A flock of Swans AFL stars have visited the Illawarra to show their support for the growing women's game.
Several Sydney Swans players, including captain Josh Kennedy, dropped by North Wollongong Beach on Wednesday to meet emerging AFL South Coast women's talent and to help promote the sport.
Kennedy said it was great to see so many women and girls learning to play Australian rules football.
"But it's not just here, it's everywhere," the inspirational midfielder said.
"You go to all of the schools and it's great to see young boys and girls getting out, being active and enjoying it. We're now seeing a real pathway to becoming a professional player.
"I think the last time I was down in the Illawarra for a community camp was about nine years ago. To see that change has been immense and it's something, as players and a community, we're really proud to see grow."
We're now seeing a real pathway to becoming a professional player.Swans captain Josh Kennedy
The Swans have visited the South Coast this week as part of their AFL Community Camp. Players have assisted in bushfire recovery efforts across the region while also taking time to run junior clinics and visit schools.
It has been a refreshing break from pre-season training for the Swans, who are looking to make amends for last year's 15th place finish.
"It's certainly been a longer pre-season than what I'm used to up here which is disappointing," 31-year-old Kennedy said.
"But nonetheless, it's a new opportunity. A clean slate. And I'm looking forward to starting the season. We've seen a lot of improvement during the pre-season from a lot of players.
"There's heaps of areas we can improve on. Certainly in the midfield, we were well down compared to our usual standard across the board with clearances and contested possessions. That's something we certainly want to improve. From a team outlook, we want to be more efficient inside 50 and help out more in defence."
A large number of AFL South Coast women's players took the chance to meet their Swans idols on Wednesday, including Kiama defender Nellie Hicks.
Hicks, who is about to start her third season at the Power, said she had seen great growth in the local women's competition in recent years.
"In our first season, we just had enough players to make a team at Kiama. Last season, we were pushing to have two teams," the 17-year-old said.
"The [player] numbers have definitely increased, as have the number of teams which is great to get harder competition in the area."
Hicks has her eyes set on one day making her AFLW dream become a reality. As well as playing for the Power, the teenager is part of the Illawarra Academy of Sport's AFL Girls program.
She is inspired by the likes of Richmond AFLW star forward, Katie Brennan.
"I'd love to play AFLW. If not, it's really fun playing club footy," Hicks said.
"I grew up around footy, my dad and brother played the game. As soon as the [AFL South Coast] women's comp came up, I decided to join and I haven't looked back."
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