done wonders for female football in the region.
The BJFL under-12 girls, under-15 girls and under-18 girls competitions and the CVFLW senior competition continue to go from strength-to-strength.
"We have so many girls that are keen to develop their footy,'' O'Bree said.
"We're really excited about female footy. We'll field an under-16 team and under-19 team for the first two rounds this season, so there'll be plenty of girls who get an opportunity.
"We've been strong with our regions in the type of footballer we want to attract to our program and credit to those regions because they've listened and worked hard to attract those players.
"On Sunday we had a girl train who looks as athletically gifted as I've seen in my time at the Pioneers. She hasn't played a game of footy yet, so it's exciting for us that we can, firstly, give players like her an opportunity and, secondly, get feedback about how much the players enjoy the experience of being involved in the program.
"We had players at training with basketball, netball and/or soccer backgrounds that really enjoyed their time on Sunday and they're keen to challenge themselves at this level."
The Pioneers' girls have little time to waste in their preparation for the 2022 NAB League season.
The 2022 season is scheduled to start on the weekend of January 22-23.
The draw is yet to be finalised, but it's likely to be a nine-match home and away season and then a finals series culminating in April.
Players can then return to their local clubs for their respective winter seasons.
"We have quite a few girls training with VFLW teams at the moment, which is awesome,'' O'Bree said.
"Everything is building towards a big 2022."
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