Sophie McDonald is meticulous when it comes to football. That becomes pretty clear, pretty quickly.
Football remains at the centre of her focus prior to the start of our conversation. It has remained at the centre of her focus since she first signed on with the West Coast Eagles in 2019.
Formerly a hockey player, her disciplined mindset continues to shine through years later. McDonald, 22, explains that she is at the club most days working on her game – including in her downtime.
“We’ll have two or three sessions a week where we’re out on the track and having a kick around,” McDonald told The Inner Sanctum.
“But I also like to come in on our days off just to get a bit more recovery, and make sure I’m prepping as much as I can for the next game.”
With the fourth week of the AFLW’s current season around the corner, the competition is starting to heat up and McDonald is enjoying every moment of it.
She admits that she’s feeling “pretty good” about season seven, and is glad to be back playing months on from the conclusion of season six.
“Obviously, [season seven] has come around a lot quicker than a lot of us anticipated with them bringing the season forward,” McDonald shared.
“But it’s been really nice to get back into the swing of things and be back playing footy, which is what I love to do.”
Three seasons into her AFLW career, and McDonald is continuing to develop her craft as a defender.
She explains that big, intercepting markers such as through her AFLW counterpart Libby Birch, and West Coast Men’s duo Jeremy McGovern and Tom Barrass are who she looks up to in modelling her game around.
When the Albany local isn’t tearing it up on the field, she is working toward an individual goal of being the best player that she can be.
Whether that is to be “one of the top defenders” in the competition, or “help[ing] teammates around the club”, she is finding ways to be the “best player” that she can possibly be.
But amidst her athletic endeavours, there is another side to the young footballer which she reveals only those closest to her would be aware of.
“There’s quite a bit of a dramatic, performative side to me, but I guess you don’t really see it too often.” McDonald admitted.
“It probably really only comes out in those big games.
“Where now we got games at stadiums that really draws into that other side of me where I really like to have a big crowd and get out in front of everyone and perform.”
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Adding to her sporting abilities, the Eagle has another side to herself – in the performing arts. From writing songs to playing music, McDonald is equipped with a multitude of talent and is “very big into” her musical interests.
She says that the guitar is a constant in her life, which she plays everyday. Though she can “tick around” on a piano, and play the trumpet too.
“So a bit of a multitude of instruments. But yeah, I have a lot of fun playing them all really,” she said.
Quite a bit has changed since the cross-coder joined the AFLW ranks back in 2019, the year which saw the Eagles awaiting to enter the competition in the following year. Dabbling between two sports at the time, it was also the year that McDonald made the choice on what her heart was set on.
For McDonald, her heart remained spilt between the two right until the moment the West Coast Eagles became the deciding factor through their offer of a contract. She explains that at the time of making her decision, she was willing to “see how [everything] pan[ned] out”.
“If one works out more than the other I’ll just pursue that,” McDonald said.
“It just so happens that it was footy for me, and I’ve never regretted that decision in saying yes.”
Although, she does admit that sometimes the mental side of things are what makes up her biggest challenge as of yet.
“For me, I had never really been a part of an elite environment before [coming to West Coast],” McDonald said.
“So it took a lot of adjustment on my part to really feel at home with the structure behind it, and what’s expected of you, and everything that goes with being professional.
“Not just when you’re training, but also outside of the club aswell.
“So it did take a lot of toll on my mental health, and it really took a while for me to get my head in the right place so that I could really start playing good footy consistently.”
McDonald gained an appreciation for talking with those closest to her. She says it what’s motivated her through her rough time transitioning into an elite sports environment.
Through talking with others, including her Eagles teammates, McDonald says the ideas and “passions” she hears during her conversations helps her. Many of those that surround her in the club are her inspirations.
“Seeing how much passion they have for the sport and being an athlete, it really drives you to be your best alongside them,” she said.
“Like a lot of them are just huge inspirations for me just because they’ve put in so much work.”
McDonald is a beacon of light when she starts sharing the memories that standout in her time so far with the Eagles. Though she says there’s “a couple”, it’s clear that making her debut for the club is something that remains close to her heart.
She recalls that it “was quite special” for her debut coinciding with the club’s first ever game. It’s something that McDonald treasures, being involved in history for the club.
When asked about what it means to put on the blue and gold jumper, McDonald shares that she realises the importance of being a part of the West Coast Eagles.
“It’s a lot of pride I think, and you that you’re representing the club on such a larger scale when you go out there, and play and you wear the wings,” she says.
“You feel the weight of that when you go out everytime you go out on the field, everytime you put on that jumper. To know that you, as an athlete and now as a woman as well that you are like an inspiration to so many people out there.
“Not just young boys and girls growing up, but everyone across all genders. So yeah, it’s a lot but I really enjoy having that weight on me.”
For McDonald, she is just enjoying the ride and embracing every opportunity that comes her way. The prospect of West Coast making finals is something that excites the footballer.
According to McDonald, the aim to get to a premiership is clearly in mind for her as season seven continues.
“I think as a team, it would be amazing stuff if we could make finals,” she says.
“Obviously the end goal would be a premiership I think. Everyone that plays footy or a sport at any level really aspire to win at the big dance at the end of the day.”
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