'I was always going to pick Daisy': The coin toss that determined a legacy

IT WAS the toss of a coin that decided a legacy.

Premiership captain Daisy Pearce has been intrinsically linked with Melbourne since the women's exhibition series started in 2013, but it only happened as she was taken with the No.1 selection in the draft ahead of the first match.

And just who had the first pick was decided by a simple coin toss between Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs.

"Daisy Pearce, of course, we flipped a coin to find out who got the first pick, and I was always going to pick Daisy," Australian football hall of fame member Debbie Lee told the League Leaders podcast.

"We were on a bus at a national carnival years before, and I was sitting next to Daisy in the front seat, and I said to Daisy these exact words, when AFLW wasn't happening: 'Daisy, you're going to be the first woman drafted'."

Having worked in community football at the Western Bulldogs in the late 2000s, Lee was approached by Melbourne to help bolster its community wing as it started to invest in the Casey region (now a training base and state league home ground) for the first time.

League Leaders: How Debbie Lee helped grow the women's game

41:18 Mar 22. 2023. 3:20 PM

Nicole Livingstone is joined by the AFL's National Women and Girls Action Plan Lead Debbie Lee to discuss her journey to becoming the first female inductee into the AFL Hall of Fame

She was there for eight years before returning to the Dogs to head up its women's program for the 2018 AFLW season, which resulted in a premiership.

"I remember sitting in a meeting, they were saying 'we want to grow membership, we want to grow the Melbourne football club, how are we going to do it?' China popped up, and I actually went to China, and we put a game on against Brisbane in China," Lee said.

"Post that meeting, I said to Jen (Watt, current North Melbourne CEO) who was my boss at the time, 'I might have something for you'. And she said, 'what?' And I said, 'how about women, in growing the game?'

"I knew the audience, I knew the appetite and how passionate they were. I said, 'we've got this huge audience that no one is tapping into'. And in Jen style, she took the idea and made it happen internally, and we had the exhibition series.

Ellie Blackburn and Debbie Lee after the Bulldogs' 2018 AFLW premiership win. Picture: AFL Photos

"We engaged Peta Searle, she was the first coach. And we also got Jan Cooper, the legendary Jan Cooper, who we all know, she's amazing. She did a lot of groundwork prior to AFLW, so we got her involved.

"Then we looked around the country at women who were coaches and got the fabulous Michelle Cowan, and put her in as coach, and Sam Lane was the one who hosted it. It was a really interesting draft, because the AFL was behind it – they were sort of behind it in terms of, 'we'll just run with this', but no one knew the players."

In the episode, Lee also discusses her journey into playing and coaching football in a society that was unwelcoming to women in the game, why she persisted over that time, her IVF journey with partner Laura and children Stevie and Mack, and her current role at the AFL.