19/05/2024

Frankie Hocking is chaired off by her teammates in her final VFLW game. (Photo: Southern Saints)

From Aston Villa to Melbourne and everything in between, Frankie Hocking's short but sharp VFLW career leaves her etched in the history of the Southern Saints forever.

There’s not many people on Earth that can say they’ve represented their country in Australian rules football. Even fewer can say that country was Great Britain.

English-born, English-raised, Aussie rules-loving Southern Saints retiree Frankie Hocking is one of those chosen few.

While she describes that opportunity as “mind-blowing,” it was in Sydney where she discovered the love for a brand new sport, unique to her new home.

Her life before that was full of a football of a different kind, playing for the Wolverhampton Wanderers, Aston Villa and Nottingham Forest, as well as representing England at youth level.

It all started at a club called the Newtown Breakaways in 2014, who were formed in 2002 as a standalone women’s football club in the Sydney Women’s Australian Football League. The club recently expanded in 2020 to include a men’s team.

Speaking to The Inner Sanctum, Hocking reflected on where it all began after she played her last VFLW game in July.

“I came over here on my own. I had to try and work out how to make friends… sport was the only way I really knew how to make friends,” she said.

“I had my first experience with footy, and had no idea what I was getting myself into, but fell in love with it. I truly enjoyed what I was doing, and it’s been a great rollercoaster and a great experience.”

The Newtown Breakaways. (Photo: AFL England)

The brakes on the rollercoaster seem to have fallen off at some point, as Hocking continued to grow her skills in the new game faster and faster.

She would finish joint runner-up in the Mostyn Medal in 2018, the best and fairest medal for the NSW/ACT Women’s Premier Division competition. Hocking was barely outvoted for the award by former Giants ruck/forward Pippa Smyth.

Other names who’ve won the medal include GWS’ inaugural AFLW captain Amanda Farrugia (twice!), the AFLW’s first number one pick Nicola Barr, GWS and Adelaide retiree Courtney Gum and recently drafted AFLW Cat and VFLW captain Claudia Gunjaca.

So safe to say, it’s a fairly prestigious one to come second in, let alone win.

Becoming a Saintly leader

Her Sydney success would lead Hocking to the VFLW, where she would make her debut in Round 2, 2019 at the top end in a loss to the NT Thunder under Peta Searle.

Fast forward to this year, and she was given the opportunity to co-captain the club alongside teammates Deanna Jolliffe and now AFLW Gold Coast Sun Tara Bohanna.

It’s the little things in such an important role, she explains, that she might end up pining for more than anything.

“It’s an amazing opportunity to be seen as a leader for any team, any sport, any walk of life,” Hocking said.

“The fact that the girls voted us in as their captains, it’s always a privilege to have that opportunity. Between the three of us, we all bring something slightly different to the table, and I think that’s really important.

“There would be team meetings we would hold and ways that we would communicate with the girls, and social events that we would communicate through.

“I would always get lumbered with the responsibility of trying to do the pep talk during the games and things like that. I quite enjoyed doing those sort of things and seeing what we could get out of the girls on game day.

“I probably will miss that the most, to be honest with you, not doing those every week. It’ll probably be one of the hardest things to give up on.”

May be an image of 6 people, people standing, people playing sports and outdoors
The Saints during their pre-game warm up against the Bombers. (Photo: Southern Saints/Facebook)

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The year as a leader wasn’t an easy one for Hocking, having to fight her way back from injury to start her 2021 season.

She wouldn’t get onto the park until Round 10’s upset victory over Port Melbourne, a team the Saints would later prove to have the wood over, but it was well worth the wait. Hocking was at her defensive best, helping to keep the potent Borough offence to just four majors.

Doing it for Dale

It was a burning desire to want to help give her coach success that kept her motivated week to week.

“The opportunity to play for Dale [Robinson] as our head coach was a big contributing factor to return to footy this year in general,” Hocking said.

“She’s been a really great role model, and just that person to learn on throughout COVID. She was a really good sounding board for a lot of the girls, not just me.

“It was her first senior role, and I think a lot of us just wanted to support her through that and give it a good shot with her to give her success. I think that’s something that I’m really proud of, that we were able to come together as a squad and a team and get her to finals as well.

“That was a good motivator to begin with, and then obviously picking up an injury at the very start of the season was a massive blow internally and mentally for me.

“I was fortunate enough really that the girls nominated me to be part of that co-captain leadership group, and giving me that responsibility that the team would look up to me whether I was on or off the field.

“It really gave me that motivation to stick out my rehab, to make sure I went through the process properly and push my body as far as I could without going too far and making things worse.

“Those days where you don’t want to get on the spin bike or you don’t want to try and have to do your extra calf raises or those kind of things, just going down to training and seeing the girls running out there, they’d see me on the spin bike and give me a shout out. It was definitely a real team connection.

“That’s motivated not only me to rehab my injuries but other girls that have come through that process this year.”

Dale Robinson has re-signed as coach for the 2022 VFLW season. (Photo: AFL Vic)

Getting that finals win then against Port Melbourne saw the Saints go further than anyone expected them to.

In a game that see-sawed all the way through the first quarter and a half, the Saints found separation by half time as they lead by nine points. The lead kept extending and extending, keeping the Borough to just a singular second half goal and winning by 34 points.

Bohanna starred with one of the best individual performances the competition had seen all year, with 20 disposals, seven hit-outs, four marks, four tackles and two goals.

Getting her teammates and coach one step closer to premiership success tasted sweet, but not as sweet as the win to launch the side into finals the week before.

With the ladder so close coming into the final rounds of the year, any one of the Western Bulldogs, Carlton and the Southern Saints needed a win to lock down the final spot.

“To be totally honest with you we probably had a slightly bigger celebration getting over North Melbourne the week before that,” Hocking said.

“That was our do-or-die, we really needed to ensure we won against North otherwise there was going to be no Port Melbourne game. The celebration was probably bigger then because we knew we’d given ourselves that chance to play finals no matter what.

“The Port Melbourne game… was just a celebration game.

“We played our footy, we played our style of footy that Dale’s been training us to play, and we executed the game plan to the top level of our abilities.

“In that regard, there was celebration that everything clicked and came together at a really good time for us to showcase what we can do as a team.”

Hocking (C) celebrates with her teammates in the win over Port Melbourne. (Photo: St Kilda FC)

A bit of bowls, or something more?

After joining Bowls Victoria in February this year as a Participation Coordinator, Hocking laughs that she keeps getting asked if that’s all that’s next for her.

A focus on getting into coaching is on the horizon, as she teased in an Instagram post announcing her retirement. Also within view though, and more importantly, is a move down to Geelong with partner Claire.

COVID has a way of putting things on pause, but Hocking is still looking to the future of her Aussie rules journey.

“It’s going to be a little bit of time to recuperate before we do the big move,” she explained.

“It’ll give me a little bit of time to try and get some coaching badges done and have a little think about what is going to be next.

“My background is in teaching, my degree was in the UK. I’ve always been around the development of sport and people in sport.

“I’m confident in my ability to teach people and guide people through their journeys. I just have that passion to help people get better. I really enjoy that side of things… that ability or opportunity to progress and develop people.”

Ending the year with more than her fair share of knocks and bruises, you wouldn’t bemoan Hocking for taking a break from the actual playing side of the game.

But no, she’s also keen to get back into that too. Footy’s a hard sport to escape.

“I definitely can’t say I didn’t give it my all in my last game,” Hocking laughed.

“I’ll find a local team to play a little bit of footy in next year, a bit more lowkey and casual with no extras to go with it, no extra pressure.

“I’ll always follow the Sainters, I’ll always love the girls and I’ll always be watching to see what they’re doing. Get to watch their careers develop and hopefully watch them develop into superstardom.

“Sport’s all that my partner and I know how to make friends, so there’ll definitely be some sport happening.

“Although I didn’t play the whole season, it was good to take that chance to be around the whole team again and hopefully have a positive influence on the girls.”

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