Theresia Meissner began her footy career playing for the Dockers.
No, not those Dockers. The colours may be the same, but we’re talking about a little team over 13,000 kilometres away from Fremantle.
You see, Meissner was born and raised in Germany. Unbeknownst to many, the sport we call our own is played in various leagues organised by AFL Europe.
Speaking to The Inner Sanctum, Meissner explains how she came to discover the game and it all started with a move to a new city.
“I moved to Hamburg in 2018,” Meissner told The Inner Sanctum.
“I played a lot of handball and soccer before so I was just looking for a new team sport, I didn’t know anyone, so sport was always a good opportunity to get to know people.
“There was a girl coming over from the UK and she held a taster session, there were a few [advertised] on Facebook.
“So I thought I’d go in and try it, it was the perfect combination of the sports I’d done before.”
After playing the game a few times in the nine-a-side format, Meissner fell in love with Aussie rules.
Always a sporty type, the elements of all the sports she already loved were married together in a beautiful union, giving her something she never knew she was missing.
“I just like running, so I think it’s a combination of all that,” Meissner said.
“Skills with your feet, skills with your hands and of course the contact, and a lot of running, I just love it.”
Before she knew it, Meissner was part of something bigger.
The European Championships take place every three years, most recently happening in 2019 in London.
Meissner was given the chance to represent Germany, becoming truly immersed in the European footy community by this point.
“The environment, especially in Germany and Europe is great,” she said.
“It’s a niche sport so it’s a very small community, and then to represent your country is just another step. You get to play in places you don’t normally, get to explore Europe and other countries.”
While it would have been easy for Meissner to feel out of place, the majority of the German team were still learning the sport as they went along.
“We basically popped out as a very new team,” she said.
“Most of us hadn’t played the sport before, probably hadn’t even heard about it before, but then we just came together and played.
“It was a great event because we played really good as a team, it was really supportive and a really positive environment. I hope we can play at the International Cup soon, here in Australia.”
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Taking a flight to the unknown
Meissner was ready for the next challenge, flying to Australia in hopes of taking her footy to the next level.
Plans to play in the VFLW in 2020 were unfortunately thwarted by the COVID pandemic, with lockdowns completely cancelling the season.
After trialling with the Western Bulldogs, she was offered a list spot and had signed a contract and was ready to go for the season.
Fears of culture shock were quickly levied, being surrounded by Australians playing in Hamburg.
“We had a few Aussies at my club in Hamburg, so I got to know a couple of slang words or words people use in footy,” Meissner said.
“I feel like almost everyday I’m getting across a new word, or I’m just looking at people like ‘I have no idea what you’re talking about right now.’ I still have those moments.
“The English in Australia is sometimes not really English, it’s just Australian.”
Meissner has found it harder to adapt to the roads than to get along with her teammates.
“The thing which still shocks me sometimes [about Australia] is the traffic, how it goes with the lanes,” she said.
“In Germany, we have a lot of cities where bicycles are very common, and I’m cycling a lot because I’m used to it.”
With plans in place to play for the Bulldogs, Meissner found housing with a familiar name to AFLW fans, rooming with a fellow international player in the American Dani Marshall.
“I lived with her [Dani Marshall] in Melbourne, but I left Melbourne before the second lockdown and I ended up in Geelong,” Meissner said.
“We’re still in contact, and I think we’ve both been lucky that we lived together last year during lockdown because we both love footy and we could go outside and have a kick.
“I think that improved our skills a lot, so that was pretty good.”
Lining up for Geelong in 2021, Meissner would receive the chance to play against Marshall in the VFLW, even matching up on each other.
Meissner won the clash after she was named in the best players on the ground and took away a 34-point victory.
“It was quite funny,” she said.
“I think friendship doesn’t really count on the field. It was good, it was fun.”
Amidst the fun and friendships that footy can bring also came challenges and hardship.
Meissner would take up work on a farm to keep her working visa and stay in Australia, uncertain what would be waiting for her at home.
“It was quite a big challenge,” she said.
“I came here to play footy, and then I couldn’t really play a proper game. It was not really an option to go back to Germany because the situation was pretty much the same.
“It was just a bit frustrating, but I’m now even happier that we can play footy and the season’s going well.”
Like most players, Meissner has just described her season with great humility.
Playing as a defender, she has been named in the best players in five of her six games so far. This included being named best on ground in round six’s two point win against Casey
Now that she’s playing footy again, Meissner couldn’t be happier.
“At the beginning I was pretty nervous,” she said.
“I came here and I wasn’t sure if I could make it to a VFLW team. Now that the season’s going along, and the coaches are really happy with what I’m doing, it’s fantastic.
“I really enjoy it, especially here in Geelong with the Cats, it’s such a great environment. The girls are really, really great.
“One of my teammates said the other day, as we were running out onto the field, you don’t just run out there with your teammates, you run out there with your friends.”
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