“Want to come and play for us?”
That’s all it took for Kaitlyn Ashmore to travel more than 1,600km away from her Melbourne home to play footy.
Selected as a priority pick by the Brisbane Lions before October’s AFL Women’s draft, the Ballarat native recently packed her bags and moved north in preparation for the inaugural season in February next year.
Ashmore, a former junior javelin thrower, said she didn’t consider relocating until a conversation with newly-appointed Lions’ coach Craig Starcevich in June revealed a rare opportunity.
“I initially didn’t even think about moving interstate,” Ashmore told Aflplayers.com.au.
“I messaged Craig when he got the job at the Lions to say congrats and he messaged back saying ‘want to come and play for us’, with a wink face to which I said ‘living in Brisbane would be fantastic’ and he replied with ‘are you serious?’.
“It just snowballed from there. He called me and explained how it all worked. That’s when I started to think this would actually be really cool and it’s only for five months, so if I didn’t like it I could just come back.”
A visit to the Lions facilities and Ashmore was hooked, with the chance to live and play in the warmer Queensland climate “too perfect to refuse.”
Fast-forward a few months and the 25-year-old packed her whole life into a friend’s ute and hit the road with close friend and teammate Nicola Hildebrand — who managed to find her way to the Lions via the women’s draft with a bit of help from Ashmore.
“I came back home after the trip to Brisbane, and I live with Nicole Hildebrand, and I said to her ‘I’m going to be a priority pick for the Brisbane Lions’ and she was a bit shocked but eventually said ‘I want to play for the Brisbane Lions as well’,” Ashmore added.
“So, I messaged Craig and asked for his thoughts on Nicole, we had our finals series on at the time so I told him just to watch her and see what he thinks and after that he said he was really interested in her.
“Leading into the draft, I asked Craig about Nicole’s chances of going to Brisbane and he said ‘alright, I’m 99.9 per cent sure we’ll pick her up unless she breaks her leg or something like that’.
“Then Brisbane took her with their third selection, so it’s great to have my best friend play at the same AFL club and move to Brisbane with me.”
The duo are two of around 20 players moving interstate to fulfil their AFL dream, but while the majority of those have made significant employment and accommodation sacrifices to play in a semi-professional competition, it was a case of the stars aligning for Ashmore.
Relocating her whole life was made easier with no commitments in Melbourne after finishing her teaching degree.
“I’ll play out the season and if I like it I’ll stay in Brisbane permanently, and if I don’t I’ll come back. I still really want to play with my club at Melbourne University but if I love it up here, I might as well stay,” Ashmore added.
Her application for an apartment was recently approved and Ashmore has also found work at a local café. She completed her first training session with her new teammates on Tuesday night and everything is moving at a brisk pace for the wannabe inside midfielder.
But she’s not unfamiliar with the elite athlete lifestyle after her time training as a junior javelin thrower and earning a black-belt in karate.
Why give up such a promising athletics career? The answer is as simple as it sounds.
“It became too hard to train for both javelin and footy, so I had to pick one. Women’s footy wasn’t really going anywhere when I decided to give up javelin but footy is so much fun and you get to play with your friends in that team environment.
“My goal with javelin was obviously to make it to the Olympics and I think I could’ve made it to the Commonwealth games if I had stuck at it — I always think about that but the opportunity in women’s footy now is too great and I don’t regret the path I’ve chosen.
“Javelin is obviously an individual sport and I think because I had done it for so long, it became tiring and I just needed a break to try something new and that’s where I fell in love with footy.”
With a personal best throw of 43.99 metres, Ashmore falls just shy of the goal line from the 50-metre arc with a javelin.
And when it comes to punting a sherrin, Round 1 next year will reveal if she can clear the same distance on the footy field.
“I’m not sure which one can go further. If I got onto a big torp I might be able to get past the javelin throw with a ball — I could always give it a try.”