Essendon is hoping the momentum from its current maiden VFLW finals campaign will roll on into an AFLW licence.
The Bombers are one of four teams submitting an application this week, with presentations to be held shortly before the AFL Commission is due to make a decision next month.
Womens.afl spoke to Essendon's general manager of football Josh Mahoney – who was previously involved in the creation of Melbourne's AFLW side – about the Bombers' campaign.
Like Hawthorn, Essendon opted not to apply for a licence in 2016, at the time still dealing with the fallout from the supplements saga.
The Bombers applied in the 2017 round (which resulted in a two-stage roll-out over the 2019 and 2020 seasons).
They were unsuccessful, and entered a team in the VFLW for the first time in 2018.
Why they're confident
Essendon has been watching on carefully as six sides made their entry to the AFLW across the 2019 and 2020 seasons.
"The benefit of that is we've had some additional time to prepare. We want to make sure we're ready to go when we do get the nod, and make an impact from season one," Mahoney said.
"We've got a lot of internal working groups, the club's really invested in it and we certainly have used this time effectively.
"One of the advantages is all the learnings we can gather from other AFLW programs – things they've done well and things they haven't done so well, in terms of their environment, their integration, their coaching, their list.
"So, there are a lot of benefits we can get out of looking at teams who have gone before us as well."
Background in women's footy
Essendon had a rocky start in the VFLW, winning just one game and finishing last in its first season in 2018.
There were steady gains made in 2019 with six wins, finishing ninth of 13 sides, while this weekend the Bombers have a chance to qualify for a Grand Final in a slightly complex finals series.
"Watching them at the start of the year, to see their improvement through the year, their attitude towards getting better, it's really given us an insight into what the club will be like with an AFLW program," Mahoney said.
"I think year on year, there's learnings on how to improve the program.
"They're a group who have played together for a number of years now, and I think every year, the coaching's got better, their form's gotten better, their fitness has gotten better, so over that time, I think that's where the improvement has come from."
Essendon has built strong links through the north-western corridor in Melbourne, including with powerful NAB League club Calder Cannons.
The club is also keen on further developing its First Nations program in the Northern Territory, which has seen some players take to the field with the VFLW side over the past few years.
"We've had a great relationship with Calder Cannons and Bendigo Pioneers, and we want to really build on that now and our Next Generation Academy region, which is the north-west," Mahoney said.
"It is a big football area, and we've still got so much growth and potential within that as well. It's an important part of our bid, that we grow the game and want to invest into that region, as well as our First Nations program in the Northern Territory.
"We think that's really important, the more we invest in that, the more it’s going to benefit the league and Essendon.
"We're also in a very fortunate position where we've got some amazing facilities here which have just been finished. They're brand new, they're exclusive to our women's program and have been integrated into the Hangar."
Why they should be included
With a large, passionate supporter base behind it, Essendon is raring to get a start in the NAB AFLW competition.
Like the other three clubs, the Bombers feel an AFLW team will complete them.
"I've been involved in the build of a different club in Melbourne, and while you can't take a cookie-cutter approach to each club, I've certainly had some experience in that area," Mahoney said.
"I've seen first-hand the positive impact an AFLW team has on a club, not only across the whole club but particularly in the footy department, so I'm looking forward to having that here at Essendon.
"Overall, we've had time. So, we've got facilities, commercial support and the overall investment and buy-in by the club – which we've seen through the VFLW team – suggests we're ready to go.
"We're just waiting for the decision to be made, and hopefully we don't have too much longer to wait."