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The Biggest Week I’ve Experienced: Kearney

Last week was one of the biggest I’ve experienced.

Firstly, I’m a high school teacher and it was the first week back for most high school students, which meant work ramped up.

But secondly, it was the week leading into our first AFLW match.

Training definitely had a different feel to it during the week — it was buzzing.

We had training on the Wednesday, which also coincided with selection night, so there were a few girls who were pretty nervous in the lead up.

Luckily for us, our coach Paul Groves brought us into a meeting room to calm us all down before we hit the track.

But I’m not one to get nervous or overly anxious despite all the hype. The build up to a sporting event is something I’ve experienced before in my time playing Big Bash and also the past women’s exhibition games but this was on a different level because of the media coverage — there were back page spreads of women’s players and numerous radio and TV interviews.

I was pretty relaxed throughout the whole week. I think most of that would’ve been because my focus was mostly geared towards getting everything sorted at work firstly, which would’ve been similar to most girls who ran out over the weekend, so it was a welcome distraction.

I was feeling comfortable at school on Friday but the kids were starting to ask me questions about the game, if I was playing and all sorts of details so they were probably more pumped than me!

The only time my nerves really hit me was while watching the Carlton and Collingwood game in the stands on Friday night.

Seeing how many fans turned up and watching the girls run out, some of which are my closest friends, was as exciting as it gets.

But there was an element of jealousy that came with that excitement. It was almost like a feeling of ‘it’s my turn now’ started to creep in when they were playing.

After the game, I was flicking through social media, reading match reports and saw everyone talking about Darcy Vescio’s game and that only fuels the excitement, which meant I went to sleep a bit later that night.

Watching a game like that tends to trigger thoughts of your own game and it’s always hard not to think about your individual performance, which kept me up a little bit as I was trying to sleep.

AFLW 2017 Rd 01 - Carlton v Collingwood

Waking up the next day was another unique situation.

Given we’re used to playing in the day, I tried to sleep in for as much as possible but that didn’t work too well and I was up at 8am.

Breakfast is a meal where I try and fit in as much as I can for copious amounts of energy, so on the menu was four pieces of toast, avocado and tomato.

I usually get bored easily so I needed to do a bit more than sit around all day waiting for the game to arrive. That’s where a few chores around the house came in handy.

Not long after, I got a bit tired so I had an afternoon nap followed by a visit from my parents — who live more than three hours away my brother and his young daughter and it was nice to spend some time with them before heading off to Whitten Oval.

Upon arriving at the ground, the only way we could enter was walking through a group of fans lining up outside and they all started cheering for us as we strolled in, which gave me an extra boost of the eagerness.

While getting warmed up, you could tell there were a few nervous girls but there was a lot of excitement in the room given the amount of high-fives and hugs that were dished out between teammates.

It’s fair to say we were itching to get out there.

I tried to be a bit of a calming influence around the group. We have a couple of vocal girls like Nic Callinan and Aasta O’Connor which is important, so I try and fill the role of calming some of the nervous girls down given my experience playing in front of crowds.

Most of the pre-game stuff is a bit of a blur but I do remember our skipper Katie Brennan saying to us before we moved into position that we’ve done the hard work, not just this pre-season but throughout your entire football and sporting journey, so enjoy the moment, believe you can do it, we all deserve to be here and that will ensure we come out on top — that was a memorable moment.

After the game, I was happy with my performance but I’m also a harsh critic. I thought my disposal was lacking and I was a bit rushed at times but full credit to Freo who put us under the pump early and sometimes that perceived pressure is enough to impact your performance.

It was also the first game for the year and it takes time to adjust to that intensity and tempo.

Overall, I was happy with my game. Breaking away from stoppages is a strength of mine and I felt I was able to do that adequately on Saturday.

It was also quite a congested match at times, so I felt my hands at ground level were clean enough to set up my teammates and open the game up a bit more.

One thing I was very happy with was the performance of the team. That final siren sounding meant we were able to celebrate the win as teammates and as a club, which is a special moment.

It’s such an emotional time and it’s hard to describe. I was so happy and proud that we won our first AFLW game with 21 players who are now some of my closest mates and to do it on our home turf at Whitten Oval in front of 10,000 predominantly Bulldogs supporters is something I’ll never forget.

AFLW 2017 Rd 01 - Western Bulldogs v Fremantle

I did not sleep well that night. We have a Facebook chat group and I think Katie posted on it asking if anyone’s asleep and there was a few of us who were quick to respond — I don’t think I got to sleep until 3am because I was still buzzing from what had happened hours earlier.

The more people I speak to outside the football club, the more I realise the significance of AFLW.

The level of media coverage was a factor to the impact of the first round of AFLW, and while it was a massive event for all the girls involved because it was the pinnacle of their sporting lives, it was also amazing to have an impact on female sport and gender equality.

My aunty played football back in the 90s and she is super jealous of the opportunities I’ve had. She’s had friends who have had to play on a Sunday wearing the same jumpers used by the club’s men the day before. Thankfully the change has been drastic since then.

As a teacher I’ve had so many students come up to me and say ‘we saw you on the TV miss and we’re so proud of you.’ That’s not just female students too and there are some boys who say similar things.

The impact we’re having on females and also young males coming through is substantial.