Gunnedah’s Khobi Devine is kicking into 2023 as the AFL North West region’s first ever development coordinator.

The full-time position will see her travel the region to grow the game and expand player numbers in regional centres across the North West.

“We’re trying to get as much participation as we can especially around junior competitions and drive some more school programs,” the 2022 Gunnedah Bulldogs vice captain said.

Key to building that growth is the start of an under 10 and 12 years competition in the region.

“We’ve never had that out here before,” she said.

Both divisions will be mixed boys and girls but the 10 years division will be non-competitive. The proposal is for all players and teams to combine in a ‘gala day’ format at one venue each week. 

Plans are also moving ahead to raise an under 17 girls competition in the region and hopes are high they will field enough interest to enter a Gunnedah team as well.

“That will be massive for our region and growing women’s footy,” Devine said.

“The girls have had a couple of gala days which gauged some interest. 

“A few of those players have stuck around and are training with the women [at the Gunnedah Bulldogs club] so that helps them get a few more friends in and hopefully a team.”

For a rugby league and union-dominated area, Devine said the region is rich with talented Aussie Rules players and being able to harness that will lead to stronger competitions for all.

“The more participation we can get, the better, as it leads to more pathways for our developing senior competitions,” she said.

On the field, this year will also be Devine’s fourth season playing with the Gunnedah Bulldogs AFC in the region-wide, women’s competition.

Despite resounding success throughout last year’s regular season with a minor premiership to boot, the team lost by a solitary point to Inverell in the grand final.

Although the emotional scars remain of that defeat, Devine said the experience had made the team even more driven to succeed and keep improving.

“We had a few challenging games last year but you don’t get better without tough competition,” she reasoned.

“We’re excited to keep growing and developing as a team … keep building on what we’ve already created.”

AFL development lead for Northern NSW, Matt Crawley, said the sport is incredibly fortunate to have Khobi on board.

“It’s very exciting for a variety of different reasons – it’s great she’s a young indigenous woman who is passionate about our game and ready to rip into it and really grow grassroots footy in the North West,” he said.

“I think it has been an untapped market for years and this is the first time we’ve had someone in this position – she’s the perfect person for the role.”

Crawley said the Sydney Swans’ signing of Gunnedah representative Alice Mitchell – backed by recent additions Lauren Appleby (Moree) and Ruby Spark (Tamworth) to the Swans’ junior academy – have been instrumental in raising the sport’s profile across the North West region.

“It shows there is some really good talent out here,” he said.

“If we can grow the game more at the grassroots, it will give us the opportunity to find more talent – those who could potentially make the game’s elite level.”

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