Marshall Makes History, Signs with AFLW Bulldogs

With the burgeoning quality and quantity of women’s Aussie Rules here in the USA, it wasn’t a question of if an American would get signed by an AFL Women's team.  Just when, and who.

On Wednesday, those questions were answered when Coloradan Danielle “Dani” Marshall was signed by the Western Bulldogs for the 2020 AFLW season.  She becomes the first American woman to ink a deal with an AFL club.

"I'm so thankful for everyone that has supported me," Marshall told USAFL.com. "The Arizona Hawks and the USAFL have played a large part in my development as a player.  And, thanks to the Bulldogs for believing in me. I am beyond thrilled to be competing and training with the amazing women in AFLW."

It’s been a quick rise for Marshall, who was a four-year starter for the Colorado School of Mines soccer team from 2009-12.  As she told us in February, it was during her freshman year at Mines that she and her roommate and soccer teammate, Texas Heat star Aubrey Bagley, first saw the game on ESPN.  She followed along with the AFL during that time, but wasn’t able to play due to scholarship commitments.

In 2017, however, Bagley had started playing in Houston for the Heat, and she told Marshall, who was now living in Phoenix, about the Arizona Hawks.  Both Marshall and her husband, Ryan, joined the Hawks the next year. 

Marshall’s play turned heads during the regular season and at the USAFL Nationals in Racine, Wisconsin last October.  She would win the Paul Roos Medal for Best and Fairest in Division 2, the first female rookie to do it and four seasons, and observers were already talking about the possibility of her succeeding at a high level in Australia should she get the opportunity.

The northern spring was a busy one for the 28-year-old.  In March, she was one of 125 players who attended the USA Freedom open camp in Phoenix, trying to advance to the Training Squad from home the women’s National team would be selected in this cycle.  She ended up being selected for the August invite-only camp in Racine, Wisconsin, from which the team for next year’s AFL International Cup tournament will be drawn.

May saw the big step, the big chance.  Marshall was able to go over to Melbourne for five weeks to try and make an impression with clubs in VFLW, with an eye on being signed ahead of the 2020 AFLW season.  She made her Australian debut with Aberfeldie of the Essendon District Football League.  She had had tryouts and discussion with several AFLW sides, all the while capturing the attention of media outlets in Australia.

But it was the Western Bulldogs that gave Marshall her first crack at state level football.  And she made the most of it.

Logging three games for the Doggies in VFLW play, Marshall kicked five goals, averaged eleven possessions a game, and showed her versatility as an on-baller and forward.  She was playing alongside AFLW stars Brooke Lochland and Bonnie Toogood, and looked in complete lockstep with the action going on around her.  Following her last game before coming back home, against Geelong on June 2nd, Marshall was named to the round’s team of the week.  She was in good company, with her name appearing with household AFLW names – Bri Davey, Jess Hosking, and Meg Hutchins among them.

Dani Marshall will return to Footscray in time for the Bulldogs’ Round 11 against the Southern Saints, as they push for a chance at finals (football).  Her ultimate goal will be to line up in the famous tricolors in February, when the fourth AFLW season kicks off.  Her determination at trainings, and her preparation for matches, has already won her many fans on both continents and her sporting background has ensured a smooth transition so far.

Marshall’s signing is a groundbreaking moment in the development of Aussie Rules football overseas.  And this surely is just the beginning of Americans playing at the game’s highest level.  Aside from Marshall, four other American women are currently listed on VFLW teams, and others will most likely be making the sojourn across the Pacific in the coming years.  And with the competition expanding to fourteen teams in 2020, and filling out at eight by the middle of the decade, there will be plenty of opportunities available for non-Australians to follow in Marshall’s footsteps.

But for now, the AFLW season cannot come soon enough, and the possibilities are endless for anyone who supports this game of Australian Rules Football from afar.

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