Fremantle coach Trent Cooper does not expect football's coronavirus shutdown to harm the long-term prospects of this year's AFLW draft class.
Instead, the newly crowned AFL Coaches Association coach of the year believes it will only delay the impact the next wave of elite pathway players will have at the top level of the women's game.
Cooper, a former Western Australia Under-18s mentor, has marvelled at the impact players like Madison Prespakis and Olivia Purcell have had bursting onto the AFLW scene in recent seasons.
But with state league and underage football on hold in 2020, talented juniors and second-tier players have so far been denied opportunities to grow in-competition during a crucial year for their development.
"It will probably be harder for them to make an impact next year because it's such an important year for them to get ready," Cooper said.
"The state 18s carnival is a really high standard now and it's a really big step for them to play in that, then it's not that big a jump the next year.
"I remember coaching against Prespakis, Purcell and Nina Morrison and these players (at under-18 level), and you could see they were great then, but they just stepped up and went 'bang' straight away the next year.
"We already know who the talented ones are, so draft-wise I don't think (the shutdown) will make a big difference, but it definitely makes a difference for their development.
"It just might mean that they don't have as big an impact in year one as they can in year two."
The AFL is committed to maintaining the current 14-team AFLW beyond this year, but the exact format and structure surrounding the competition remains a work in progress.
Rules around list sizes and how many players need to be delisted from each squad before the draft will have an effect on how many spots need to be filled.
Cooper tipped a large portion of draftees would be those who impressed as bottom-age players in last year's under-18 championships.
He remains hopeful women's football will return in some format this year.
"You just hope the young girls do get some footy in at some stage because we don't want them lost to the game," he said.
"I'm not just talking about the 18-year-olds, I'm talking about the younger ones as well.
"Hopefully they don't use this time to find out that they like Netflix and computer games.
"Hopefully they are champing at the bit to get outside and get involved in team sport when this is all over."
Australian Associated Press