THE WESTERN Bulldogs have broken new ground with the appointment of Kirby Bentley as their new VFLW coach.
Bentley, 35, is believed to be the first Indigenous woman to win a VFLW or AFLW head coaching job after winning promotion from her AFLW development coaching role with the Bulldogs to replace Sean Kavanagh this week.
The Noongar woman, originally from Mt Barker in southern Western Australia, made her football name at Swan Districts in the WAWFL and played in Fremantle’s inaugural AFLW team in Round 1, 2017, ironically against the Bulldogs at VU Whitten Oval.
She had previously played for Melbourne in the AFLW exhibition games from 2013-16 and is considered one of Western Australia’s greatest female footballers.
She played seven games for the Dockers across two seasons, split by a serious knee injury before moving to Carlton as a free agent in 2019 for another three games, with her AFLW career shortened by a serious knee injury suffered playing for the Allies against Victoria in 2017.
She is a great of West Australian football, being an All Australian and a winner of the Debbie Lee Medal for the player of the AFL Open Women’s Championships in 2011, and is known as a prominent advocate for getting Indigenous girls to play football in her home state.
The Kirby Bentley Cup named in her honour is a 12-a-side round robin tournament played in Perth each year for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders girls aged 13-15 and has gone from strength to strength since kicking off in 2014 with 150 players and 10 teams, providing valuable talent identification for WAWFL clubs and the state talent pathway.
Bentley switched to football from netball, where she played for the Perth Orioles (now West Coast Fever) in the ANZ Championship and the Western Sting in the Australian Netball League and was recognised for her achievements in that sport by the Sport Australia Hall of Fame awards in 2007.
Having only joined the Bulldogs AFLW program at the end of September, Bentley has impressed the club enough in such a short period of time to win the VFLW role.
“I’m obviously excited – I think it’s going to be a great new look for the club and what we are trying to do in making our AFLW and VFLW programs more aligned,” she told westernbulldogs.com.au.
“Having that consistency is great not only for our AFLW players coming through VFLW, but also for our VFLW players who are wanting to take that next step and learn as much as they can about football in an elite environment.
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“I’m big on developing girls and making sure they understand the football lingo and are confident and comfortable enough to be able to ask questions.
“If we can create that environment here, it’s going to attract a lot of players to want to come to this club – Ideally we want them to develop and enjoy it, but feel the challenge too that they are growing.”
Bulldogs AFLW player Ashleigh Guest will be Bentley’s senior assistant coach, while Anna McIlroy, VFLW goalkicking great Rohenna Young and Tom Woodlock will continue in their respective roles.
Western Bulldogs general manager of women’s football Debbie Lee was pleased to give more women the opportunity to coach.
“We’re thrilled to have KB as our VFLW head coach,” the women’s football legend told the club’s website.
“Since joining our AFLW program this preseason, KB has settled in seamlessly and has already had such an impact on our players.
“Having our three assistants continue in their roles, while adding someone with Guesty’s playing experience to our coaching panel, gives us a really well-rounded group which we’re extremely confident in.
“We’re committed to providing opportunities for more females to be involved in coaching positions, and with six out of 11 of our AFLW/VFLW coaches being women, we’d like to think we are well and truly leading the way for that.”
The 2022 rebel VFLW season will start on February 12, with the fixture due to be released shortly.