Abbie Ballard (Picture: SANFL/Adelaide AFLW, Design by Will Cuckson)

Kicking two goals in her match-winning performance against the Richmond Tigers, Abbie Ballard announced herself to the competition with a Rising Star nomination in Round Two. Rounding this week out was her return to the side after a few games last season.

Speaking exclusively to The Inner Sanctum on Thursday about the past few days, Ballard is just doing her job for the team and hopes to continue the form she showed on the weekend.

Trailing on the scoreboard for the first three quarters, two inspiring last quarter goals from Ballard helped get her team across the line. In a star-studded team where opportunity has been hard to find, Ballard has truly catapulted herself onto AFLW viewers’ radars.

“The last couple of days has been exciting, it’s so exciting to find out I’d be nominated for the Rising Star,” Ballard said.

“I was just so happy to be able to finish off those two goals in that game and then I think at training it’s just been kind of working my arse off to try and keep making sure that I’m performing well and hopefully come back out this weekend and do a couple more good things.”

Starting netball from a young age, it was football that found Ballard when she was ten-years-old. Falling in love with the game, she focused on football from there on out, with her goal to reach the highest level that she could given AFLW was not around.

“I started playing football when I was ten, I actually started playing netball first so once I started playing footy and got really into it after the first couple of years,” she explained.

“I thought yeah this is something I really want to keep doing and trying to get as far as I possibly can and at that stage there wasn’t any AFLW but I kept trying to go as far as I could in what was available at the time.

“As soon as the AFLW came I thought that’s exactly where I want to get to and I finally made it and I cannot be happier to be here now.”

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Being selected with Pick No. 34 at the 2021 AFLW draft, Ballard is now playing in a league that didn’t exist when she was growing up but now plays for her childhood team.

Debuting in Round Three in Season Six against the West Coast Eagles at the Swinburne Centre, she has now played six games for the Crows.

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The Adelaide Crows are the most successful team in AFLW’s short history, when asked about the club Ballard feels privileged to be apart of the culture and the winning ways at West Lakes.

“The whole team has really been an unreal group of girls and [the] staff that work in AFLW,” Ballard said.

“Everyone is wanting you to do the best you can and definitely the leadership group like Chelsea Randall and Stevie-Lee Thompson and all that, they are a bunch of unreal girls that have so much care and love for everyone in the team so it’s just the whole team and teammates that are the support group.”

The Adelaide Crows AFLW team enjoy the premiership celebrations flanked by fans (Picture: Madeline Irwin)

She goes on to explain the motivations behind her form, not being included in the grand final team that won the premiership last season. It pushed her to get more involved in games for the Crows and has spurred her on at training.

“It definitely sucked not being able to be a part of that premiership,” she said.

“I think the players, they did an unreal job to get the win but definitely this season, it’s pushed me to get better and to improve to be out on that big stage playing in the grand final so I [hope I] can get out on the field and do what I can and do my best so that I can help the team get a few wins.”

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Winning two premierships as an AFLW coach, Matthew Clarke clearly has the investment of his players at the Adelaide Crows. Ballard explains why he gets so much out of his players and why he’s so successful as a head coach.

“Doc (Matthew Clarke) is an unreal coach, he’s so supportive and he’s the most happy guy you’d ever meet,” she said.

“He’s always happy to sit down with you if you need anymore help and he’ll always sit there and help you do skills. He’s told me where I need to get better and what I need to do to improve. He has so much knowledge about the game so he’s an unreal coach and he’s really supported me and got me where I need to be.”

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When reflecting on how far she’s come, Ballard looks at her journey playing at Strathalbyn in the Great Southern Football League and West Adelaide in the SANFLW competition.

She credits the boys she played against in the GSFL as one of the reasons she has become such a tough footballer.

“When playing country football I was playing with the boys so that made me tough,” Ballard explained.

“You couldn’t be soft playing with the boys because they would hit you hard and it didn’t matter that I was a girl.

“I think that’s definitely been one of the best things for me is being able to play with the boys that had unreal skills, it’s like you have to be as good as them to play in the team each week and I think that helped develop my skills and made me the player I am today.”

Ballard also speaks highly of the West Adelaide Football Club in the SANFLW. Having teammates from the club such as Hannah Button, Rachelle Martin, Madison Newman and Chelsea Biddell, the club has been a breeding ground for AFLW level talent.

“The club is a great club, they have an unreal culture and I loved playing out there,” she said.

“I guess it’s been a great team and pretty successful over the past few years so I think it’s just great coaches that have a really good understanding of football and they want you to be the best you can be.

“They work really hard to make sure that if we want to get to AFLW then they push us really hard to get to where we want to get to.”

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