Growing up watching the NFL (National Football League) in America, Danielle Marshall wanted to play a full contact sport just like the men did. Fast-forward to 2020, Marshall became the first American to play a game in the AFL Women’s League when she took the field for the Western Bulldogs.
Having played 21 games over three seasons for the Essendon Bombers and formerly the Western Bulldogs, Marshall has become another cross-coder that has found her way to the AFLW from another country.
Speaking exclusively to The Inner Sanctum, Marshall explains what she’s learnt about Australian Rules Football and how she went from playing soccer in America to taking a chance on the AFLW.
“I have always wanted to play a full-contact sport, that’s just always something that I’ve loved. I grew up watching the NFL and girls don’t really play that in America but then when I found footy, it was kind of the mix of the sports I’d loved,” Marshall told The Inner Sanctum.
“[It had the] kicking in soccer and taking marks and getting to tackle as well, I was like yeah, this is the game made for me. I just love a lot about it and then even just the little things that I’m learning about the game and the subtle positionings and all the kind of stuff to make you a better player is just really fun, I get to grow as a player and learn in this sport everyday.”
Wanting to play sport at an elite level, Marshall’s sport of choice was soccer but with her local team in Colorado ceasing to exist, she was able to take up the opportunity to play in the AFLW without having to choose.
“I played soccer at a pretty high level in uni then kind of at the time I graduated I chose to go overseas for a summer. When I came back the team I would have played for in Colorado had folded and I wasn’t able to continue my career in soccer in a professional kind of way so I sort of played local sports for fun,” she said.
“You always kind of have that dream in the back of your mind that you would get to play something professionally so when the opportunity through footy came up it was just something we had to try for. [For me to] come over here and try out to get onto the Bulldogs’ list and now Essendon’s list, it is a dream come true of being able to play a sport at the highest level.”
When starting out as someone that has not played Australian Rules Football before, Marshall explains what her strengths and weaknesses were when she started out.
“I think obviously kicking is the big [strength], being able to kick on both feet is something that I really valued in soccer so when I started playing here I wanted to make sure I could kick on both feet so I can make an impact that way,” Marshall explained.
“I’ve always been decent overhead, I guess in America it’s a catch but over here [it’s] marking [so] that’s been really good, like my read of the ball in the air is really good and I think those are my two biggest strengths and I probably need to work on my stuff on the ground after that.”
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When asked who’s helped her through the process, Marshall shares the impact of her husband, a friend and a teammate have had on her. Being able to link up with Bonnie Toogood at the Bombers after playing together at Whitten Oval, Marshall cannot speak highly enough of her now captain, as she shared with The Inner Sanctum earlier this season.
“My husband has obviously supported me and the dream a lot, I don’t think I would have tried it without him saying ‘you know what, we should go for it’,” she explained.
“Cam Richardson, he’s kind of the one that brought me over, he lived in the area, let me live with him initially and had a really big impact [in] getting me in with the Bulldogs and getting me trials there.
“Bonnie Toogood was one of the best at the Bulldogs at just welcoming in and helping and encouraging me to learn, so to have her at the Bombers also was amazing. I was absolutely thrilled when Bonnie signed with the Bombers and I was able to sign with the Bombers and to able to play with her, [it] has been amazing.”
Only managing 11 games over her two seasons with the Bulldogs in 2020 and 2021, Marshall has been working tirelessly after being signed by AFLW expansion club Essendon ahead of Season Seven. Being someone that was entirely new to the game, she sheds light on what she’s been working on and how she is looking to improve as a defender.
“I mean recently I’ve been working on body work and body positioning and working in the backline,” Marshall said,
“[I’ve been learning about] taking the most dangerous space [which] depending on the team, the most dangerous space could be in different places. [Some] teams like to go wide and other teams like to go down the middle, some teams like to lead up and some teams like to deep and it depends on the player you are playing on, so just learning all those intricacies of the teams and the player you are on is really important.
“[I’ve also been working on] getting from contest to contest and getting from one side, make one effort that’s important that I get to the next one and if I can, still impact a lot of times. In soccer, once [the ball’s] away, it’s away and it doesn’t come back as quickly so [I’m] just being able to stay involved for longer.”
Being signed by the Essendon VFLW side ahead of the 2022 season, Marshall was able to show her ability as a defender against AFLW quality opposition. She took this opportunity with both hands, becoming one of the more dominant players in the backline in the competition and being a part of the VFLW premiership side.
When she describes the step back up to the AFLW level after playing in the VFLW, Marshall says that the fact that the two teams were aligned made it easier for players to gel and create team synergy in the AFLW.
“It was definitely a big step but I was really lucky that at Essendon so many of the VFLW girls got drafted basically or taken by Essendon, [so] a lot of us kind of had experience at that level before and were able to push each other even in the VFLW season,” she said.
“I think that that was a really good bonus that that team had been established for five years under that code, not all VFLW teams have that kind of stability. It’s still a step lower [but] to be able to play and train with the team where pretty much all the girls have their sights on AFLW and were training really hard, [it] made it a much easier transition back into the AFLW.”
Stopping to reflect and take stock of her journey and what it has encompassed so far, Marshall is beaming with pride at her comeback to the league and how she’s made inroads at Essendon.
“I think the first time [I got picked up] I don’t know how proud I was,” Marshall explained.
“I was think it was more like I was caught in the moment, but getting back on the list the second time [and] being one of the older players in the competition and not having as much experience as some of those older players that are still around and being able to make a list again [is what I am proud of].
“I had to buckle down and be like I’m not giving up, I came here for a reason and I can do this, I can learn and grow and I think even just having that full VFLW season to get my confidence back that was a real blessing for sure.
“I’m proud of myself sure, but I’m proud of my teammates, I’m proud of my husband and I’m proud of everyone that got me along and encouraged me to go again.”
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