A pain point for the AFLW community since the last season ended in early April has been when the next one will begin. There were whispers of an August start date during finals but no official word was given until Thursday, May 19.
The hold up was that a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) needed to be signed off by the AFL and AFL Players Association (AFLPA). Now that ink has been split and the new document signed, the ball can get rolling for the next and seventh AFLW season.
And there's a lot to happen in a very short amount of time. So, AFLW fans, it's time to buckle in.
Here's what happens now.
Players can be signed
You know all those players who've committed to clubs, such as Bonnie Toogood to Essendon and Tilly Lucas-Rodd to Hawthorn? Well, they can finally put pen to paper and sign on the dotted line, making their new colours official.
This also means clubs can start working with those players in an official capacity. And that the four expansion sides, Essendon, Hawthorn, Port Adelaide and Sydney, can fully build their lists and have an entire squad of players ready to run out come the season start date.
Expect to hear a lot of player signing news in this regard.
With a new season comes a new draft - which is especially important as 120 new players need to be found to field the four new teams coming in. Many of these will come from the draft, although not all, as new signings will also include open-age signings, such as Georgia Nanscawen who will make the rise from Essendon's VFLW program.
There are 106 names on the next AFLW draft combine list, coming from nationwide clubs. Of those, none of them have been on an AFLW list previously and only 28 will be aged above 18 this year. So, there's a lot of young talent about to come through the ranks.
Interestingly, the AFL reported the upcoming draft is unlikely to have protected zones for New South Wales and South Australia despite Sydney and Port Adelaide coming into the competition. This has helped non-Melbourne based clubs previously, including as Geelong, who was granted its own zone in its beginning years in the competition and Gold Coast and Brisbane, who had three joint zones in their state-based draft in 2020. Instead, clubs such as GWS and Sydney will be looking to capitalise on their academy.
Names to look for include Alana Gee, Amber Clarke, Bella Mann, Bridie Hipwell, Brooke Plummer, Charlotte Baskaran, Charlotte Mullins, Zarlie Goldsworthy and Claire Random.
Part of the draft also includes state-based testing days, with dates and times yet to be confirmed. However, the vast majority have already completed physical testing, such as vertical jumps and speed and agility tests. Still, you might hear some things about 2km time trials.
We'll know more about inactive players
With an official start date, clubs can work with inactive players to determine where they stand on playing next season.
This includes injured players, such as the onslaught of ACLs done last season and previously. For example, Collingwood's All-Australian and league best and fairest Brianna Davey, who suffered her second ACL tear last season (January), will still be in rehab for her knee and unable to perform next season, however, Ange Foley, who is committed to Port Adelaide, will be able to return for the seventh season after suffering an ACL injury in the 2021 Grand Final.
It also includes players with other obligations, such as Geelong's Renee Garing who is currently pregnant and GWS' Jess Allan, where an August start will mean she'll miss another season due to army commitments.
An August start date may also rule out Commonwealth Games hopefuls Ash Brazil (Collingwood) for netball and Gold Coast sisters Teagan and Maddy Levi for rugby sevens.
Irish players can commit, and players can plan their lives
Similarly to those players with outside football commitments, those who are dual-code sportswomen and play in Ireland's Ladies Gaelic Football Association as well as the AFLW can plan their lives around next season. For example, Collingwood's Sarah Rowe is a star forward for Mayo in Ireland and with an August start date for AFLW, she can determine if she can play both codes.
For players with outside commitments, the delayed announcement for a start date was a particular pain point. Rowe tweeted back in late April: "Please @aflwomens give us the pre season start dates so we can plan our lives."
After this tweet, which garnered support from fellow players Ebony Marnioff (Adelaide), Chloe Molloy (Collingwood) and Tayla Harris (Melbourne), an AFLPA spokesperson commented: "A crucial part of this is ensuring players have enough notice to appropriately plan their lives."
Now, that can actually start happening for players, coaches, support staff and media. Not to mention fans who want to invest in clubs and go to games.
After the draft and sign and trade periods, preseason can officially get underway. Many groups of players from clubs have already been in the gym training together, however now club structured preseason training with full playing lists can officially commence.
With the short AFLW seasons, preseason is especially important in nailing down game plans and team cohesion. Trent Cooper, head coach for AFLW Fremantle, told the ABC: "You really have to get your preseason right with what you're going to do from a game plan point of view because it is extremely difficult to change it mid-season."
This will be even more important ahead of the seventh season as with four new clubs entering the competition through expansion, all 18 clubs will have either completely new or vastly different playing lists to the previous season.
Players will also be better prepared physically, which can help lessen the threat of soft-tissue injuries.
A lot of commotion
A lot has to happen in a very short period of time, so along with the excitement of new player signings and heartbreak of mainstays leaving their old fans for new ones, expect some (potentially a lot) of disruption to the competition and the clubs as we know them.