21/04/2024

McFerran coaching at Carlton's VFLW team. (Picture: carltonfc.com.au)

Everywhere she's gone in her footy career as a player and coach, former VWFL superstar Shannon McFerran has never been far from her footy family.

In celebration of the 40th anniversary of the Victorian Women’s Football League, The Inner Sanctum speaks to the people who made women’s football into what it is today.

For former St Albans Spur and St Kilda Shark Shannon McFerran, footy was never something she was discouraged from pursuing.

In fact, she says “support sort of came from everywhere” when she was able to begin playing again after finishing her under 12s year at St Albans.

Formerly an assistant coach at Carlton and Collingwood’s AFLW teams, it was this support that led McFerran to where she is now. It was a celebration that came from within her entire family.

“Dad, he played and was an umpire and my mum was always a part of every team that I played for and my brother played for,” McFerran told The Inner Sanctum.

“She was either team manager or doing trainings, first aid, things like that. For me it was just so supportive, even my grandparents love footy as well. That whole atmosphere amongst my cousins and everyone, they just loved the fact that I was able to play again.

“We’re just a footy family.”

McFerran followed in the footsteps of her older brother as a junior, playing under nines footy at St Albans.

There was only one other girl playing on the team, as she recalls, playing through until she was 12-years-old, when girls were no longer able to play with the boys’ teams.

She would move into umpiring after that, but continued to hang around the club, following her brother around as he kept playing.

“I spent a lot of time running the boundary in the western region,” McFerran said.

“I really enjoyed that, just watching the guys play. I guess it was my way of still staying involved in the game really at that point.

“I was a little bit disappointed I couldn’t play, but I didn’t really think about it too much.”

Senior footy at the Spurs

The next step for McFerran after biding her time as an umpire was joining Debbie Lee’s Spurs, discovering that there was a team, and a competition, just for women.

After initial pushback from her dad, McFerran became a regular member, and a star player, of the Spurs.

She would end up a five-time Helen Lambert Medallist, 10-time club best and fairest winner and a two-time premiership player.

It’s no exaggeration to say she’s one of the most decorated VWFL players of all time.

McFerran winning her fifth Helen Lambert Medal. (Picture: Victorian Women’s Football League)

For McFerran though, the individual honours and accolades were never as important as having a team, a community, a place where she felt truly welcomed.

“I just remember feeling at home,” she explained.

“It felt really good to be part of a team again, and I had such a wonderful team around me as a junior with the boys. To have that again felt really easy.

“Deb (Debbie Lee), Marie Napoli, back in those days there was a real core group of older and younger players. I sort of quickly made friends with a lot of them, and really bonded.

“It just felt really [like] a home away from home kind of thing, and it felt awesome to be back out there playing.”

READ: VWFL 40TH ANNIVERSARY

‘There’s always growth to be had’: Meg Hutchins on the development of women’s footy

‘I didn’t tell anyone I played footy’ – Debbie Lee on the VWFL: Part 1

The new era of women’s footy and ‘letting go’ – Debbie Lee: Part 2

As her career progressed, McFerran went from strength to strength as she won nearly every honour available to her. She would represent Victoria at carnivals 12 times, captaining the side twice.

She would eventually be named captain of the Spurs, and was named All-Australian captain in 2009 and 2011. McFerran was well and truly on top of the footballing world.

Life come crashing back down when doctors found a tumour in between her brain and ear canal in 2009, forcing her to have surgery to remove it and subsequently missing the 2010 VWFL season.

“Up until that point in 2010, I hadn’t missed any football through injury or anything like that,” McFerran said.

“I’d always been really fortunate not to. Having to sit out was hard, and I stood on the boundary as assistant coach and was able to join in later on when I was able to run again.

“I didn’t know whether I was going to be able to play again.”

McFerran’s return in 2011 was the ultimate fairytale. She played her 200th VWFL game, was named All-Australian, and captained the Spurs to another premiership.

The 2011 VWFL Grand Final was unlike any other for Shannon McFerran. (Picture: Victorian Women’s Football League)

It was a truly, truly special day.

“Beforehand I’m pretty sure I had a few crying moments with all my teammates,” McFerran recalled.

“I think sometimes when the game’s taken away from you, you appreciate it a lot more, especially with those supportive people around you. 2011 was a great year for that.

“We had a really good team, one that would be really hard to replicate now. We just sort of all clicked, and everyone went out and played their role all that season really, it was quite a really successful team. Girls are still playing now from that premiership side in the AFLW, so that’s really nice to see.”

New connections through coaching

For season 2021, McFerran has taken a step down from the elite level after spending nearly four years across coaching roles at Collingwood and Carlton.

She now coaches local club Keilor’s women’s team, alongside full time work as a secondary school teacher.

“I think the opportunity that came up at Keilor just popped up at the right time,” McFerran said.

“I put a lot of thought into it, it’s been a long time since I’ve been at local level. Keilor’s such a wonderful club, there’s a number of kids at school that I teach that are always going on about Keilor.

“If I didn’t take the opportunity I’d probably be missing out on something. It’s been great to get back to local level and working with all the girls in just developing. There’s a huge range. Sometimes you get spoiled at the elite level, in terms of they’ve come through and already had that.

“My coaching journey, it’s been really beneficial for me to go back and have a think about the way I’m delivering things at every level.

“The whole time I was coaching at Carlton, Collingwood and Keilor, I’ve worked full time. It’s really hard, I have to say.

“Talking about what the players do and balancing work and footy, it’s the same for all the coaching staff. The majority of people at Carlton work full-time. It takes a lot out of you.

“I have a really supportive family, my parents are really good. My kids love seeing me be down there, and now at Keilor as well, being able to share the journey.

“It’s a really hard balance, but I think that sometimes, at times my teaching job has suffered a little bit in terms of progressing into anything.

“You do sacrifice a lot professionally to be able to coach on the side. It’s a bit of a balancing act, but I don’t know what it’s like not to be busy!”

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McFerran coaching at Keilor. (Picture: Keilor Football Club/Facebook)

Coaching is what McFerran finds the most rewarding, of anything she’s done in football.

After she moved to the St Kilda Sharks, she retired from senior footy at the end of the 2015 season. This left her career done right before the cusp of the beginning of the AFLW competition.

She laughs when she’s asked about any feelings of bitterness, a question she gets a lot, she says.

“I probably get a lot of satisfaction knowing that I’ve played with or that I’ve coached players [still] running around and getting a kick.

“I think for me, given the time that I had in football, I made sure I made the most of every opportunity available to me at that time. It wasn’t, so I don’t have any regrets in terms of feeling like I missed out.”

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