Photo: Posted in Front Page News

by Paul Amy (@PaulAmy375)

WHEN Belinda Bowey started playing senior women’s football in 1992, the league had eight clubs.

Now it has closer to 30, from all parts of the state, and under it are junior competitions whose best players are steered towards elite teams and academy programs.

The game has changed. “And for the better,’’ Bowey said.

As with other girls at the time, Bowey lined up against boys up to Under 14s, then had to stop playing.

She took up boundary umpiring for her twin brother Matt’s team (and watched her eldest brother Brett rove for St Kilda in the AFL).

In 1992 St Kilda formed a team to compete in the Victorian Women’s Football League and Bowey took her place as a foundation Shark.

Nicknamed “Blouse’’, she became one of the league’s leading players, evidenced by her selection in its 25-year team.

She won two best and fairests at St Kilda and coached it for three years, including the Division 1 premiership year of 2004. That same season she played on the MCG, which she regards as the highlight of her career.

This Sunday brings another accolade: Bowey becomes the first women’s player to reach 300 games. Her most ardent supporters, parents Trevor and Claire, will be there, dad taking her stats and mum yelling “kick it to Belinda!’

Bowey left the Sharks three years ago to coach Keysborough but returned to the Peanut Farm when the Keysy players made a collective move to Mordialloc for 2014.

She thought she should be wearing the St Kilda colours for the Mother’s Day milestone. “That only seems fitting since I’ve been around the club so long,’’ she said. So long that at reunions former players ask, “Don’t tell me you’re still playing?’’

Acknowledging her best is in the past, Bowey is playing in the reserves.

“I prefer to be there because I feel like I can actually make a difference and help some of the new players and the team,’’ she said.

“I’m more of smarter player now. I know where to go to get the ball and if it gets a little tough I can just wait out the back and let the young ones go for it.’’

Bowey is also coaching Highett’s Under 16 girls team. Its mere existence underlines the growth of the game among females since 2004, when Football Victoria, prompted by the appearance of three players at VCAT, began to establish junior girls leagues.

“It’s fantastic that so many girls are playing football,’’ Bowey said. “They’ve got amazing skills. Hopefully they can go on and be very good senior players.’’

But she said there was more to do, relating how people were often taken aback when she told them about the women’s football league. The second AFL female draft on May 19 and the women’s match between Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs on June 29 at Etihad Stadium would help bring the game further into the public eye, Bowey said.

Bowey is 39, but not quite ready to hang up the boots. At age 44 her brother Brett had a run for Highett’s reserves last week and kicked three goals. She figures she can take 300 and run with it.