On the squad sheet for a football match in Port Lincoln last week were big names – Johncock, Miller, Wells, Betts and Burgoyne.
But they weren’t the AFL’s native stars, they were coding newbies – and they were all women.
The first women’s competition in the South Australian city has just concluded with the region attracting five clubs, including Mallee Park Football Club.
Football dream come true
Mallee Park captain Shenae Miller has been linked to those aforementioned big names and says playing football for her club is a dream come true.
“The only sport I’ve ever wanted to play is football, so for all of us to be able to play and play for the club we love is quite special,” Ms Miller said.
Ms Miller hopes the competition can provide a gateway to the AFLW National Tournament for players.
“I would love to see one of our girls up there in the AFL,” she said.
“Coming from Adelaide, the girls there are so advanced in football, so if we can start them here, move them to Adelaide early, they have the skills, the talent, we just have to give them that head start.”
AFL stars lend their support
Former AFL star Graham Johncock, who played 227 games for the Adelaide Crows, is the chairman of Mallee Park Football Club.
With his daughter Felicity playing in the Under-16 competition, he is one of the club’s biggest supporters.
“Not only Mallee Park, but all the football clubs in Port Lincoln have done a fantastic job of getting the teams up and growing,” said Mr Johncock.
“I think the competition was fantastic for the community. It generated a lot of enthusiasm and excitement.”
Mr Johncock hopes to see women who are just starting to hone their skills to advance to the bigger leagues.
“It’s only going to grow and get bigger and better, and if our girls keep working hard, then hopefully we’ll see a couple follow in the footsteps of our male counterparts,” he says.
Player Shenice Wells says she couldn’t be happier to be part of Port Lincoln’s premier women’s competition.
“Growing up with football, watching your dads and brothers play, you always want to play, so it’s a bonus to play as a family. [like] your sisters, your aunts,” Ms. Wells says.
“It’s killer to play for Mallee Park because it’s our family community club.
“My uncle [Daniel Wells] played in the AFL for a few years, he played for North Melbourne then went to Collingwood.
“His name is up there, my Pop played here, he started the whole name Wells.
“I would love to see one of these girls play AFLW someday – I’ll be one of these girls’ number one fan.”
Role models for the community
Mallee Park finished third in the competition, but the girls say playing the sport is about more than winning.
Antoinette Clifford says it was stimulating to be on the pitch.
“Not only are they active here and part of the club, but they are also role models for families, do physical activity, are involved in football,” Ms Clifford said.
She plays with her daughter and was eager to encourage her in the sport.
While the season has just ended, it’s just the beginning for Mallee Park and the other women’s football teams playing in Port Lincoln.