Harris support: 'Best kicking technique in the AFL combined'
MACKAY City Hawks A-Grade assistant coach Jennifer Ritchie knows a thing or two about forging a female path in a male-dominated industry.
So she was understandably angered over the comments directed at star Carlton AFLW forward Tayla Harris, on a social media post shared by Channel 7 on Tuesday night.
The image, captured by AFL photographer Michael Willson, showed Harris in full flight as she kicked for goal against the Western Bulldogs in their round seven AFLW clash at the weekend.
Harris' impressive follow through drew praise from all corners of the AFL community - however some online 'trolls' took the opportunity to take aim at the star player through various sexist remarks in the comments section.
The furore caused Channel 7 to remove the post.
Ritchie said such comments on social media were not a new thing, suggesting the current conversation and condemnation is something which needed to happen sooner.
The long-time Aussie rules player and coach added she has to bite her tongue on occasion when browsing social media, reading comments which leave her "angry and frustrated" and which detract from the positive aspects of stories involving female players.
"This is something that's happened for the past three seasons and even prior to that," Ritchie said.
"It's a shame it's gotten to the point that it's taken away from such an athlete and ambassador for the game, from what she's doing."
Ritchie labelled the picture of Harris as already "iconic", and one which proved women are not "second class" to the men when it comes to playing the game of Aussie rules.
"I'd say she's got the best (kicking) technique in the whole of the AFL combined," the Carlton supporter said.
"She is someone you want representing (AFLW). It shows how much work she's put into that technique, and demonstrates that women are not second class in the game."
Ritchie suggested calling people out for their remarks - online and in-person - is an easy first step everyone can take, toward removing such toxicity.
"A good start is actually calling people out, whether it be at a local level or higher," she said.
"The problem in regards to young girls seeing these comments . . . (from) their dad or brothers, is it may actually draw them away from playing.
"We really have to take it on at a personal level. If we can stamp it out now and do our little part, it will help."
Growing up in Aussie rules heartland in Victoria, Ritchie said her sex often made it difficult to gain respect in the sport.
"That was a big hurdle to begin with. Even coaching, sometimes coaching boys you had to have a kick with them first to gain that bit of respect - if I was a male, I'd have that straight away," she said.
"And with parents - I've been asked if I was the team manager when I was the head coach. It's about breaking down those boundaries and barriers.
"Yes we're going in the right direction, but it's probably not happening quick enough."
At the Hawks, Ritchie said she had instantly been made to feel welcome and has the respect of the playing group and her coaching peers.
"The Hawks have been really good, and even the coaches outside of the Hawks have been really supportive," she said.
"I think because I've been within the Mackay region for a while now coaching different things, being a face in the region has definitely helped."
Ritchie added the significant strides in female participation at a grassroots level in Mackay was something which had been "really well received" by the Aussie rules community.