Emma Grant: My Melbourne Demons experience

What an opportunity! The first of many thoughts blistering through my mind as I woke on March 6.

My footy journey started alongside my brother in the then Vic Kick program at Gisborne when I was six. A year or so later, kitted out in my Bulldogs gear watching my brother in his first under-9s game for the Gisborne rookies, the coach asked if I too would like to have a run around. Dad took a while to come around, but we got there. I had an absolute ball and I didn’t look back!

Melbourne’s Emma Grant with the Bendigo Pioneers academy girls.

I went on to play alongside the boys at Gisborne until I was 12; without further opportunity for girls, I switched to my second love in netball and played that for 10 years. A move to Bendigo for university, coincided with the formation of the Bendigo Thunder in 2011, and I have played four of the last five years with them.

In late October I received an email about my selection into the AFL Victorian Women’s Football Academy. I was super excited for the opportunity, I could have never said no. There are now five Bendigo Thunder girls that make the trip down to Melbourne each week.

We were training at Gosch’s Paddock a couple of weeks ago and Michelle Cowan was there. Amongst a drill, Debbie Lee pulled myself and Danielle Hardiman aside and told us Michelle wanted to have a chat.

In a pretty amazing couple of minutes, Michelle told us that she would love for us to pull on the Demons guernsey; it had been noticed how hard we had been working and the improvements in our footy. I think I will remember that chat for a long time to come!

On the weekend of the AFL exhibition match, I was on preseason camp with the Bendigo Thunder. It was great to be around teammates who had shared this journey with me, and many of them would come down to Craigieburn on the Sunday to support.

Stay off your feet, hydrate well and be at the ground by 3pm were the instructions given to us in the lead-up to the game. I was conscious of the heat, so kept my fluids up over the weekend. I got to the ground around 2pm, trying to keep my mind busy – I was happy to watch the boys play!

Growing up, I was a crazy Bulldogs supporter, so it felt strange being in a Melbourne polo cheering against the team I had grown up loving. I kept thinking ‘okay, you are not on the Doggies team now, you’re playing for Melbourne’. Very surreal.

Inside the rooms I was picking the brains of girls who had played before: Elise O’Dea and Daisy Pearce. I told them how nervous I was and they just said, “it’s another game of footy”, Assuring me I would be fine and giving me a little confidence. Daisy was great, very open and good at getting the team together and leading by example.

Daisy’s message was mistakes were inevitable, that with new players playing their first game in an AFL jumper, getting on with the game after making those mistakes would see us as winners. I listened, took it all in and tried to do everything she and the other coaches asked of us.

With Michelle Cowan busy with her role for the boys, Graham Burgen (AFL Victoria Women’s Academy head coach) was taking the reins for the day. Speaking to him, my role was to start in a forward pocket and rotate into the midfield – that came as a bit of a shock. Brendan Major (coach of the Eastern Devils) also spoke to me about my midfield role, encouraging me to learn from the other girls, knowing they have been there before and able to get the job done.

My mind was racing as we walked onto the field. I didn’t even take the time to read the banner, such was the adrenaline pumping through my body. Once I took my place on the field I started to settle – I was ready to go.

It was just phenomenal to be wearing a Demons jumper and to have been given this opportunity. No way was this getting away from me!

Nicola Stevens matched up on me at the first bounce. Many things on that day seemed to happen so quickly, so much of a blur. My first quarter was my best. I remember my tackle to win the footy, which was rewarded with a free kick and a few early touches.

I would have loved the following three quarters to be more like my first but I enjoyed doing team things and trying to impact the contest as much as I could.

I only played a few games in 2014 when Bendigo Thunder made the step up to VWFL Premier Division, as I was living in Echuca and playing netball. Premier Division was a huge step up from the North-West Division we had played in the year before, but that Sunday was probably another 10 steps up!

It was so fast, skill levels so high, and footy brains have people always thinking! The intensity was amazing; I thoroughly enjoyed it.

With the confirmation of the AFL Women’s competition in 2017, I couldn’t be more excited. Playing footy is my dream, I would absolutely go anywhere for the opportunity to play at the highest level.

Given the taste I had with the Melbourne Football Club, I will be working hard for the next moment, the next opportunity. If asked to move to play in the national league, absolutely I would. Staying in Victoria would be fantastic but I won’t be knocking anything back.

Emma Grant is a 26-year-old aspirant for the inaugural 2017 AFL women’s competition. As a member of the AFL Victoria Women’s Football Academy, the opportunity arose for Grant to represent the Melbourne Demons for the first time on March 6. Having played netball before returning to Australian rules, Grant’s has used those skills to further her game; she will be pivotal to the Bendigo Thunder’s efforts during this year’s first VWFL Premier Division season.

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