What has happened to Claudia Whitfort?
It’s a fair question to ponder about the Melbourne-born sporting star. Once struggling as a piece of St.Kilda’s midfield fabric, Whitfort just finished off a remarkable 2022 with the Gold Coast Suns, including a season high of 19 disposals against the Carlton Blues in round 9.
As it turns out, quite a bit had happened to her.
In June 2021, It was announced that after two seasons with the club Whitfort was being put up onto the trade table by St Kilda, in exchange for the Suns pick 36. The news had come to the contempt of the Saints fanbase.
The 22-year-old recently spoke with The Inner Sanctum and conceded that the trade from St Kilda had played as motivation in the elevation of her game seen this season.
“At the Saints I didn’t have a whole lot of confidence. I was kind of the bench player there,” she acknowledged.
“I lost a bit of confidence over the last few years.”
It’s a phenomenon which many professional athletes in both the AFL and AFLW will be forced to confront in their sporting careers. The news of being traded off can be a culmination of emotions for a lot of athletes and can often make or break player performance going into the future.
Few players though will appreciate it more than Whitfort.
Growing up, she had been surrounded by sports. She had netball, athletics and surfing in her assortment of talent, but as she emphasises athletics was something she didn’t want to see out for “the rest of [her] sporting career”.
It is team sporting environments, the sort of environment which had attracted her to the AFLW, which is where the former Saint thrives.
Whitfort eventually picked up football in her teenage years – a pick up which would prove paramount for her sporting career.
“I think the opportunity to play as a professional athlete in women’s sport when I was eighteen, it was something that I always wanted to do since I was a little girl,” she said.
“Having the opportunity to do that through the AFLW I just jumped on it.
“I was very glad that I could get picked up in my under 18s year.”
It hasn’t been smooth sailing for her since she began her venture in the AFLW in 2018. Only after two seasons with Melbourne and and four games played under her belt (three in her debut year), she found herself being traded to the Saints who, at the time, were starting out in the competition.
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Her time at the Saints saw her play a handful more games, but she still remained under the radar in terms of her statistics, a fact which she acknowledges herself.
But for Whitfort, it’s clear that she is appreciative of her new club’s support which she says “motivated” her after seeing how appreciative they were of her skills. Appreciation and being valued was what stemmed from her boost in her statistics on the field this year.
“[The Suns] really wanted me to be a key player this year and that really motivated me and just me all that confidence to back myself into the contest,” she says.
“In turn its helped my stats improve dramatically, which is great.”
The appreciation and value that the Suns saw in Whitfort was repaid greatly with the 22-year-old exciting fans with on-field performances this season which saw her up on all her averages.
Her 2022 season was comprised of the averages of 13.9 disposals, 7.8 kicks, 6.1 handballs, four tackles and 208.9 meters gained (up from a career average of 144.4). She was even named in this years’ AFLW 22 under 22 squad for a second time, to which she explains that was both an “honour” and “surprise” for her.
At every turn, whether it be the mental adversity of being traded, her sustainment of a concussion suffered during her first year with the Suns or the death of her mother at a young age, Whitfort’s resilience shines through everything she does.
Due to her mother’s passing, it came as no surprise when she stated her biggest inspiration in life was her father.
“My mum passed away when I was very young and he had to take on my family,” she said.
“I was the youngest of three, so we had three under eight years at that point.
“Just the fact that he had to pick himself up after his wife died and kept going and kept supporting us and didn’t let himself drop off after that.
“He has driven me everywhere over the country to go and be the best that I can be in my sporting life, so I think he’s one to really up to and thank for my career really,” she recalls.
Whilst off the field her father played a big part in her life, on the field her teammate Alison Drennan is someone she says that she’s grown the closest with since her arrival at the club.
Like Whitfort, Drennan also had a similar transition into the AFLW after she found herself at the Suns following a trade from St Kilda.
Already having their past and playing with each other at the Saints and more recently, playing alongside in the midfield, helped paved the way for a mentorship as well as a friendship to flourish which, Whitfort suggests as to helping her with her football this year.
Whilst the Gold Coast Suns still have room for improvement having finished their season off 10th on the ladder in 2022, the future looks bright for the Suns with Whitfort predicating big things for her side next season.
“The more we played together, we just kept getting better and better,” she adds.
“It’ll be really exciting to have that next pre-season all together and work as a team.
There were quite a few changes from the year before so having hopefully a more stable list going into next year.
Obviously we don’t know that yet but it’ll be amazing for our team and then we will be able to grow from there.”
Although it seems that her time with the Suns has only just begun, she still had a message for her younger self in which her advocacy for “confidence” and self-belief heavily shines through.
“Just always having confidence in yourself and to back yourself in even if you fail – don’t even worry.
“You learn from failure, so don’t be afraid to fail.”
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