Ikon Park earlier this AFLW season. Image: @CollingwoodAFLW

The Inner Sanctum's Rebecca Ruthven recently joined a local women's footy team. She discusses her experience so far, and how she got there.

When I was in pre-primary, five-year-old me picked up a footy for the first time. It was weird.

The leather felt harder than that on my ballet shoes, but my pointy ballerina feet helped me kick it.

In Year 1, I tried to join in King of the Pack, but I was always out-marked.

The boys even used to play matches at lunchtime, pretending they were their heroes on TV. I jumped in, but they never kicked the ball to me. A few years later, I figured out why.

Girls play netball. Boys play footy. It made both did, and didn’t make sense.

By the time Year 2 rolled around, I spent my Saturday mornings at the Kingsway Netball Courts while the boys kicked footballs around Seacrest Oval.

On offer to girls, was Net Set Go – Netball’s equivalent of Auskick. It’s a great little program and I absolutely loved playing it.

My teammates were nice and (not to brag) I was a pretty good goal attack.

My team even played at half time at a West Coast Fever game. But when my brother was my age, he was halftime entertainment at the AFL – which was pretty cool, and something I would’ve loved to have a chance to do.

By Year 4 – netball wasn’t for me.

As I begun attending more and more footy games, I noticed something. There weren’t a lot of girls playing Auskick. Why didn’t many girls play Australia’s game?

In hindsight as an 18-year-old, I wish I had the opportunities my brother and the boys in primary school had. I wish I wasn’t boxed in as a netballer, I wish it was acceptable for me to break the status quo.

In recent years as my passion for AFL and my beloved Eagles grew, the desire to put on a guernsey and kick a footy around continued to linger in my mind. And seeing my Eagles finally given the nod to join the AFLW only amplified this longing more. I just didn’t know how or where I could act on it.

I finally caved in when I realised I needed a winter sport to accompany my summer sport, cricket. Netball didn’t appeal to me anymore; rugby is basically unheard of and I didn’t ‘vibe’ with soccer. Footy was always the answer.

Luckily for me, thanks to rising women’s footy participation rates, I had a newly formed women’s team in my area.

I rocked up to my first training session and admittedly, I felt out of place in my bright blue t-shirt. All the girls were in maroon and gold kits, but that didn’t matter. They all shook my hand and welcomed me into the group.

We’re an inexperienced side still learning the game. But our journey, triumphs and failures build camaraderie and motivates us to grow as not just as individual footballers, but as a team.

There’s no woman left behind and that’s when I knew I had to join the Hawks.

Accepting, non-judgemental, passionate, enthusiastic – I could list positive adjectives about my teammates for hours. At the end of the day, we’re all there to play footy and have a good time.

We cheer for each other’s successes and offer encouragement when one makes a mistake. We endured the ridiculously long explanation about the man on the mark rule (45 minutes for the record). And there are high fives all around whenever we complete drills.

I bought my training shirt straight after my first session, my first footy and pair of boots that weekend, and got my shorts and socks, and had a mouthguard fitting a week later.

They’re a great bunch of girls and our collective inexperience makes training more fun. I’ll confess I’m still learning names, but I’ll get there. It’s fun, helps keep me fit and opens up an avenue to make new friends.

At this stage, I probably discuss and analyse Australian Rules Football better than I play it. I’ve yet to master running and bouncing and my marking would make Adam Simpson recoil. I’m still learning and I know this group will drive me to improve.

I’m not aiming to play professionally. I play because I’m passionate about the game and football has always intrigued me. Now I had an opportunity, I had to take it.

The sport, the girls, the social aspect – what’s not to love about local women’s footy? I look forward to bouncedown on April 24.

And I’m sure five-year-old me, who the boys never kicked the footy to, would be just as excited.

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