AFLW #6 - Dani Marshall, signed


Key position defender from the USA, ex-Footscray AFLW.

Has dominated the VFLW this year.


About bloody time!

Start learning about Marshall by listening to this. Hell of a story.

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Can also play key forward, and at a pinch in the ruck. She’s only officially 168cm but strong and when called upon has displayed decent ruck craft.

Her kicking style is not textbook but she can kick fifty metres, usually very accurately and often after a run and bounce, and as a CHB that should scare the crap out of the opposition.

I approve of this signing.

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I need a jumper with her number on it.

Yeah, I’ll wear a farking AFLW jumper, I don’t care.


One more premiership medal than Mason Cox :sunglasses:


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Dani :two_hearts:


‘Bon and I always loved playing together’: Marshall on being reunited with ex-teammate


Essendon Bombers cross-coder Danielle Marshall (Picture: AFL, Design by Will Cuckson)

After signing with the Essendon Bombers ahead of their inaugural season in the AFLW, Danielle Marshall was not only grateful for a second chance, but for a familiar face within the set-up. This came in the form of Bonnie Toogood who became a co-captain of the club alongside Steph Cain.

Playing together at the Western Bulldogs from 2020 to 2021 before Marshall was delisted by the Bulldogs after five games, the pair formed a close friendship. Featuring in 16 games across her time at both clubs, she played in 15 of those with Toogood, who she has watched mature in the league.

Fast forward two seasons since her delisting and Marshall is enjoying life at the Bombers. Picked up in the AFLW season seven trade and sign period, she was one of the VFLW Bombers given a call up to their inaugural list.

One of the biggest profile recruits, Toogood moved to Essendon to realise her childhood dream where she linked up with her former teammate Marshall, this time as one of her co-captains.

Speaking exclusively to The Inner Sanctum, Marshall gives some insight into what it has been like to watch Toogood blossom into the footballer she is today.

“Bon and I always loved playing together so it’s been amazing to play with her again,” Marshall explained.

“[For me], just to see her develop from when I got here as a 21-year-old to now basically being 25 [years old] and being a captain of a team and just to see all her hard work pay off, [it] was just so amazing.

“Her transition from netball and everything like that, like her work ethic and her care for her teammates is just amazing so I’m just pleased for her.”

Bonnie Toogood poses for a photo with Essendon men’s captain Dyson Heppell. (Photo: Essendon FCW)

Also appointed as a co-captain at the Bombers is former Fremantle Dockers’ midfielder Steph Cain. After being drafted to Fremantle in its inaugural season, she played 32 games despite being delisted after her first season. Coupled with an ACL injury in 2020 that saw her miss all but one game, Cain has worked hard to become the consistent contributor that she has turned out to be.

After she moved to the Bombers to continue her AFLW career, Marshall formed a great relationship with Cain.

“[With] ‘Caino’, I was lucky enough to have her stay at my house for a week when she first came over from Freo,” Marshall said.

“[For me] just to get to know her and her story and her dedication to getting better and to improving her game. [It was also] the way she really fitted in with the girls, with the team, [it is] a transition that could have been rough but she’s really gotten stuck in and done really well.

“[I’m] so really proud of her as well for making the transition and the call to move to another state to continue her dream of footy.”

Nat Wood has taken on the inaugural head coaching role at Essendon after some extensive experience including working at the Western Bulldogs as an assistant midfield coach for the last two seasons. Before this she spent four years as a midfield coach for the AFLW team and the VFLW team at different points at Geelong. Her time at the Bulldogs was where she crossed paths with Marshall.

“I had the pleasure of working with Nat at the Bulldogs before she headed over to Essendon so I had a little bit of a heads up on what she’s like and her personality,” she explained.

“I was really excited because I know she’s a really good long-term planner, like she’s not going to get overwhelmed by one day of something happening but she’s going to have a long-term plan for the team and set up a really good system.

“It’s really nice to have someone like that as your head coach, you feel like you have good direction, you feel like you know how things are working together and it might not click all in one game but you know that there’s a plan and something you can hold onto which is really nice.”

When asked about the culture and feel around the club, Marshall is excited for the rest of the season as the team looks to have some significant synergy as a group.

“[It’s been] really good actually, it’s always a bit iffy when you get 30 girls that are all new to a club trying to come into one place and everything like that but honestly everyone has gotten along fabulously and yeah it’s just been really, really great and I’ve been loving it,” she said.

Winning two games out of the five played so far, at times the Bombers look to have the talent to be considered one of the best expansion sides out of the league. The main comparison is with North Melbourne in 2019, which brought in top end talent and fringe experienced heads to build its list.

When asking Marshall about the reasons for their relative success so far, she points out the great recruiting and planning of the Bombers which mirrors that of the Kangaroos.

“Honestly, kind of like when North came in, I think it was a lot of the planning and recruiting strategy, who they recruited and the players that they brought in and what that looked like,” Marshall explained.

“I think they got a lot of players that were underrated at their previous clubs maybe just because of other players that were around them. [The Bombers] bringing them all in with the personalities and attitudes that they have to work hard and bring a team together, [it] was just really smart the way they did it.”

One of the highlights of the AFLW season has been the use of larger stadiums with Marvel Stadium showcasing the first game between the Bombers and Hawthorn in Round One. 12,092 people attended the match at Marvel which captured the attention of those at the ground and across the country.

Marshall reminisced about the game, while also mentioning the importance of giving the AFLW a bigger stage to showcase their talents and how it will lead to a better product.

“It was amazing to be able to have a ground that big, that perfect and then be able to fill the whole first level with people,” she said.

“We definitely couldn’t hear each other on the field, we definitely had to up the communication a lot but [it’s] definitely probably the most fun game I’ve ever played, partly due to the atmosphere.

“I think it really lifts you and lifts the team and a lot of people I’ve spoken to have said it’s their favourite game they’ve ever been to or ever watched on TV, so I think the viewership will go up if it’s held at these stadiums.

“I think the level of play goes up on good grounds, I mean you just have to watch the games that were held in the rain to know that the level of footy will go up if it’s held on grounds like that.

“I think in the long run that should be the goal sooner rather than later to have the women playing on these types of grounds.”


dreamy face

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Featured on this morning’s AM in a piece about the USAFL.


Audio up now:


ABC news had a piece on that tonight, also did a little interview with Dani. :slightly_smiling_face:


USAFL-Cameron Schwarz-3
The DC Eagles train together in front of the Washington Monument.(Cameron Schwarz)

While the AFLW has just wrapped its first season with all 18 clubs, a branch of the game in the United States is breeding hundreds of young female players.

The USAFL community league has been around for more than 25 years, and 17 clubs now have a developing women’s side.

But player agents fear the AFL has “missed the boat” by not investing in international pathways when the women’s game was in its infancy.

Now sportswomen willing to move to Australia from the US are likely too far behind in their development compared with those already contracted to the AFLW.

Jason Hill runs Crosscoders, an agency helping sportswomen around the world find paid opportunities in sport.

“I think the AFL missed the boat,” Hill said.

"The talent we see now on the park week in, week out in the AFLW is at such a high level that to see someone come from what is their community league — anywhere in the world now — would be a massive step up.”

Danielle Marshall during an Essendon AFLW training session.
Danielle Marshall played a part in Essendon’s inaugural AFLW season.(Essendon Bombers)

Since the AFLW competition was established in 2017, just one American woman has been able to break through – Essendon’s Danielle Marshall.

“There are no scholarships. There are no pathways really,” Marshall said.

"It was basically just like, 'I’m going to take a gamble on this, I’m going to buy my own plane tickets, find my own place to stay, find my own local club.’”

The Bombers forward credits her success to pursuing the game professionally in its early stages and also having contacts at her first club, the Western Bulldogs.

Marshall had a strong sporting background, having played soccer and ultimate frisbee at a high level.

A close-up image of Danielle Marshall with her head bowed in a team huddle.
Marshall has experienced a steep learning curve since moving to Australia.(Essendon Bombers)

But she admitted her exposure to AFL was fairly limited before moving to Melbourne to play at a state level.

“In Arizona, we only had like four girls, so a lot of times we were just playing around with the guys,” Marshall said.

“You can’t really go to the store [in the US] and buy an Aussie rules football … you don’t have goals, you don’t have things like that,” she added.

‘Less risky’ to invest in Irish talent

When the AFLW started, Hill brought players from the US and Canada to Melbourne for development camps.

But as the league expanded, Australian clubs began leaning more towards signing Irish imports, who had experience playing Gaelic football and had a transferable skill set.

“They (clubs) head to Ireland where they know they’ve got an elite-level athlete — if nothing else — that plays a similar game to the AFL,” Hill said.

“[Clubs have] seen success through the likes of every Irish player that has come before … so it’s a less risky situation, especially when you factor in the additional costs around relocation flights,” he added.

Of the 36 international players who were contracted to the AFLW in 2022, half were Irish.

More than 70 players across the men’s and women’s competition are international imports, but just three — including Collingwood’s Mason Cox — were born in the US.

That is not to say more Americans will not pursue the AFL and women’s competition in the future.

Meghan Sullivan kicks a ball during a training session on the Gold Coast.
Meghan Sullivan has been plying her trade with the Southport Sharks on the Gold Coast.(Supplied: Steve Keen)

Former USAFL player Meghan Sullivan followed her husband to the Gold Coast to complete a university masters’ degree.

But the relocation was twofold, with the 31-year-old wanting to pursue her new-found passion for Australian rules.

“I’d like to play at the highest level that I can,” Sullivan said.

"That’s partially why I chose to come to the Southport Sharks.”

Sullivan was recently named the best first-year player in the Queensland state league (QAFLW Reserves), despite admitting her experience in the US league was limited.

“Coming here, it was really hard to get confidence,” Sullivan said.

"I kind of played every position and wherever the club needed me … I hadn’t played a full game of 16s (16 a side) before.

"It was really hard to cement where I felt comfortable, especially with learning all the rules, and obviously the competition is at such a higher level.”

'A bunch of footy fanatics’

Many community teams in the USAFL are a carbon copy of the Australian clubs in terms of branding.

Claire Conley joined the DC Eagles, a side based in the US capital, Washington DC.

While the team hails from the country’s east coast, team colours — and even logos — are almost identical to the AFL’s West Coast Eagles.

“It’s the sense of camaraderie. I’ve moved around the US a lot and everywhere I’ve gone I’ve been able to find a USAFL team,” Conley said.

Claire Conley
Claire Conley (middle) and her DC Eagles teammates in front of the Washington Monument.(Cameron Schwarz)

Sullivan initially found Australian rules through the DC Eagles during COVID-19.

“They are just a bunch of footy fanatics and it’s really contagious,” she said.

"The sport in the US is growing so fast.”

Marshall said she was optimistic she would not be the last American import to the AFLW if small investments were made in community clubs alongside more resources for US coaches.

“Maybe even mentors — things like that would be really helpful,” she said.

"Even just to facilitate the clubs getting footys … I didn’t have a women’s ball for the whole first year that I played.”

Local fields in the US still do not have goals. Conley joked about the makeshift alternative.

“We have big metal rods that they just … sort of hammer into the ground and it’s PVC pipes,” she said.

Even players who do not have an ambition to play professionally want to see more investment to develop the US branch of the game.

“Part of it is about the actual tangible support things like balls, things like helping us support youth leagues,” Conley said.

“We don’t really have much of a strong youth presence and so that would be really important.”

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I certainly worry about the talent gap widening - anyone who doesn’t pick up the sport as a young child and doesn’t develop natural kicking skills on both feet is probably going to always have a somewhat limited ceiling.

From my own experience playing in the leagues over there - you could always find people that were strong, fast, and with enough self-education could learn to read a game pretty well - but the disposal is just not near enough to even compare. You just don’t get the pinpoint accuracy that you need or the ability to learn how to do it under the kind of pressure or speed that comes at higher levels.

I think if more Americans want to come over and play here at a high level, they’ll need to start young and be exposed to proper technique or coaching. As local numbers swell and developmental leagues flourish, it may take a really exceptional player to break in in future years.


'Marshall said she was optimistic she would not be the last American import to the AFLW if small investments were made in community clubs alongside more resources for US coaches.

“Maybe even mentors — things like that would be really helpful,” she said.’

Well @StealthBomber, it’s time for you to get a new job, mentoring. :slightly_smiling_face: :wink:

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Another article about Dani today. She’s getting a lot of press lately.