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Feature Interview: Sarah Perkins

Sarah Perkins runs out for Hawthorn's VFLW side
Image: Megan Brewer

As footy clubs and universities look to get the edge in women’s footy, RMIT University has launched its Women’s Football Academy in an aim to nurture talent across Victoria. Adelaide Crows premiership forward Sarah Perkins has been appointed as a mentor and specialist coach at the academy, and Gemma spoke to her about the new role, young talent coming through the AFLW ranks and the camaraderie of Hawthorn’s VFLW team.

Gemma: So you’ve just kicked off this new role with the RMIT Academy?

Sarah: Yeah, that’s correct. So [RMIT] decided instead of just creating sort of like a women’s footy team, they’d create more of an academy space. So, for girls obviously who want to further their footy, and also for girls who are starting out, so yeah it’s a pretty cool concept and I’ve just jumped on board is a specialist coach and a bit of a mentor to the girls down there with their footy in the program.

That’s incredible. Are you getting a lot out of the enthusiasm of younger players?

Yeah, it’s pretty cool, I was chatting to the coaches a couple of weeks ago when I was down there and they’ve got some really young girls training and as well so they’ve got they’ve got a 12 or 13-year-old training with them and two 15-year-olds there that saw an ad and really want to learn and further their footy. So they’re getting the chance to train in that, I guess more professional environment down at [RMIT] and then they go back to their junior clubs and pass on any knowledge that they get, which is pretty cool.

That’s amazing. And that’s, I guess, evidence of the growth and the pathways that have been created in more recent years?

Yeah, absolutely. I mean, women’s footy is growing and getting bigger every year. It’s amazing. I think that we see what, four years ago now, we were just finishing round one and and now, there’s hundreds of teams in every state, it’s just really special. And, you know, just it’s proof if you put something in front of people and give young, young boys and girls chances to watch something, they’ll give it a chance.

I’m very much about what happens on the field and the strategy behind games. Have you seen it evolve in terms of just women’s footy in general, at a community level and at RMIT? Do you think the strategy has improved more than just kind of get out there and get a kick?

Yeah, absolutely. Obviously there’s more to footy than just going out and kicking and I guess the best part about footy is that you know, four years ago we’re all just running around at a community football level just trying to get a kick and you know now more people are giving back to the game and more coaches are getting involved and you know, the game’s evolving, so like you said that, you know, it’s been broken down into, offence, defence, contested footy. Yeah, that’s the best part about it, obviously, the bigger it gets, the more people want to learn. So at a community football level more girls are wanting to learn more about footy instead of just going out there to have fun.

In terms of your playing VFLW and AFLW, do you see a big difference between the competitions? Obviously the length is a big thing, but what other differences do you see between playing a full VFLW season versus playing an AFLW season?

Like you said, the length is obviously a big one and I’m sure it’ll get there and they’ll be the same sooner rather than later, we can all hope. But I guess I don’t know what the difference is. I guess sometimes you can tell when you may be fighting against a younger kid who’s coming to VFL level for the first time straight out of TAC Cup in comparison to maybe those girls who are first playing AFL and come straight out of TAC Cup and don’t have a problem. But, I guess the best thing about having VFL is that you have more girls getting more opportunity to better their football and they’re getting a chance to then get drafted and play AFL Women’s which I think is the biggest thing, but there isn’t too much of a difference in skill level that kind of stuff, everyone’s playing to a higher level.

Are you enjoying it at the Hawks?

Yeah, I love down at the Hawks. I grew up a big Hawks fan. Yeah, to be able to put those colours on every weekend it’s pretty special, yeah.

And you’ve got a change of coach heading into this year, how are you feeling about all that?

Obviously Bec [Goddard] is coming down to coach in the VFLW, which is pretty exciting, obviously to work with her again at the Hawks it’s really exciting and also in saying that it’s also really awesome that Patty [Hill] has gone to St Kilda and gets a chance to work at an AFL level and then coach the Saints [at VFLW level] so obviously no hard feelings from any of us to him we’re all really happy and excited for him. It’s exciting that footy’s growing and getting a chance to work with different coaches is obviously something that has to happen.

And you’re going to have to come up against him this year.

Yeah, it’ll be interesting to see I guess where everyone plays, but we had a few girls drafted to St Kilda so I’m sure that there’ll be a bit of friendly banter, but you know, everyone’s generally nice on and off the field. And, you know, Patty created a real family vibe down at the Hawks. It’s obviously something that will stick with us forever, and I guess, you know, we did win a premiership together in 2018 so we’re all pretty close.

How is it seeing a lot of those Hawks girls heading across the country to different clubs so people like Tamara Luke at the Saints but also Chantella Perera’s over in WA and they’re kind of everywhere at the moment.

Yeah, well I mean it’s awesome that we’ve had those seven girls drafted this year, and obviously Jayde [Van Dyk] and a few others were drafted the year before and you know, I’d liked to have seen Chantella at a Victorian club, but it wasn’t meant to be. I’m really excited to see her play in the Eagles colours. I thought she was going to be drafted last year, or even the year before and she’s a really exciting and raw talent and obviously coming from a professional basketball background adds to her footy, so I’m excited to see all those girls play this year and I’ll be cheering them on and yeah watching them very closely that’s for sure.

She’s a jet, her ability to read the ball out of the backline is incredible.

Yeah, I used to love going to watch Chantella play basketball because she used to stand at the three point line and shoot threes, or she’d be cutting and weaving in and out of players and you know she could do it all and it’s exactly what she does on the football field, it’s no different she’s just got more room to work.

Did you ever have to train against her in a one on one?

No, I don’t think so. I think I always found a way to go stand on someone else. No, I haven’t had to play on Chantella yet. I don’t think I want to, I’m quite happy being on her team.

And Tamara Luke’s obviously another one who is a little bit older and kind of finally getting a chance. So it’s great to see players like that, and obviously, the VFLW system is creating those opportunities a little bit more. But are you seeing kind of this fresh group of young players who have had a little bit more consistency in their footy, coming through and kind of blow you away with their skill level alone?

Well, I mean, we are. If you have a look at Maddy Prespakis and Chloe Molloy over the last two years who have been able to sort of go through that full pathway or you know, at least play junior footy with the boys and then go through to the girls and that kind of stuff. Their skill over the past few years has amazed me but you know, we’ve had a few really young to come through the Hawks in the last couple years and even in the Adelaide system, I’ve really enjoyed watching. So I got obviously, unfortunately dropped last year, but I got to play against Maddy Newman who’s one of the new girls at the Crows. I just remember watching her run off half back and you know, chasing tail against her, having to try to run her down and oh my god this kid’s just going to be a freak. I am really excited to watch Maddy play and you know I hope she gets a few games at the Crows because I genuinely think she’s going to be a rising star of the competition and you know I’m excited to see Montana [McKinnon] play as well. We’ve had so many young girls at the Hawks in the last couple years you know like Emerson Woods and Miki Cann and Laura McClelland this year was a big one for me, when I saw her and her toughness at the ball and her contested marking. It’s just amazing that the experience that these girls are getting now at junior level and coming through, they don’t ever look out of place. I’m excited to see them all play this year.

Even players like Jayde Van Dyk that slotted into Carlton and didn’t miss a game last year, that’s pretty impressive.

Jayde is a very impressive footballer and has the ability to read the ball at halfback like anyone else in the team. She’s not as young as those girls, but she likes to think she is I’m sure. I really am looking forward to seeing her go again this year at Carlton and without a doubt I think you know she stays injury free and and plays her best footy, she could be in All Australian contention come the end of the season.

That’s a good tip to keep in mind.

Probably a roughie, I don’t think many people have her in but between her and Chantella, definitely put those two in All Australia contention this year.

I love roughies, they’re my favourites. I’ll leave you with one last very annoying question. Who do you think is the team to watch for the AFLW season?

I’m obviously always gonna have a soft spot for the old Adelaide Crows. Their list has got a lot of depth in it even with a few injuries so I’m intrigued to see how they go. And over the last few weeks I’ve been lucky enough to train on with Melbourne so they’re looking fit and very strong so you know even with a few injuries I’m looking forward to seeing how they go as well.

I can’t tell you how excited I am to hear that as a Melbourne supporter.

They are looking good, and I’m really excited to see Daisy back on the park and you know, she hasn’t missed a beat giving birth to her twins, she’s looking good and in for a ripper season.

Find out more about RMIT’s Women’s Football Academy.

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