She may be one of the smallest players in the competition, but there is no doubting Lily Mithen is among those to play with the biggest heart.
Like so many of her AFLW counterparts, the Melbourne youngster will this weekend return to the Women’s Victorian Football League, but as one of the faces of her hometown club, Geelong, a club dreaming of entering into the national competition in the near future.
Despite falling in love with her surroundings at the Demons, Mithen admits her love of the game has stretched even further since becoming a Cat.
“I felt like that was my home and now I’ve gone back to Geelong. I can’t wait, I miss it,” she told aflplayers.com.au.
“I’ve grown up in Geelong, following the club closely. I grew up a Richmond supporter, but always kept a pretty close eye on Geelong because when you open the paper all you read about is Geelong.
“I’m feeling a part of the club. The club are embracing us girls.
“We had Harry Taylor reinforcing the message of how historic this moment is for the club and it’s exciting to see them embracing us and us embracing them.”
The former Newton-Chilwell junior says the transition between the two clubs was made easier due to the structure of club programs.
“I’ve been lucky in the fact that I’m going from Melbourne which is an elite club, with excellent facilities to a club which has facilities on par,” she said.
“The transition has been good because I haven’t downgraded in my training environment, so I have been able to do it quite comfortably. It hasn’t been different from the red and the blue to the blue and the white.
“They’re putting in a strong foundation to build towards that AFL team. I think they’re ready. They’ve put in a lot of resources to work towards that and it would mean a lot to the club.
“It’s exciting where the future is heading.”
While she may have only arrived at Simonds Stadium in an official capacity over the course of the past few months, a strong off-field relationship with AFL captain Joel Selwood has helped shape Mithen’s football journey to Geelong.
“I’ve known him for a while now, which is a handy contact to know, because he’s a very knowledgeable and a great club guy. Having a connection like that makes your ties to the club stronger,” Mithen explained.
“He’s been a good role model to look up to in the way he goes about his footy, the type of leader he is and the impact that he has on Geelong collectively.
“I like to model myself on some of the attributes he has.”
Up until the age of 14, Mithen often found herself as the only girl competing among the boys in AFL Barwon’s junior competitions, but her ability was never doubted, claiming a league best and fairest by an astounding 23 votes as a bottom-aged under 14.
Despite her on-field successes, which includes five premierships with father Anthony at a Youth Girls level, the 19-year-old says she is proud of the impact her and other footballers have had on the younger generation.
“I went to my local Auskick clinic and there was a group of 15-plus girls then the under-15s played after that and the under-12s were playing on another oval, while the under-19s were later that day,” Mithen recalls.
“It’s good to see that clubs are pushing to have women at the club because there is a pathway now. You’re only used to seeing little boys with a footy under their arm walking down the street but now you see little girls doing the exact same thing.
“We are now role models for those girls looking up. I love seeing girls with a footy under their arm and kicking it whether it be with mum or dad or their brother or sister.”
Although she may have been one of the youngest players in the AFLW competition, Mithen has a message for girls hoping to reach the elite level.
“My main message is when you do something do it wholeheartedly otherwise you’re not going to better your footballing career. I think you should strive to be the best you can be. The ability to train like you want to get better will hold you in good stead to have a career.
“And at the same time have a lot of fun with it because it is the greatest game in the world.”