KIRRILLY Hughes is only 22-years-old, but she has playing her part in the emergence of women's football on the Mid-North Coast.
A two-year stint over in the United States on a football scholarship between 2017-2019 provided an opportunity to see how they approached the women's code.
Unfortunately, circumstances outside of her control cut her time short. But she has overcome a self-confessed fear of the ball in her first game as a five-year-old to now being among the 34 percent of women playing the sport on the Mid-North Coast in 2021.
Northern NSW Football has seen a 26 percent increase in female participation overall across the last five years.
Football Far North Coast (30 percent), North Coast Football and Newcastle Football (27 per cent) have exceeded those numbers, while Northern Inland Football (26 per cent) have also shown impressive growth.
Macquarie Football (23 percent) and Hunter Valley Football (22 percent) are also trending in the right direction.
"It's super exciting to see so many girls playing now because I know how much joy and structure it brings into my life, so that's probably happening for a lot of other girls as well," Hughes said.
"A few years ago there was none of that here but we're slowly closing the gap between professionalism in sport for women."Kirrilly Hughes
"People are being more vocal about the value it brings to them and living in a regional area you see more (women's) sporting teams develop which gets the ball rolling and then it's a snowball effect.
"It was never like that when I first started."
The talented Mid Coast FC Women's Premier League midfielder said Australia was slowly catching up to the rest of the world regarding female participation levels and pathways.
"Over in America it's almost like it's sport first and academic achievements second," she said.
"If you genuinely want to play soccer and go somewhere with it there's so much money supporting the schools through sponsorships and scholarships.
"A few years ago there was none of that here but we're slowly closing the gap between professionalism in sport for women."
The Telegraph Point product admitted it was "definitely" achievable to see a 50 percent split in playing numbers between the men and women in coming years.
"It's definitely heading that way," she said.
Football Mid North Coast chairman Mike Parsons admitted the women's football giant was starting to stir from its slumber after a few false dawns.
"If it's not wide awake now, it will awaken as we get closer to the Women's World Cup," he said.
"It's one of the largest sporting events on a global scale so the whole world is going to be watching."
Parsons also shared the confidence in the code's ability to continue to grow their playing numbers especially in the women's divisions.
One of the key factors is to build better female facilities for grounds and in change rooms.
"What we need to have is better lighting and security for training, events and car park security because we owe it to that percentage of our female population to give them better facilities," he said.
"We haven't really focused on delivering improved and up-to-date infrastructure for our female participants in our sport in particular.
"That's what I think we need to improve and to get to that 50-50 level we need to deliver better services for those participants."
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