It wouldn’t be a stretch to say 2021 AFLW Draft prospect Emily Bennett possesses the Midas Touch of sport. As an 18 year old with an incredibly athletic background, nearly every sport she’s touched has turned to gold.
To put it into perspective, at the age of 11, she represented WA in state netball, and by 2018, she competed for WA in athletics three times – once in Adelaide, twice overseas in Malaysia and Singapore.
In her first international tour to Malaysia in 2017, she won gold for U14 shot put and silver for discus.
In recent years, she narrowed her choice of sport down to one – Australian Rules Football. Since 2018 she’s been a member of WA’s football academy and has hopes of being drafted this year.
Had her parents not motivated and inspired her to pursue sport in her spare time, all of this would’ve been unachievable.
Speaking to The Inner Sanctum, Bennett described where her journey has taken her and how it started. Without a push from one very important person, she might not even be playing sport at school.
“She [her Mum] was heavily involved in netball and athletics at a young age and continued to play touch rugby,” Bennett said.
“She felt a purpose for my sisters and I to try different activities in school and out of school. We were encouraged to branch out and create friendships groups, and to always keep active.
“Both my parents were very open to any sport or activity – I initially tried gymnastics which never worked out.”
In 2016, after playing almost every sport under the sun, she decided to add Australian Rules Football to her repertoire.
As a year eight student, she volunteered to play in an interschool footy carnival, earmarking the beginning of her career. From there, her passion, and evident talent only grew ascended.
“Being involved in basketball and netball, I was so excited to just have a go. I loved every bit, especially the contact and amount of running I could do,” Bennett said.
“I found football to be very welcoming and encouraging as it is such a growing sport in the women’s side.
“I was inspired to play football as it was something my mum and her generation were never really able to do.”
In year nine the following year, Mater Dei College recruited her for its senior (Year 10-12) girls football team. Additionally, she was invited to join the inaugural class of its women’s football academy.
If that wasn’t already enough, she had also joined the Warwick Greenwood Football Club and won their girls’ best and fairest award.
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Despite all this, 2018 was finally the year Emily Bennett was put on WA’s football map.
Thanks to a partnership between her school and the West Perth Football Club, she went to the next level in her footballing career. Along with twin sister Natalie, she signed on to West Perth’s WAFLW Rogers Cup (Colts) side and played there until 2020.
However, this transition was not smooth sailing, as she had quickly disproven doubts come season’s end.
“I went down for the preseason unsure whether I would get in, and finished the season getting runner up best and fairest,” Bennett said.
The WA Football Commission was forced to take notice of her outstanding performances and invite her to join their Under 16’s training program.
Additionally, Mater Dei College was the premiers of the Moore Division, the highest division of schoolgirls football in WA. Naturally, Emily was best on ground.
As the youngest player on WA’s squad in 2019, she played in the AFLW U18s Championship on the Gold Coast. However, she did not get the same opportunity in 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
This year, she flew to Melbourne with her WA teammates to compete in the NAB AFL Women’s U19s Championship. They went home with one win and one loss, with a convincing victory against the Allies and a narrow defeat to Vic Metro.
“It was an amazing experience which I honestly never thought would have happened,” Bennett said.
“Due to COVID last year, the state U18s comp was cancelled, allowing me to be played as an over ager [turning 19 this year].
“Being of older age I felt so much more confident and prepared, in comparison to my first year where I was the youngest in the team.”
Bennett speaks fondly about the games she played, highlighting one of her favourite passages of play.
“Having come from Adelaide about a week before with a disappointing loss, I came firing for our first game [WA vs Allies],” she said.
“I started as an inside mid and my role was to play sweeper (more defensive) as I am usually a half back. As the first bounce was thrown, I had full confidence our ruck would win, and I would just stop any opposition that may have won it.
“However, on the first tap the opposition won and the ball came towards me, in which I instinctively ran, picked up and hand balled away resulting in a down field goal.”
Now, she will bide time in Claremont’s WAFLW backline, which wouldn’t have happened had her school coach not intervened. Her coach was none other than West Coast Eagles Ruck, Parris Laurie, who was one of Emily’s biggest cheerleaders and inspirations.
“She is amazing! Ms. Laurie played for Claremont Tigers before she got into AFLW and she became my messenger between myself and Claremont,” Bennett said.
“Laurie offered early morning for skills and fitness and would watch most of my games. Having Ms. Laurie at school made the idea of AFLW and AFLW players less terrifying and something in my grasp.”
With time and plenty of uncertainty in the months leading up to the 2021 AFLW Draft, Bennett has several goals in mind to keep her occupied.
“Of course I would love to be drafted or listed as a train on, but at the moment I would love to just become the fittest and most competitive player in state league,” she said.
With several jam-packed years under her belt in hopefully a prolonged footy career, the draft prospect has picked up plenty of valuable lessons along the way.
“The main lesson I think that has stuck with me is that I am a valued player,” Bennett said.
“I have always had problems with my confidence and always looked at what I needed to improve rather than what I am valued for.
“Especially in this trip my coaches continued to reiterate that I am here for a reason, and that I was not chosen based on what I could do, but what I am already good at.”
For the girls out there aspiring to take a similar path as Bennett, she encourages them to “keep going and get involved.”
“Being someone who never had Auskick or junior football, I would tell any girl who is younger or just starting to find a club and just play footy. Its honestly the best game in the world,” she said.
“I would also remind them that there is an end goal, with AFLW which never was around when I was a young kid.”
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