Cat Phillips leading the Saints out. Image: 'St Kilda Football Club'

Cat Phillips came across to St Kilda AFLW at the start of 2019 to build a culture at the fledgling AFLW club, to empower her young teammates.

Read Part 1 here.

At the end of the 2019 AFLW season, Cat Phillips departed Melbourne for St Kilda, an expansion team entering the competition.

“Over the trade period, I had a couple of conversations with Peta [Searle, head coach of St Kilda’s AFLW team],” Phillips told The Inner Sanctum.

“She really sold me on the vision of the team and the club, and she gave me the opportunity of building that culture and that legacy of the club.

“That was the main thing, seeing the opportunity to build something completely new, and shape what the culture would be like, and how we wanted the team to fit, and where we wanted to team to go.

“On the field, it’s been really good for me [looking back], it’s given me a lot more room to grow and take on on-field opportunity, but at that point, I was looking for the opportunity to make a contribution and add value outside of my football, and St Kilda gave me that opportunity”.

The move was a major change for Phillips, leaving the club she had broken onto the AFLW scene with.

“It was a really difficult move,” she said.

“I am quite a reserved person, and I take a little while to get to know people, and I was really happy at Melbourne and liked the people.

“But I think that the opportunity to work with young people, and help them get to where they want to get to, that was a really big draw for me coming to St Kilda”.

Phillips’ leadership qualities are widely recognized and Searle described her in glowing terms.

“Her professionalism and the standards that she sets for herself and those around her is first class,” she told the Saints’ website.

“She has integrity in spades and is not afraid to stand up for what she believes in, or for the rights of those around her.”

Phillips’ professionalism and excellence extend beyond the football field as she set up an ultimate frisbee club in Melbourne, founding the Ellipses in 2015.

“We went on to win the next four national championships. No team had ever won more than two in a row, and we just went on a roll,” she said.

“That was on the back of the whole team committing to set a higher standard and to train better.

“That is something I feel strongly about and I like working really hard. I love seeing that potential in helping people get there.”

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Phillips found that success continued from the Frisbee field to the workplace and the football field. Her qualities of hard work and drive for success have held her in good stead in all her chosen pursuits.

“I think there are lots of parallels in both my workplaces, being a football club, and an oil and gas company, are both very male-dominated and very established in the way they do things, and more than anything, how long they’ve been operating,” Phillips said.

“Learning how to influence the change and how to work with people in the system to get a better outcome for everyone.”

Phillips has long been a champion for gender equity, both on and off the sporting field.

“At the World Games for Ultimate, we play mixed, and at that level, the women that we have on the team, are athletically very competitive against the men that we have on our team,” she said.

“For most parts of the game, I can win because I can be smarter on the field, or I can have better skills, or I can be more agile.

“At the last World games, we played a defence where we didn’t look at the gender of the attackers, we just matched up based on where we were best suited on the field.

“The mindset that we all have different strengths and we all add different value to the team there.

“The thinking that the men are better because they are men isn’t there, and that’s really shaped my perspective on where we can get to with sport.”

Phillips notes that the success she has had across all her careers is linked and underpinned by her internal drive.

She’s highly accomplished as a frisbee player, as a world champion and Australian captain, as a foundational co-captain of St Kilda AFLW’s team, and a Commercial Operations lead at Exxon Mobil.

“I know what it takes to win, and what it looks like to be a winner. I bring that in Ultimate, and I bring that self-confidence, and that’s a real strength I can impart on others,” she said.

“By the time I got into the workplace, and got into football, I was well established in what I had achieved in Ultimate, and what I had experienced there.

“Before I started working, I had captained the Australian u19 Frisbee team, and I’d played on the World Games team.

“That’s really served me well in my career, that I’m happy to have a different opinion and will say what I think if I don’t agree with people in the room. I have an unwavering belief in the people around me to achieve what they want to if they put their mind to it.”

Phillips’s leadership style is a quiet one, she’s reserved and leads by example. One of her hallmarks is that she is supportive of those around her, and believes in those who are around her.

That leadership style was sought after by St Kilda, and it drew her to the club as well.

“The opportunity to work with young people, and help get them to where they want to get to was a big draw for me coming to St Kilda”, she said.

“It’s made me passionate about working with young people and getting more young women active, because I know where we can get to, with strong powerful women who can lead on the sporting field and the workplace.

“I look at the girls who haven’t had the opportunity, and I want to enable them to have all the opportunity that they can and grow into whatever they want to be.”

Phillips’ star is only continuing to rise, along with St Kilda’s AFLW team. She’s a deep thinker about the state of the women’s game and the future of AFLW.

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