WESTERN Bulldogs will create a slice of history when new coach Kirby Bentley leads her team into action against Essendon in the rebel VFLW's opening round at The Hangar on Saturday.

Bentley, a star netballer in the early 2000s before taking up footy to get closer to her sister Ash in 2009, was one of the best female players to come out of Western Australia.

She will become the first Indigenous coach in the VFLW's short history, joining Xavier Clarke, who led Richmond's VFL team last year before being promoted up the AFL club's coaching staff, as Indigenous mentors at state league level – and it is a feat she is extremely proud of as she aims to blaze a trail for her people.

"It's creating a pathway for our young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander girls, be it in coaching, in media, or umpiring or whatever else," she said.

Kirby Bentley at the AFLW Women's Football Vision launch in December 2021. Picture: AFL Photos

"I'm just making it easier for our people to step into those roles and know it is OK and acceptable and there is an opportunity in place.

"The Bulldogs have been fantastic with that and the girls have also been very inclusive in that regard and are willing to open those doors.

"I think I'm in the right place and I think there will become a lot of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders … not only players but coaches and umpires as well."

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Bentley's standing in her home state is emphasised by the fact there is an annual tournament, the Kirby Bentley Cup, played in Perth for young Indigenous girls, although she said it was about much more than the name.

"I'm proud there is a Cup in place, it doesn't necessarily have to be my name on it, that's not what it's about, it's just great for the girls to be able to play in something and feel wanted and to be given the opportunities to do those things," she said.

Western Bulldogs development coach Kirby Bentley gives instructions during a training session on November 30, 2021. Picture: AFL Photos

"That's exciting for me, but I do want to take it to another level in regards to making it a little bit more professional and creating an elite environment, teaching those small things like commitment, rehab and training and even prehab.

"With our female football in AFLW it's important we start to invest in those players, so when that investment creates opportunities for our players to come in, not only will they be great players, but eventually we will have the coaching capacity too."

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Bentley was surprised when AFLW coach Nathan Burke asked her to coach the Bulldogs' VFLW team when Sean Kavanagh resigned just a couple of weeks after she arrived at VU Whitten Oval, but said her players had made the step up a simple one.

"I was signed as a development coach in AFLW first and then the opportunity came up a couple of weeks into that role, so I'm excited, I've got a lot to learn and also a lot to give, and with a young group of girls that are coachable, it makes it so much easier to be able to take those next steps and make it your own," she said.

"The AFLW girls will come down into the VFLW and they're learning and growing a lot ... our girls are so coachable and we're able to educate and guide them in the right direction.

Kirby Bentley during a Western Bulldogs training session at Whitten Oval on November 30, 2021. Picture: Getty Images

"Hopefully we do get a couple of wins and if we do make finals that would be awesome, but if we don't there is a lot of room where we can still grow, which I think is more exciting.

"We want to get back to playing finals and Grand Finals, but it's almost like a three-year plan."

The Bulldogs had a well-documented battle with COVID last month which disrupted not only their AFLW program but also preparations for the VFLW season, with only one practice match potentially leaving them underdone for the clash with the Bombers, but Bentley was just taking it in her stride.

"We just have to be adaptable – everything is out of our control," she said.

"When it comes to the health and wellbeing of your players and staff, you've just got to make sure that's your first priority before you start making any kind of football decisions, but we've been pretty good, we're pretty lucky in the VFLW program that some of our girls haven't stopped and have been able to keep training."


Saturday, April 12
Casey Demons v Port Melbourne (Casey Fields, Cranbourne East, 10.35am)
Darebin v Williamstown (La Trobe University, Bundoora, 11am)
Essendon v Western Bulldogs (The Hangar, Tullamarine, 12.30pm)
Geelong v Carlton (Deakin University, Waurn Ponds, 2pm)

Sunday, February 13
North Melbourne v Hawthorn (Arden St, North Melbourne, 9.30am)
Collingwood v Southern Saints (Victoria Park, 10am)