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Young Pup’s Gamble is paying off

From Wynyard, a rural town on the north-west coast of Tasmania, to lining up for the Western Bulldogs in their inaugural AFLW game in 2017, ruck Ellyse Gamble has been on quite the football journey. The 22-year-old spoke to about where football has taken her, the impact of a long-term ankle injury and her passion for teaching away from the field. 

Kavisha Di Pietro: You were scouted to the AFLW and the Western Bulldogs through a talent search in Tasmania. What has that journey from Burnie to Melbourne been like? 

Ellyse Gamble: I actually didn’t grow up playing football; instead basketball and netball were my sports of choice. When I was in year 10 in 2013, footy came into my life and that was when the first exhibition game was also being held. At that point in Tasmania, women’s football was becoming more common and growing in the area. I started playing football at school before it grew to regional games and eventually joined the Academy. For me, footy just really expanded in my life. It’s strange to reflect on because it feels like such a long time ago and so much has happened in the past seven years. When Tasmania entered a team into the Youth Girls Nationals competition, I joined that and began taking my footy a little more seriously. I was also playing with women’s sides in Tasmania for a couple of years and that gave me a really good opportunity to put my name out there. I was lucky enough to come over and play one of the exhibition games with the Bulldogs and it just went from there.

You say it was a bit of a whirlwind to keep progressing through every stage of football before eventually joining the Dogs. How big was that move for you? 

For a number of years before the draft, I was incredibly passionate about football and striving to hopefully make the AFLW competition when the inaugural season rolled around in 2017. I never really thought it would happen. When I finished year 12 in 2015, I had one year before the first AFLW draft and I wasn’t really sure what I was going to do in that time. I continued playing in Tasmania with my local team and working towards getting drafted. Despite all of my hardwork, I was still a little shocked. It was a pretty quick process following the draft and within a couple of weeks I had moved from Tasmania to Melbourne. As quick as the transition was it’s something I’m really thankful for. It’s exciting where football and sport has taken me. Growing up, I never thought I would have moved out of home so early and be living in Melbourne playing footy.

From a personal point of view, your first season was quite successful and you played six games. Unfortunately, you were struck down with a couple of long-term injuries in the season following. What was it like to go from that unbelievable high of playing games to being in the rehab group?

I think any athlete that you ask would say the same thing about sport being an absolute roller coaster of a journey. That’s definitely what my experience with AFLW has been like so far. My very first season and for everyone involved, it was so exciting. To make my debut in Round 1 against Fremantle and go on and play six games in that season was a dream come true. I say that everything that happened to me during that point was a ‘pinch yourself’ moment. That first season had so many highs but at the same time I was still trying to find my feet. My teammates were calling me the ‘young pup’. The AFLW competition was new, we had a reasonably young list and of course I had moved over from Tassie, so there was a lot going on at that time. I was quite shy and timid and didn’t say a whole lot – I’m certainly the opposite now. Going into my second season and having already built those relationships with my teammates and the club, I was really excited for what the year could hold. Unfortunately, I hurt my ankle and missed that season, which was also our premiership year. It was a bittersweet moment and a challenging time. It was my first experience with a long-term injury of that significance. It sounds cliche, but they do make you stronger. It makes you a lot more appreciative of the chances that you do get. You get stronger and learn more about yourself in that time.

Your seasons are short in AFLW compared to the men’s competition. How challenging was it having the season finish, but still being in the rehab group?

When you only have a short season, it’s hard not to get bogged down by the reality that if you do have an injury you’ll end up missing a big chunk of, it not the whole, season. In my case I ended up missing the whole season and so I knew there was going to be limited opportunity. It can be a lonely time but I think for me it was really important to set goals and know what I was hoping to achieve. I surrounded myself with the playing group as best as I could and that certainly made a difference. It can be hard at times to stay positive but there is always light at the end of the tunnel. I think one of the biggest things I learnt from that experience was awareness. Now that I’m no longer injured and able to contribute on the field, I am still ensuring I’m aware of what my teammates are going through, particularly those who aren’t playing. So I can be able to show my support to them when possible. It’s important to remember that everyone is contributing, whether you’re physically out there each week or you are supporting from the sidelines.

Away from the field, you’re studying a Bachelor of Education (Prep-Year 12). What piqued your interest in teaching? 

Like most people who choose to study education, I think they were inspired by their own teachers in their own schooling. That’s very much the case for me. In a nutshell, that was the reasoning behind why I chose to study education. Since I began my degree, I’ve been really inspired by the experiences I’ve had and what I’ve learnt so that has only grown my passion.

When you’re working with your students, how does that inspire you not only as a teacher, but in your own life?

I had my first lot of placement last year and I did that a primary school with a year four group. For me, teaching is so rewarding and challenging and everything in between. As much as I want to be a positive influence on young people and my students, they’re also such a positive influence on me. There are so many moments where I feel really inspired by the group I’m working with and what I’m seeing. I went on a camp with the year four group I was doing placement with and there was a student on that group who was riding a bike for the first time. To see the joy on their face and the enjoyment they got from that experience made me so proud to be a teacher. I was so young when I learnt to ride a bike that I don’t remember it, but for this student it was a really important moment. Being able to have impact like that is a big reason education and teaching appealed to me.

As part of your Education and Training Grant application, you mentioned wanting to be a positive role model. As an AFLW player and pioneer for women’s football, most fans would say you already are. What does that mean to you knowing there are young fans inspired by your work? 

It’s an incredibly special feeling and really important for young people to be able to aspire to something. I know for myself how important it was having positive influences in my life growing up, not only family but teachers and sports coaches too. For the girls now who are passionate about football, or any other sport, to be able to grow up and know that it’s a realistic dream is so important.