All Australian Football League (AFL) clubs will have a team in AFLW, the women's top flight of Australian Rules football, for the start of the 2022-23 season after the league awarded licences to Essendon, Hawthorn, Port Adelaide and Sydney Swans today.

AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan confirmed the AFLW will expand to an 18-team competition by the end of 2022, describing the move as a "defining day" in the history of Australian football.

The professional women's competition was set up with eight teams in 2017 and expanded to 14 in 2020 to tap into growing interest.

"To have 18 AFLW clubs is to send a message to every female playing footy that they can play for any one of our 18 teams," McLachlan said.

"Simply, the competition is now whole. Today is a pretty defining day, I think, in the history of Australian football."

Port Adelaide and Sydney Swans had not previously applied for a licence, while Essendon and Hawthorn first submitted applications ahead of the 2019 intake.

The upcoming 2021-22 AFLW season will remain a 14-team competition, with the new sides being given 16 months to prepare for their debut.

There were 14 Irish players in last season's AFLW, including: Tipperary's Grand Final winner Orla O'Dwyer (Brisbane Lions), former Mayo star Cora Staunton (Greater Western Sydney Giants), Dublin All-Ireland winners Sinead Goldrick, Lauren Magee and Niamh McEvoy (Melbourne Demons), and RTÉ columnist, 2019 champion Ailish Considine (Adelaide Crows).

The January to April season this year meant players could return to play inter-county and club football in Ireland but the longer schedule the expansion will bring will make that more difficult.

The upcoming season will begin in December, with pre-season training likely to kick off from next month. An earlier start next year would clash with the knockout stages of the TG4 All-Ireland championship, the 2020 final of which is on 5 September.

Speaking to RTÉ in 2019, Staunton said: "It's matching at the moment that girls are coming home in May and can play in the Championship but that won't last forever."