Tilly Lucas-Rodd has represented three clubs on her way to 50 AFLW games. (Photos: @hawthornaflw Twitter, Carlton FC, St Kilda FC/Design: Will Cuckson)

When Tilly Lucas-Rodd leads Hawthorn out on Saturday night, she will join an esteemed group of players to have reached 50 AFLW games. The path to this significant milestone hasn’t been linear, however it has seen Lucas-Rodd forge her own unique place in the game. 

Standing at 163cm, Lucas-Rodd often finds herself undersized compared to her midfield counterparts. Yet whilst short in stature, she has built an enduring reputation as one of the fiercest competitors in the AFLW landscape.

A self-confessed lover of tackling, Lucas-Rodd will regularly be found in the thick of the contest, uncompromising in her attack on the ball and the opponent. It’s these on-field qualities which make her so endeared by teammates and the wider footy public.

Speaking exclusively to The Inner Sanctum, Lucas-Rodd explains that being part of a footy centric family meant it was almost in her blood to love the game from a young age.

“I started Auskick when I was about three or four. I have an older brother who’s three years older than me so growing up I just kind of followed him into what he did,” Lucas-Rodd told The Inner Sanctum.

“I’m fortunate that I guess my parents and my family members never said that I couldn’t do anything because I was a girl, so I played right the way through. I played with the boys till I was about 13 or 14 and then went into youth girls which was U/18’s at the time.

“For me it was just something that I loved doing. I was always going to do it, regardless of whether it was professional.”

Since being drafted in 2016, Lucas-Rodd has emerged as one of the most consistent players in AFLW. (Photos: St Kilda Sharks; Hawthorn AFLW/Twitter)

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Come June 2016 and a 20-year-old Lucas-Rodd would find herself on the precipice of plying her craft at the elite level. An announcement from then AFL Chairman Mike Fitzpatrick confirmed the eight clubs to be granted licences ahead of the inaugural season of a national women’s competition.

Four months later and Lucas-Rodd’s name was called out with pick 99 in the 2016 AFL Women’s draft. Carlton would be the ones to select the St Kilda Sharks product.

Suddenly, a mere possibility of playing on the big stage had turned into a full-blown reality. 

This would ultimately come to fruition on the opening night of AFLW, as Lucas-Rodd joined 21 fellow Carlton teammates to debut in a momentous clash with Collingwood.

Played in front of more than 24,500 spectators at Ikon Park, it was the Blues who ran out 35-point victors. However, arguably the biggest winner on the night was women’s sport.

Reflecting on her AFLW debut, Lucas-Rodd feels privileged to have been involved in a landmark moment for women’s football. 

“I think that’s probably one of the most special times and occasions in my football career,” she said.

“I remember running out and there was a little bit of a crowd for the first warm-up. Then we came back in and were standing in the race to run out with the song and banner, and I remember how loud it was and I was just like this is it.

“This is what so many women’s football pioneers have fought for and wanted all along, and I’m just really grateful that I get to be the one that’s playing in the game.

“You’re representing so much more than just your team and the AFLW competition at the time. You’re representing all of the people that put in the hard work beforehand and that wasn’t lost on me.”

Ikon Park hosted the inaugural AFLW game between Carlton and Collingwood back in 2017. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Lucas-Rodd would go on to represent the Blues on a further 17 occasions, predominantly playing a role in the forward-half.

After missing only one game across her first two seasons, Lucas-Rodd found herself out of favour for the best part of 2019. However, she ultimately regained her spot in the side in time for Carlton’s first-ever AFLW Grand Final appearance. 

It wasn’t to be for the Blues as they succumbed to a 45-point defeat at the hands of a rampant Adelaide. 

Not only was the result one of disappointment, but the game also marked the last time Lucas-Rodd would wear navy blue, with Carlton opting to delist her at the conclusion of the season. 

From Lucas-Rodd’s perspective, the delisting wasn’t a complete shock, especially given she had struggled to cement herself within the Carlton line-up at various stages.

“I think in a way I kind of saw it coming and I had been moved around a lot in terms of positions,” she explained.

“The coaches there were just trying to find out I guess where I fitted best and I probably wasn’t getting the best out of myself. I was playing small forward and the forward-line is a really hard spot to play well in, especially as a small-forward.

“I probably also wasn’t performing at my best because I wasn’t being used for my strengths as such.”

Despite finding herself without an AFLW club, Lucas-Rodd explains that her self-belief never wavered. 

“I thought that I was up to the level, and I thought I had more to give, but you’ve got to find the right coaches and a program that show the same belief.

“I was really fortunate that the Saints gave me a lifeline, but there were definitely moments where I thought that maybe there won’t be another opportunity, especially during that period.

“But it wasn’t my self-belief, it was more the belief of others that I was trying to find.”

Lucas-Rodd played 18 games for Carlton across three seasons. (Photo: Carlton FC)

A move to St Kilda ahead of the 2020 AFLW season saw Lucas-Rodd thrive with new-found responsibilities. 

Initially earmarked as a defensively minded player by then coach Peta Searle, Lucas-Rodd was primarily employed at half-back. This yielded terrific results, with the former-Blue ranked second for rebound 50s, intercepts, and metres gained at the Saints in her second season with the club.

However, this was just a sign of things to come. The appointment of new coach Nick Dal Santo combined with the absence of fellow teammates in the lead-up to season six paved the way for Lucas-Rodd to assume increased midfield minutes. 

What followed was a career-best campaign from the St Kilda vice-captain. Averaging 20.1 disposals and seven tackles per game, Lucas-Rodd’s feats were recognised in a top 10 finish at the AFLW Best and Fairest count. 

Lucas-Rodd says that she was eager to embrace the challenge of a positional shift.  

“He [Dal Santo] threw me in there and it proved pretty successful for me personally. I think that my footy really developed and I was able to flourish in that position,” she said.

“I guess it was a bit of luck and by chance that I had the opportunity, but I had played in the midfield growing up… so it wasn’t completely foreign.”

“But definitely at this level I’m still learning lots. I think I’ve probably played less than 15 games as a midfielder so far in my career so there’s still a lot of developing to do.”

Lucas-Rodd finished second in St Kilda’s AFLW Best and Fairest count last season. (Photo: St Kilda FC)

Whilst admittedly still honing her craft as an on-baller, Lucas-Rodd’s innate hunger for the contest has remained a consistent feature of her game. This competitive drive to succeed flows into all aspects of her life.

“I’m pretty competitive as a person. Even when there’s fun games at training, I’m always really competitive and want to win,” she explained. 

“I hate losing and I was like that from a young age, whether [it was] backyard cricket or footy with my brother, I was the exact same.

“I love the crash and the bash of footy. I love tackling. I love winning a hard ball and things like that, so it’s pretty natural to me and I think it kind of matches up with some of my personality traits.”

Recognising Lucas-Rodd’s credentials, the Hawthorn Football Club swiftly pounced on the 26-year-old ahead of season seven. Lucas-Rodd’s switch to the Hawks signified the third club she had joined prior to its inaugural AFLW campaign.

Having spent three seasons at the Saints, the decision to depart Moorabbin wasn’t clear-cut. However, following discussions with key Hawthorn personnel, the opportunity of greater security as a bone-fide midfielder was too tempting to pass up on. 

“It wasn’t something that I did lightly, there was a lot of thought and emotion put into it. I had some of my best friends at the Saints so leaving them was pretty hard,” Lucas-Rodd recalled.

“I really liked the program that the Hawks were building and when I went and met with Bec [Goddard] and Josh [Vanderloo], I really liked the direction that they’d put into their list build and also where they were taking the club with the new facilities.

“I knew the direction that the club were going in and I believed in that. But also personally, I think that for me there was a bit of security on-field.”

Acclimatising to a new environment, Lucas-Rodd quickly made a positive impression amongst a freshly formed playing group, culminating in being voted in as Hawthorn’s inaugural AFLW captain. 

Receiving the news in front of the entire squad, the significance of the appointment wasn’t lost on the tenacious midfielder. 

“I’ve had leadership before, and I think that I have something to offer in terms of leadership but it’s not something you ever expect,” Lucas-Rodd said.

“When Bec told me at that photoshoot that was me finding out live, so it was a shock. But it’s a huge honour, especially to lead such an amazing group of people.”

Now six rounds into her captaincy journey, Lucas-Rodd says that she has sought to remain true to what landed her the position in the first place.

Nevertheless, the role has also allowed her to continue to develop her interpersonal skills, ensuring each of her teammates feel valued by the program and the broader club. 

“I try and lead by example, that is both on and off field, with the way I go about things in my prep for footy, in lifestyle decisions I make, and then also on-field I try and always do the extras and get the most out of myself.”

With Hawthorn building its AFLW list from scratch, the need to quickly form meaningful connections would prove paramount. Externally, the Hawks appear a tight knit playing group, committed to forging their own identity within the competition. 

Lucas-Rodd credits coach Bec Goddard for laying the foundations of a strong culture.

“A culture can make or break you. I think Bec’s done a really good job at being at the front of that and trying to build the culture,” she explained.

“There’s a lot of love within our group.”

This unity and camaraderie was there for all to see when Hawthorn clinched its maiden AFLW victory over the Sydney Swans a fortnight ago. Trailing by 20-points at quarter-time, the Hawks rallied to secure a nail-biting four-point win, sparking jubilant scenes amongst players and supporters alike. 

Lucas-Rodd says that her team was “over the moon” to taste victory. 

“I guess as a new team coming into the competition you want to kind of prove yourself.

“You train for so long in a pre-season and can see how and where you can get wins, and where your strengths are, and you want to show that to the competition and show them that you belong at the level.

“It was a really special first win for the club. You want to get it done for all the girls, all the staff and all the coaches that put so much time into the program.”

Now on the cusp of reaching 50 AFLW games this weekend, Lucas-Rodd will be hoping to mark the special occasion with a win against Port Adelaide.

Yet regardless of the result, Hawthorn’s AFLW captain will forever be etched in the record books as she continues to write a new chapter in the brown and gold.

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