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St Kilda's Peta Searle takes home top honour

Peta Searle and St Kilda coach Alan Richardson
PETA Searle has capped off a groundbreaking year where she was appointed as a St Kilda assistant coach by winning football's woman of the year award (an initiative by the Essendon Football Club).

Searle was honoured in front of over 900 people at a function in Melbourne on Thursday, just three months after joining the Saints.

She became the first female to join an AFL club's coaching panel in June when she was appointed as a development coach after progressing from a role with VFL club Port Melbourne.

She started her coaching career at Darebin in the Victorian Women's Football League (VWFL) in 2006, where she took the team to a Grand Final before winning five consecutive flags.

Searle, who said being nominated by 2008 winner Susan Alberti was an honour in itself, thanked the Saints for making it an easy transition into the AFL world.

She also said she hoped she could continue to be a role model to other young woman who wanted to be involved in the game.

"Going to work every day with a smile on your face ... it doesn't seem like work," Searle said.

"When I look back at where I've come from and where I am now and where I'll be in the future, it all stems back to the good old days at Darebin.

"Everyone is responsible for giving me the opportunity I have today.

"I feel privileged and humbled to do what I do to stay involved in a game that gives me so much."

This year's finalists included Tanya Gallina and Danielle Bleazby in the professional category, and Colleen Rogers, Barbara Datson, Anissa Groves and Narelle Smith in the honorary category.

Smith - the president of the South Australian Women's Football League and a state coach - was named as the honourary category winner while Searle won the professional category and the overall award.

Datson was honoured with the inaugural "heart and soul" award for her involvement at St Kilda.

Chelsea Randall, Alicia Eva and Nadine Rabah were nominated for the emerging leader award, which was presented for the first time.

Rabah, a 20-year-old multicultural community ambassador for AFL Victoria, won the award after volunteering, umpiring and officiating in the Essendon District League and the VWFL.

Recent winners of the woman of the year award include Michelle Cowan (2013), Belinda Duarte (2012) and Lesley McGrath (2011), while Debbie Lee, Terry Bracks, Beverley O'Connor and the late Jill Lindsay have also been honoured since it was introduced in 1998.

The award was presented at Thursday's Grand Final Comedy Debate at Crown Palladium in Melbourne.

It recognises women in the industry who have made a significant contribution to the game.