Almanac Women’s Footy: New sport, new team and new boots
I bought my first pair of footy boots yesterday.
I’m 23, and halfway through my first pre-season. I’ve been privileged enough to be involved in covering the AFL Women’s, and spent most of my summer engrossed in team lists, frantically trying to learn over 200 new players. So I thought it was time to put my money where my mouth/keyboard is, and signed up for my first season of football.
There are about 20 of us now, all new players but one. For a while, a new player would show up nearly every training session – sisters, cousins, school friends, co-workers and girls who found the team on facebook. And all have caught the AFLW buzz.
When I was little, I had a recurring daydream of filling in for Richmond, as a 10-year-old girl. Somehow, I had scored a spot in the coach’s box for the day. Then, disaster would strike, and for some reason, Danny Frawley or Terry Wallace would need an emergency player. And they’d pluck me out of the box, find a kid-size kit somewhere, and send me on to the field, just in time for me to kick the ball to Richo, who’d kick the winning goal.
As unrealistic as that sounds, until this year, that was the most likely way a girl could play AFL. Even playing local footy just wasn’t really an option – none of my friends did, so I stuck to netball. For 15 years.
It shows in my footy “skills”. When I mark, I land on my right foot; lock it to the ground, ready to step forward on my left. I think I always will. Marks are taken on my right shoulder, because that’s where I catch a netball, ready for the next pass. I struggle to remember to run backwards from the mark, expecting the defender to jump back instead. Netball, played in such a limited area, has taught me the value of space. Now, I relish seeing space and being able to run into it. With the ball. Freedom.
Tackling is a whole new experience.
The girls show up to training every few days, comparing new bruises and scratches from the last session. Knees, elbows, arms, legs and fingers have all come under attack from ovals baked under a January sun, as well as our own over-enthusiasm.
Our kicking skills are slowly improving. We can kick further, but that usually means more running to chase down loose kicks. We joke we’re fitter than the senior men’s team, because of our missed kicks.
I haven’t trained for any sports for six years. Local netball is different to footy – we thought nothing of showing up two minutes before the starting siren. We felt we’d play badly if we even warmed up. And we won three premierships in six years on that logic. So my first footy training session was a wake-up call. A 2km time trial, run with the men, in 30-degree heat. I managed four out of the five laps, and spent the rest of training trying desperately not to throw up.
I’ve always thought the most satisfying feeling in an AFL match must be running down an opponent, and winning a free kick for holding the ball. And now I know it is. I’m the shortest in the team, and all I really have going for me is a few quick steps when I get the ball, or chasing down players.
I scoop the ball off the ground, and I’m Dusty Martin. One, two, three steps, and I’m out in space. But more wonderfully, I scoop the ball off the ground, and now I’m Steph Chiocci. When I concentrate on kicking the ball – head down, drop the ball down on my foot (don’t throw it up in the air and hope it lands on my foot) and take a few steps after kicking through the ball – I’m Tayla Harris, straight as an arrow (but not quite as flexible). I stick my hip into my opponent, protecting the flight of the ball as it drops into my hands, and I’m Sarah Perkins.
There was talk of jumper numbers at training recently, and one girl started begging for number 23.
Not because of Buddy.
Because of Moana.