Tucked away on the outskirts of Sale, some 214km east of Melbourne, is Cobains Primary School.
This is where Melbourne’s country recruit Sarah Jolley learned the craft that would see her picked with the last selection in the 2016 AFL Women’s draft.
Because of the lack of numbers from prep to Grade 6, lunch times at Cobains were a savage sporting playground that taught Jolley a lot about competing.
“I went to a primary school that had about 35 students and at recess the whole school would be playing footy in the winter and cricket in the summer — everyone had to get involved,” Jolley told Aflplayers.com.au.
“There was no holding back, the guys would go just as hard regardless if you were male or female.
“So I suppose that’s where the love for the game began because we would play footy all winter, every winter.”
Despite taking on boys almost twice her age, Jolley fell in love with the sport.
“I love the competitiveness and how free it is. You can run and carry the ball and it’s completely different to any other sport you can play,” Jolley added.
But she didn’t play much junior footy other than a couple of Under-10s games and lining up annually for her high school.
As she reached adulthood, Jolley was imbedded in other sporting pursuits, but when the Gippsland Galaxy women’s team formed for the 2015 season, she joined because of a personal connection with the coach.
In a matter of weeks she was starting in the middle of the ground in her first competitive game of footy for a long time.
“I love the competitiveness and how free it is. You can run and carry the ball and it’s completely different to any other sport you can play” – Sarah Jolley
“I had no idea what the competition or our team would be like, we’d only been together for a couple of weeks, so I had no expectations or anything like that.
“I was nervous before the ball was bounced. Their ruck was a lot taller than ours so I remember thinking ‘what are we in for here’. I don’t remember anything overly specific from that game except for seeing their ruckman and thinking ‘holy crap’.
“We just dominated from the start. I think we managed to win by close to 100 points and I kicked five or so goals.”
Jolley realised she had some serious talent. She booted 33 goals for the season as the Galaxy won the premiership. Stepping up to Division three in 2016, she went one better, claiming the league goal-kicking with 41 majors and winning the league best and fairest in another flag-winning season.
Unable to ignore her form, Melbourne invited the 23-year-old to Oakleigh for a training session — it was the only time an AFL club contacted her before the draft so she didn’t expect to be part of the inaugural AFLW season.
“I knew it was something I would eventually want to be a part of but I didn’t think this year would be my year to make it because we were only playing in division three and I was thinking more towards next year and potentially playing for a VFL team and getting a look-in that way,” Jolley said.
When draft day came around, Jolley had buried all hope of getting selected. Her mind was so convinced that she only remembered to watch the event after seeing a live streaming link on social media while home sick from work.
She sat on the couch with her father to see where the rest of the girls ended up, little did she know her life would change forever when pick number 145 was announced.
“It got to the last pick and Melbourne asked for extra time and more extra time after that, and dad and I just wanted it over and done with because it had taken so long to get through.
“But when they read out my name, we just looked at each other and started screaming. Dad grabbed me and we were jumping and going crazy. At that point, my brother had pulled in from work so we ran outside and gave him a big hug and that’s when all the messages started flooding through on my phone.
“My name getting called was the last thing I expected to happen.”
One of six players picked from the VWFL, Jolley was the only player taken by a club from outside the league’s top two divisions. She was taken with the last pick — a selection often referreded to in American sport as Mr. Irrelevant.
She hopes to play just one game alongside the likes of Daisy Pearce, Mel Hickey and Elise O’Dea, which would be a significant achievement for a girl who used to chase the bigger kids on the oval at Cobains primary.