The different paths of Tom Lynch and Bethany Lynch at Richmond Football Club in AFL 2022, AFLW
Bethany calls that glimmer of inspiration “guilty thinking”, something that would now carry no guilt, as AFLW athletes can be selected by one of 18 elite clubs for next season.
“Eventually I saw AFLW on the big screen in the first or second season, and it woke me up to the idea that maybe I could do it,” she said.
Tom admits he gave her candid brotherly advice after hearing her voice those exact words.
“I just said to him, it’s pretty easy to sit down and say, ‘Oh, I could have him on a team if I wanted to’, but what do you do about it? Well, if you want to do it, give it a try.
That was motivation enough for Bethany who started out with VFLW side Richmond, before being signed by North Melbourne as an AFLW rookie in 2018. It wasn’t all easy; Bethany played eight games over three years and was eventually dropped from the roster in 2021, but has bounced back as a roster player for Richmond this pre-season.
In recent weeks, she found herself in the team, playing in a large stadium as she imagined.
As Tom approaches his milestone of 200 games in 2022, the league he knows intimately has always been very structured. AFL athletes are expected at the club almost every day, their contractual obligations rest with the club and they are remunerated for it.
Bethany is a full-time nurse at the North Hospital, currently works in the mental health ward, which she juggles three club training sessions a week, as well as a captain’s race and, of course, a game day during the season, and that’s before any travel.
Not a week has passed this season where the AFLW game has gone unchanged thanks to COVID-19, making the Bethany tightrope infinitely thinner. She describes the parallels between her and Tom’s football careers as “two different worlds”.
“I work all day and then I finish the job and I’ll go to the club from five to nine, obviously the boys are different because they just come home after football,” she said.
While Bethany says she would “definitely put [her] hand up” to be a full-time athlete, she highlights the difficulty such a dynamic change would inevitably cause for many current players.
“It’s work, then football at this stage, because football is only for six months, so your main employer must be your full-time job for the whole year.”
Having just broken into the AFLW squad this season, Bethany is under no illusions knowing the sport can be a tough business, and admits the part-time aspect has a silver lining.
“As a lower level player it’s much easier when you have another job to disconnect from football,” she said.
“When you become full-time, and something the boys would struggle with, football is everything, so if you’re not doing well then it’s your whole life and it’s hard to shut down. It’s like anything, it’s great when it’s great and much harder when it’s not.
Tom says their training schedules are so opposite they barely cross paths (partly due to COVID-19 measures) but the male cohort is eager to see more collaboration.
“The men have spoken at length about wanting to engage more with the women in the future, and that also includes the men and women of the VFL, as we at Richmond are proud to be one club,” said Tom. .
The Tigers dedicated their AFLW Round 10 home game to International Women’s Day, which falls on Tuesday, March 8, and its theme of “breaking down prejudice.”
Tom says having open discussions helps break down any prejudice between the two leagues.
“It’s a good, healthy debate and it’s really great that we’re having these conversations,” he said. “It’s great to see the rapid growth in this small amount of time that we’re about to talk about professionalizing the AFLW.”
Bethany has a direct approach. “I think it’s just about working on that mentality of ‘we’re here and we’re here to stay’.”
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