The rapid growth in female participation in football is well documented, and with more and more girls and women lacing up the boots to play the game they love, it can be easy to forget that female participation in football was once not as common.
Glenorchy pair Gemma Allan and Sandy Eaton have been at the forefront of the movement here in Tasmania and are set to celebrate big milestones in the coming weeks while playing key roles in the Magpies 2018 campaign.
With Allan set to play her 100th game this weekend against the Tigers, and Eaton preparing to play her 100th game for the club in round 13 against Clarence, TSLW Digital Reporter Olivia Clayton spoke with the two Glenorchy players about the achievement, their careers and the 2018 season for the Magpies.
What does the achievement of playing 100 games of football mean to you?
Gemma Allen: “It’s a fantastic honour to reach this milestone, particularly as it’s come with life membership to the Glenorchy Football Club. Glenorchy is a fantastic supportive club and it feels great to become part of its history. It’s something tangible that no one can ever take away from me.”
Sandy Eaton: “It’s a milestone that I’ve had my mind set on achieving for a little while now. It’s an achievement that until now has not been achieved by a female Glenorchy player. In saying that it’s taken a lot of hard work and commitment to get here and is something I am very proud of.”
How did you first get involved in football?
Gemma Allen: “I played a handful of games while I was living on campus at Uni and got a taste for it. However, I was playing soccer and touch football when someone handed me a flyer about women’s football. North Hobart was starting a new team so I decided to go there and haven’t looked back since.”
Sandy Eaton: “I first got involved in football as a nine-year-old when I followed my brother Michael to his football training. I played from then until I was 13, having to give it up as females weren’t able to play past that age. I found the sport again in the NT as a 22-year-old and have played since then.”
What has been the highlight of your career so far?
Gemma Allen: “Our come-from-behind prelim final win against Clarence in 2017 to make our first ever grand final last year was a highlight. We still need to go that one step further though…”
Sandy Eaton: “There has been many highlights but being picked in the first ever Tasmanian state side in 2011, and being named captain for that side is something I’m pretty proud of. In addition, participation in the Grand Final last year with the Glenorchy girls was pretty special also.”
What is it about football that you enjoy and has kept you involved in the game?
Gemma Allen: “I love the physical and mental challenge of the game; but more than anything, the people I’ve met over the last nine years have kept me playing. Turning up to training or a game on a cold wet winter day is far more enjoyable when your teammates are your friends and you know they’ve got your back on and off the field.”
Sandy Eaton: “I obviously love the fitness and game itself but it’s the team atmosphere that is most addictive. We’ve worked very hard on maintaining a great culture at Glenorchy and when your team get along both on and off the field, it’s hard to want to stay away.”
How have you seen the growth of women’s football during your career so far?
Gemma Allen: “It’s incredible to see how far it’s come; the exponential growth since the AFLW started has been particularly great. It’s thrown female football into the spotlight. The addition of junior and youth pathways along with the regional leagues in Tasmania have meant that there’s more females than ever playing the game and no matter what your age or ability there’s a place for you to play.”
Sandy Eaton: “I’ve been lucky enough to start in the inception of two competitions, firstly in the NT and then in Tasmania. Both competitions started very late compared to other states but the improvement has been incredible. Since the introduction of AFLW the growth of the sport has gone through the roof which is fantastic for footy here in Tassie. The improved standard in our local competition in the last two years alone is impressive to see and I’m excited to see what the next two years bring.”
How has playing football impacted you?
Gemma Allen: “I’ve made so many friends from very different walks of life; people I never would’ve met if it wasn’t for football. It’s driven me to get strong and stay fit and I’ve learned a lot about teamwork and leadership. Football is very much a release and escape for me; when I run out onto the field for a couple hours I think of nothing else except football and I think it’s important to have something in life that makes you feel that way.”
Sandy Eaton: “Football has been a huge part of my life for the past 14 years. It helps me remain fit and healthy and the friendships I’ve made here will last a life time. It’s like having a second family.”
How do you see this season unfolding with Glenorchy?
Gemma Allen: “At a game clear on top of the ladder, this is our best start to the season ever and we’re in line for a top two finish for the first time as well. I think we’ve got a very good mix of youth and experience in the team and our new and younger players are improving every game. We’ve been training hard and starting to really gel as a team lately. It’s a cliché but, at the end of the day, it’ll come down to whether we can get the job done when it counts.”
Sandy Eaton: “It’s hard not to be excited with our progress so far. We are working extremely hard and if we continue like this we will be tough to beat in the finals. In saying that, we are taking each week as it comes and don’t want to get ahead of ourselves.”
Do you have any advice for players who are just starting their career?
Gemma Allen: “Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard. Know your limits, listen to your body and prioritise strength work and injury prevention. Surround yourself with team of people who know more than you do and listen to their advice.”
Sandy Eaton: “Work hard on your fitness, injury prevention and basic skills early. The game is moving so quickly at the moment that if you don’t do the hard yards now you risk missing out.”