Marshall's Debut Part of Blockbuster Weekend

In July, the dream of an American woman playing in AFLW moved closer when Dani Marshall signed on with the Western Bulldogs senior side.

Today, seven months later, that dream moves to the precipice of reality.

Marshall, a 28-year-old native of Colorado Springs, Colorado, has been named to the interchange bench for the Bulldogs AFLW season opener against the St Kilda Saints on Saturday night (US time).  Barring anything unforeseen, she will become the first American to play at the sport’s highest level in Australia. She’d also be the first former USAFL player to take the field in either AFL or AFLW.

“It's awesome,” she told USAFL.com this morning.  “Very proud yet humbled at the same time.”

It’s the marquee event of an exciting weekend for American women’s footballers in Australia, with two USAFLers set to go head to head in Northern Territory Football League play.

AFLW Round 1
St Kilda Saints v Western Bulldogs
Where: RSEA Park, Melbourne, Australia
When: Saturday, February 8 – 11pm EST / 8pm PST
TV: LIVE on WatchAFL and Fox Soccer Plus
Radio: 1116 SEN

It’s been a whirlwind ride for Marshall, since joining the Arizona Lady Hawks two years ago.  The 2018 Division 2 Best-and-Fairest winner flew to Australia in May to try out for this very role.  After a short stint at Aberfeldie of the Essendon District Football League, she was signed by the Bulldogs to their VFLW side.  After kicking five goals in three games, the ‘Doggies inked her as an international rookie for this upcoming campaign. 

After a return home to Arizona for six weeks, Dani returned to Footscray in time to be a key cog in the Bulldog’s VFLW Grand Final run.  Her season didn’t end there, though. Between the end of VFLW and the beginning of the AFLW preseason, Marshall travelled to Florida to put on the Hawks jumper again.  This time, she and her Arizona teammates combined with the Philadelphia Hawks women to win the D2 National Championship. Marshall was named MVP of the Grand Final in a come-from behind victory.

Coach Nathan Burke has been trialing her everywhere this preseason, including in the ruck and forward line.  Marshall kicked a goal in each of the two practice matches, and established herself as a tall option alongside Celine Moody.  As it is, she’ll be one of five debutantes in the tricolors’ lineup. The Bulldogs’ lineup has strong international connections, with Irishwomen Aisling McCarthy and Katy Herron lining up alongside Marshall, and Lauren Spark, who once played for the Wimbledon Hawks of AFL London.

For her part, Marshall is very much looking forward to playing with experienced players that she will look to learn from.  “To be named alongside women like Ellie Blackburn and Isabel Huntington is incredible.”

It’s a historic occurance in a number of respects.  Aside from Dani’s debut, it will mark the first AFLW match for the Saints, who are one of four new clubs into the fourth year competition.  It will also be a homecoming for Burke, who played professionally for the Saints from 1987-2003.

BATTLE OF THE YANKS IN DARWIN

Serving as a bit of an undercard to the Dogs-Saints match is one happening in the top end of the country, as two women who are trying to follow in Marshall’s footsteps.

Rosemary Kloh (Sacramento Suns) and April Lewis (Seattle Grizzlies) will go toe to toe as their teams, the Nightcliff Tigers and Southern Districts Crocs, meet in a Round 17 NTFL Women’s Premier match that has serious finals implications.

Lewis, who was on Essendon’s VFLW list last season, has been in form.  She has five goals in the Crocs’ last four games, and has been named to the team’s best in four matches this year.  SDFC is currently sitting third in the nine-team ladder, with the top six advancing to the postseason.

Kloh, a two-time USA Freedom International Cup selection, has been solid in her five games for the Tiges.  They had won their first four games with her in the lineup, the San Diego native having arrived in Darwin on January 2nd.  Nightcliff is currently in 5th and is looking for their first postseason appearance in the history of their women’s side.

The match will be played at 11:30pm USEST / 8:30pm USPST on Friday, February 7th.  The match will not be streamed, but we will provide updates on our social media.