TWO BABIES, TWO SPORTS, TWO COUNTRIES – ERIN PHILLIPS ON LIFE AND LOVE WITH TRACY GAHAN
On the basketball court and footy field, she’s known for her fierce athleticism and competitive drive, but there are two things that melt Erin Phillips’ heart. Their names are Brooklyn and Blake, the code-hopping sport star’s gorgeous twin babies.
It’s been a momentous 12 months for the 32-year-old. Not only did she and wife, Tracy Gahan, welcome daughter Brooklyn and son Blake in November, she was the standout star of this year’s inaugural AFL Women’s competition.
Her AFLW achievements in such a short time frame – and despite a 17-year absence from the sport – are impressive. She cocaptained the Adelaide Crows to a premiership, kicked goal of the year from 60m out (and was nominated for mark of the year), was named best on ground during the AFLW’s historic grand final, was selected for and made vice-captain of the All-Australian team, won the AFLW Players Association’s most valuable player and took out medals at club and league level.
Adding to the year’s gravity, Phillips and Gahan unwittingly became poster girls for normalising same-sex relationships when the picture of their celebratory kiss after Phillips’ AFLW best-and-fairest win in March was splashed far and wide.
Once the footy season was over, the couple headed back to the US where Phillips has played professional basketball in the tough WNBA for the past nine seasons.
In May, though, she retired from the league having won two championships with Indiana in 2012 and Phoenix in 2014.
Last year, she co-captained the Dallas Wings, but will stay on with the team as its director of player and franchise development on a year-by-year contract.
She rejects reports that she was dumped by Dallas as a player.
“I take sport less seriously . . . I’m a mum and I’m happy and that’s most important.”
“It wasn’t a case of Dallas turning their back on me, I wasn’t let go,” she explains. “I was ready to retire because of how hard juggling everything was getting.
“I’d been playing the AFLW season and enjoyed it and loved being back home after playing overseas for so long. I was just ready to have a break somewhere in the year of playing sport.
“Let’s face it, I was turning 32 (in May) and didn’t know how many seasons of AFLW I had, but I did know I wanted to give it my absolute best shot physically.”
Having re-signed to Adelaide for the 2018 AFLW season, Phillips, Gahan and the twins will return to Australia from Dallas in September for pre-season training. As well as playing, Phillips will take a more active role off the field in promoting the women’s league and will also join the AFL in the role of highperformance coach working with under-16 and under-18 boys’ and girls’ academy teams.
“The development stage I’m really interested in,” she says. “These two roles I have in Dallas and Australia are similar. I feel like I couldn’t have gotten any luckier.
“You have a new appreciation when you have kids.
F“Football was my life when I was younger. I had a balloon always blown up attached to the back of the couch so when it was raining and couldn’t go outside, I’d jump on the back of the couch trying to take hangers. I was that crazy kid who lived and breathed footy.
“I look back and think how hard it would’ve been for my parents to sit me down and tell me it’s not going to happen. It would’ve broken their hearts. I’m grateful that I never have to tell my kids that.”
Phillips was born in Melbourne when her footballer dad Greg Phillips, a Port Adelaide legend of 427 AFL and SANFL games, played four seasons for Collingwood in the ’80s. The family returned to Adelaide when she was 18 months old.
It was a sporty household, with Phillips and her two older sisters, Rachel and Amy (who’s married to Hawthorn veteran Shaun Burgoyne), between them doing Little Athletics and playing footy, netball, tennis and basketball. rom an early age, she lived and breathed Aussie Rules, playing it religiously until the age of 13. “Every Sunday morning, I’d be up at the crack of light and getting ready (in my uniform) even though I wasn’t playing until 11am. I used to get butterflies the night before. I just loved it.”
But with no formal avenue to pursue football further, she says her parents strategically encouraged her into basketball.
She remembers being fouled out at one of her first games.
“I was this raw footy player trying to turn basketball player. At 13, I couldn’t really understand why I couldn’t keep playing football. Who cares that I’m a girl? You don’t really comprehend why you can’t continue.
“I remember sitting on the bench (at basketball) and thinking, ‘Who wants to play this? You can’t tackle or touch anyone’. But I had really good support and coaches who helped me develop my skills.
“From then I started to enjoy basketball and was fortunate to continue falling into it.”
Phillips went on to play three seasons in Australia’s WNBL for Adelaide Lightning, for European club sides in Poland, Israel and Slovakia and those nine season in the WBNA, first for the Connecticut Suns in 2006, then for Los Angeles, Indiana, Phoenix and Dallas.
A career highlight was meeting former US president Barack Obama during a White House visit in 2013 on the back of her title win with Indiana.
“We had to send our passports for background checks long before the visit but clearly I have a good record because I met him,” Phillips says with a laugh. “He was so, so cool. Very personable and charming and funny. Just normal. I felt like he wanted to hang out with us all day and shoot hoops but then he had to go and, you know, fix the world. It was a massive highlight of winning that championship.”
Playing for the national women’s basketball team the Opals, Phillips won silver at the Beijing Olympics in 2008 and Commonwealth gold in 2006. However, the Opal’s disappointing tilt at the Rio Games last year – knocked out in the quarter-finals and missing out on a medal for the first time since 1992 – hit Phillips hard, informing her decision to retire from basketball at league level. (She’s still eligible to play internationally, which leaves the door open for her to compete at the Tokyo Games in 2020.)
“After Rio and that disappointment, it was really hard to come back to basketball again, and football couldn’t have really come at a better time and took my mind off it all,” she says. “It was completely new and different and exciting, and something I’d always wanted to do.”
Phillips returned to Aussie Rules for that stellar debut season despite a long 17 years between kicks.
She’ll continue to divide the year between the US and Australia, lucky enough to have support in both homes bases – her family in Adelaide and Gahan’s family in Dallas.
Phillips met California-born, Dallas-raised Gahan, 36, about a decade ago when they both played for Adelaide Lightning.
They married in 2014, eloping to Hawaii’s surf-soaked Maui.
“We wanted to go on holiday but thought it would be a good time to elope,” Phillips says. “In my schedule, I never had a big enough break to plan anything big. It was good fun.”
In November, Gahan gave birth to Brooklyn and Blake in Dallas. They were conceived via IVF, but the couple prefer to keep the finer details private.
The twins are luckily good travellers, sleeping the entire long-haul flight to Australia from Dallas when they were only eight weeks old.
“Blake’s very laid-back and chilled, and Brooklyn’s more rowdy, but they’re both such good kids,” Phillips gushes. “Very easy babies and happy, and want to be around people. They rarely cry unless they want something.”
Phillips says motherhood has taught her to be less selfish, more patient and to expect the unexpected.
“I was so routine (driven) and everything had to be this way pre-game and in training. I had to have proper sleep. It wasn’t OCD but I
had to do it. Now, having kids it’s like if I eat at this time, who cares?
“I’d usually have the same bread roll pregame, now whatever’s in the cupboard is fine. I’ve let go of that side of me.
“I take sport less seriously because I know it’s not the end of the world if you play badly or lose a game. Whatever happens, when I come home, I’m a mum and I’m happy, and that’s the most important thing.
“When my dad used to come home from games, he was disappointed if the team had lost, but he’d always engage with us kids and play with us. He’d never bring that home.”
Gahan would like five children, but Phillips isn’t so sure. She’s happy adding one more to the brood and says they might start trying “maybe sometime next year”.
Phillips says she’s happy to embrace being a positive role model, whether it’s from a sporting perspective or same-sex unions. She’s had boyfriends in the past, including a two-year relationship with Richmond
JULY 22-23, 2017
Tracy Gahan and Erin Phillips with Brooklyn and Blake at their Dallas home; Phillips with her dad Greg in 1992 after Port won the SANFL grand final; in action against Collingwood this year; meeting former US President Barack Obama