Gold Coast Suns AFLW player Jade Pregelj enjoyed a standout first season, so much so that she was one of the three nominees from the club for the AFLPA AFLW MVP award. Pregelj (pronounced pre-jelly) balanced her footy with her commitments to the Australian Defence Force where she serves in the Australian Army as part of the 6th Engineer Support Regiment at the RAAF Base Amberley.
This time last year around Anzac Day Jade Pregelj realised that playing in the AFLW was a realistic possibility.
The talented junior footballer had had a seven-year hiatus from the game, as her Army commitments took priority, but representing the Australian Defence Force’s women’s AFL team (consisting of players from the Australian Army, Navy and Air Force) in an exhibition match against Richmond the day before Anzac Day, last year, reignited Pregelj’s love for the game and underlined her undoubted talent.
“You feel extremely lucky when you’re standing with your mates, listening to the anthem and you know what you’re playing for and what’s on your mind at that time,” Pregelj told aflplayers.com.au.
“You’re combining your two loves – your passion for your work within the defence force and your service with football. It was the best of both worlds and the fact that you’re getting supported by your workplace to play in a footy match like that – and represent the things you stand for – it was really special.”
Pregelj, now 28, enlisted in the Australian Army in 2015 after initially pursuing a career in teaching.
She completed her 18 months of training in Canberra after attending the Royal Military College Duntroon and upon graduating decided her preference was to become a Royal Australian Engineer.
Pregelj completed her seven months of engineer corps training at the School of Military Engineering at Holsworthy military barracks in south-eastern Sydney, before being posted to Townsville to the 3rd Combat Engineer Regiment.
She spent 12 months there before posting to the 6th Engineer Support Regiment at RAAF base Amberley, where she is currently based.
In between her Australian postings, Pregelj was also deployed on exercise to Papua New Guinea in 2016, 2017 and 2018 where she performed various roles and discovered a new culture.
“I was part of a team that coordinated an infrastructure rehabilitation program where the army go over to Papua New Guinea and work with their military engineers to make modifications and improvements to their facilities in order to better enable their own training and the like,” she said.
“Experiencing another culture was definitely eye opening.”
Pregelj’s football performances in the ADF exhibition game in April last year continued to ignite the fire and it wasn’t long before Gold Coast Head of Women’s Football, Fiona McLarty, was sounding her out about being part of a Winter Series competition for Gold Coast.
After featuring in that tournament, McLarty and Gold Coast list management team saw enough to secure Pregelj with pick No.86 in last year’s AFL Women’s Draft.
She admits combining football with her profession in the Australian army was a difficult balancing act at times.
“It is a juggling act. I’m well supported by my workplace as they gave me that extra bit of time to get to training so that I wasn’t late and a lot of packing and unpacking of bags and washing late at night,” she laughed.
Pregelj made an instant impact for the Suns and it underlined exactly why McLarty was so keen to draft her in the first place.
“I really surprised myself in that respect and I owe it all to the girls I had around me who were encouraging me and trying to make me better with each training session,” Pregelj said.
“I had played 10 years of football at a very different standard and that adjustment still needs a lot of polish but I’m really happy with the end result of my first season.”
Pregelj said the annual Anzac Day clash between Essendon and Collingwood was one of her favourites on the football calendar, and is disappointed the match won’t be staged this year due to the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic.
However Anzac Day itself holds a special meaning for the army Captain.
“Anzac Day for myself is about reflecting on everyone who has served and is serving, and those that gave the ultimate sacrifice,” she said.
“It’s really important to commemorate occasions like Anzac Day because it draws a wider awareness to remembering those that went before us, and the sacrifice soldiers have given in the past and are making today.”