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Crunched by Daisy

The AFL exhibition game in 2013 was a huge thrill. But, again, I was so naive, when I think back to it.

 

We spent four days in Melbourne leading up to the game. I’d never met people like Emma Kearney, Ellie Blackburn, Katie Brennan - these pioneers of women’s footy.

 

I couldn’t really comprehend what was going on. I was this young pup kicking a footy around with all these superstars and just kind of not realising how big a deal it was. When the game came around, I received quite a shock.

 

I only played a few minutes, but it was enough time for me to get smashed. The ball was in their forward line, I grabbed it and I remember this player wrapped me up in the tightest tackle ever and absolutely crunched me. That was the first time I encountered Daisy Pearce on a footy field.

 

 

In a way, that moment confirmed that my heart was well and truly with footy. I wasn’t sure what would happen after that game, but I knew I wanted to keep playing, as I had since I joined the boys’ team when I was at primary school.

 

We had a competition called the Eagles Cup and I remember telling one of the teachers I wanted to play. The teacher actually got all the boys together, with me there, and asked them if they were OK with me playing in their team.

 

It was quite daunting for a Year 6 girl to have that happen! As it turned out, they were all fine with it. I think they all thought, like me, well of course she can play. Why not?

 

They turned out to be my first few games of actual football and I was pretty much hooked from there.

 

Once I got to 13, I wasn’t allowed to play competitively anymore with the boys. But Dad had heard about a women’s team not far from our home, so we went to have a look.

 

I must have been quite a sight to these grown women, rocking up in my Eagles jumper, wearing my skins, carrying my footy under my arm. I wasn’t even 14.

 

After training, a couple of the players asked me to join the team. By round three I was playing for them. I’d just run around the forward pocket, grab the ball and run away from everyone. No one could catch me. It was quite funny.

 

 

Marquee move

When I moved over to play for Adelaide as one of their two marquees in the first season of AFLW, I was 19 and had never lived out of home. In fact, I’d never moved house! The biggest change I’d gone through in my life was when I went from primary school to high school. So, it was a really big thing.

 

Making a decision like that to chase a footy dream was pretty significant. You go through some pretty big ups and downs. There was a lot to learn about mental resilience, living in a new city alongside the constant pressure of playing AFLW and being a marquee player.

 

Fewer and fewer girls were turning up to training, but I didn’t take notice until the end when they announced, �This is the final squad for the Youth Olympics’. I was like, �What?’

 

The way it happened suggested little about how challenging it would be. I was fresh out of a traineeship with AFL Sports Ready and wasn’t sure about my working future. All I knew was I wanted to keep playing and that I worked well in community areas.

 

I approached Jan Cooper, a legend of the game, told her I was looking for a job and asked if she knew of any opportunities. She said she’d keep a look out.

 

About six weeks later Jan said something had come up but it would involve moving to Adelaide. I was a bit caught by surprise.

 

The job was with the SANFL working in female engagement and playing for Adelaide footy club. I thought it sounded great. As I got a few more of the details and it became a little bit more real, there were some moments when I felt a bit unsure about it all. But I had to give it a go.

 

The experience turned out to be life-changing, absolutely, and I wouldn’t swap it for anything in the world. We won a premiership, the highest achievement, and that’s a great thing to have been part of. It also taught me a huge amount about myself.

 

 

I’m 22 now and I’ve matured so much since heading to Adelaide. I look at life a lot differently than I did three years ago. What I thought was difficult back then isn’t really that difficult. It taught me a lot about what we’re all capable of, how far you can push yourself mentally and physically.

 

Sometimes life is about learning to run before you can walk. I think that’s the way it is for all of us in the AFLW, we’re all in the deep end and finding our way through it. And, as a collective, I think it’s working.

 

Having said that - and having packed a lot of interesting experiences into the past few years - I’m so glad to have gone full circle and come back to play for Fremantle. Ultimately, I’ve come back to be around my family. My dad’s my No.1 supporter, he’s been there since the start, always taking me to footy training and helping me out.

 

I’ve played rugby in Sydney and won a gold medal for Australia in China. I got introduced to big-time footy by getting crunched by Daisy Pearce on the MCG and ended up winning a premiership with Adelaide and learning so much.

 

It feels great to be back home. This is where I want to be. I’ve never been more focused, more settled and determined to become the best player and person I can be.

 

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