Why Suns keep coming back to NQ talent pool
FIONA McLarty was a cross-code athlete before it was cool.
AFLW lists boast players with ties to just about every other sport; Crows star Erin Phillips has played basketball for Australia and Mackay's own Emma Pittman was a W-League talent with the Brisbane Roar before she linked with the Gold Coast Suns.
McLarty's background is in athletics and basketball, but it is as an Aussie rules player, coach and administrator that the Suns AFLW head of football has flourished.
McLarty is one of the most senior heads in the game. Her career spans almost 18 years and includes roles at both a grassroots and professional level.
When it comes to establishing, growing and sustaining women's Aussie rules few are better equipped for the job.
"It's been fantastic. I've had the opportunity to progress and learn at grassroots level, spend time at head office in Melbourne and then back home to the Gold Coast. It's been an amazing journey," McLarty said.
She will hit the road with the Suns' AFLW staff and will playgroup for Game 2 of the Winter Series against the Brisbane Lions in Mackay on June 23.
She believes bringing AFLW football to regional Queensland is pivotal if the game is to continue to grow in the state.
"At the Suns our academy zone includes North Queensland, from Gladstone, north to Cape York," McLarty said.
"From our 16 AFLW players, six have ties to North Queensland and two are from Mackay. We think there's a lot of talent up there."
McLarty is uniquely positioned, having worked as AFLQ Gold Coast regional manager and before that as national AFL Auskick manager, to understand the importance of grassroots development.
Even after almost two decades in the sport, McLarty is still surprised the advent of the AFLW "happened so quickly" and is proud Queensland is one of the leaders in the push for female footy.
"AFLQ invested early and they're reaping the rewards," she said.
"One of the really pleasing things, and it's only happened in the past few years, is there's a pathway from Auskick to elite AFLW level.
"Previously girls may have had to spend time playing in male competitions."
Soon it will become harder for cross-code athletes to make a successful transition into AFLW as specialist Aussie rules athletes hit draft age.
The first crop of players to have come through the female footy system are already starting to hit the AFLW scene and make an immediate impact.
"If you look at Madison Prespakis from Carlton, she came in as an 18 year old and had an immediate impact. We've seen girls come through (the system) and they can hold their own spot," McLarty said.