Rush to sign up for girls’ footy league
■ New beginnings always start with paperwork.
In the Karratha twilight last week 20 school-aged girls and women sat cross-legged on an oval, hunched over insurance forms.
Keryn Eckersley bobbed with nervous energy around the group, answering questions about emergency contact numbers.
Eckersley started playing football at the late age of 19, and picked up some games in the WA Women’s Football League playing for Claremont and a handful with the Peel Thunder before hurting her shoulder and moving to the North West.
After two years of no competitive football, she was beside herself with the turnout for the first training session of the Karratha Women’s football team.
As a high school physical education teacher, Eckersley said she saw her students’ talents go to waste in a region lacking regular competition for teenage girls and older women.
Now one, or even two, Karratha female Aussie-rules football squads will travel to Hedland to play in an upcoming women’s carnival.
What was to be a single match between Newman and Hedland quickly evolved into a round-robin tournament including Karratha and, possibly, a combined side of Tom Price and Paraburdoo.
WA Football Commission Pilbara regional development manager Vicki Agnew got together with Eckersley to try to expand the event by putting the word out in Karratha. In the first 24 hours of looking for expressions of interest, they ended up with more than 70 players wanting to register, which has since ballooned to 100.
Former Swan Districts player and Brisbane Lions ruckman Beau McDonald was at the first training session, where he towered over the players.
He works at the Clontarf Academy and has volunteered his time to help coach Eckersley’s recruits.
At first he said he was not sure what drills he would run them through, but by the end he was raving about the natural skills displayed by some of the girls.
Among them are former metro players and a girl who plays for the State’s under-16s side.
With only two weeks left until game day and training three times week there are a lot of hard yards left, especially if they are to take on the Newman side, coached by WA football star Chelsea Randall.
Randall was drafted third by the Melbourne Football Club in 2013 and has played in four games against the Western Bulldogs, which included the highly lauded match that was broadcast on Channel 7 this year.
Randall has played at the pinnacle of the sport and moved to Newman 10 months ago.
Working with sporting organisation VSwans, she is helping set up the grass roots of female footy in the Pilbara.
At an inter-association match in Newman in May she organised the curtain-raiser game, a match between about 40 Newman women.
Months later and Randall’s side has started training once a week for the carnival.
She said, tongue fir mly in cheek, they were “feeling pretty confident” about their prospects.
“Nah, I think we’ve got some really good talent, and will be a really interesting night of footy,” she said.
Beyond the tournament, women such as Eckersley, Randall, and Agnew hope the interest levels will translate to competitions open to girls aged five through to adulthood.
Excited by the future, Eckersley said after this carnival the goal was to form a Karratha club, then another and maybe have a regular league between the Pilbara towns.
To do this she said they need managers, players, coaches, runners, trainers, physios and everything it took to help make a team.
The VSwans Pilbara Women’s AFL Twilight Car nival will be held at Colin Matheson Oval in Port Hedland at 5pm on November 7.
The Karratha team trains Mondays from 6pm to 7.30pm at the Leisureplex oval, 5.30pm to 7pm on Tambrey Oval on Wednesdays, and 5pm to 6pm on Fridays, also at the Tambrey Oval.
Seventeen of the Karratha girls and women training for the football tournament next month and Beau McDonald.
Callie Walker looks for options in the inter-Newman match.