Women’s Footy – VFL: Pepa Randall

“It’s the best feeling, it’s so good to beat people,” says Eastern Devils and Western Bulldogs player Pepa Randall, eyes agleam and her hands punching each word. “You can’t really out-kick someone on a field, whereas when it’s one-on-one, the competitiveness is there and you get past them… Hell yeah.”

20-year old Randall is perhaps the Devils’ most entertaining player, punctuating her game with unpredictable spontaneity: highlight reel sprints along the wing leaving opponents in her wake, dodging and weaving and brushing aside tackles. Sometimes she kicks the goal, sometimes she misses. Nothing is foretold. You can’t look away when Pepa Randall gets going. 

Her background in athletics hasn’t just given her acceleration and fitness. Randall has retained much of the spontaneous, unfiltered style that her Australian Rules-schooled fellow Devils’ have long since buried. As is the case with many of our game’s great characters, there isn’t much distinction between Pepa Randall the enigmatic footballer and Pepa Randall the enigmatic person.

“When you run and you’re on your own, ball in hand, sprinting and the goals are forward, all you think about is… don’t miss,” she says. “It’s something I’m working on, going from the full-on-crazy, win-a-hard-ball, get-out-of-the-pack kind of adrenaline to then compose myself.”

Randall’s Australian Rules career has been much like her playing style: fast and a balance between chaotic and controlled. No sooner was she finding her feet at East Malvern than she was coerced into nominating for the 2015 Women’s AFL draft. No sooner had she done that than she was sitting in shock at being selected at pick 33 by the Western Bulldogs.

“I had a short amount of time versus everyone else. Especially going into those Bulldogs’ games, I very much felt like I shouldn’t have an input and I should just absorb as much as I could.”

Randall moved to the St Kilda Sharks to play in Premier Division in 2015. Her maiden season was blighted by a slow learning process as she was frustrated by uninstructive feedback.
“I didn’t feel like I came out of the season any more skilled on the field,” reflects Randall, who was playing catch-up whilst trying to live up to the expectations of being an AFL player. Something had to give.

The way forward became clear when she met Eastern Devils’ coach Brendan Major whilst she was playing for Victoria in July, declaring the two-week academy “the most I learnt all year”.

“To have a coach like Major… he’s an incredible coach and the girls really respect him. I feel like I could turn to Major and ask anything and he’ll give me good feedback.”

Although Randall wouldn’t come to the Devils until early 2016, by the time she had finished that fortnight with Major she was already – as is her wont – on the move.

Her 2016 statistics alone indicate that she has found a role at the Devils: 18 goals from 14 matches is a handy return for someone who isn’t a designated forward. And she was retained on the Bulldogs’ list for their clashes with Melbourne in February and Western Australia in May. However, Randall hasn’t gotten ahead of herself to think that she’s figured the game out.

“I ask for a lot of direction and try to use that as much as I can,” she says. “Sometimes as soon as the ball hits my hand, I switch and go crazy but I feel like I’m getting better at focusing more and being less sporadic.”

Those sporadic tendencies have made her the Eastern Devils’ wild card. If she can master them and continue to learn the art of footy, Pepa Randall will be making things happen in the inaugural season of Women’s AFL.

About Callum O'Connor

Here's to feelin' good all the time.

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