Like many women who are beginning their AFL careers at a professional level, Geelong VFLW ruckwoman Erin Hoare grew up kicking a footy around the backyard with her brothers.
Though she clearly enjoyed the sport, gaining her first match experience playing as a teenager in high school as part of the yearly round-robin tournaments against other schools, Hoare instead pursued a sporting career in netball; as most girls at the time did, with seemingly limited or no opportunity to make a career with the oval ball as a woman.
But the introduction and success of the AFLW has now changed that perception, and the former Melbourne Vixens and New South Wales Swifts player is chasing a new dream, with the hope of playing a second sport at an elite level.
“I always enjoyed my netball, that’s for sure,” Hoare told Girls Play Footy’s Peter Holden.
“I think I probably wasn’t aware of opportunities and I’d say it’s probably a really similar story among other players who’ve crossed codes and just never really followed up the opportunity to play, which has obviously changed a whole lot now,” Hoare told GPF’s Peter Holden last week.
But if Erin’s journey to the AFLW doesn’t seem to follow the conventional pathway, neither did the road which led to her netball career.
“I guess my journey to elite netball was somewhat atypical.
“I played community sport as a young girl and then into early adulthood as well, so I never played rep netball growing up.
“When I was 22 I played my first year of state league netball… and then in that same year got picked up as a rookie for Melbourne Vixens.
“I was 23 as a rookie, which is considered pretty old, and the experience of playing league netball was amazing.
“I’d never been exposed to anything like that before.”
Currently as a 28-year-old, Hoare is having an impressive debut Aussie rules season for Geelong’s VFLW side, strikingly similar to Darebin’s Lauren Pearce last year, who went on to be drafted by Melbourne.
Speaking of the challenges that faced her after joining the Cats at the beginning of the year, Hoare admitted she still has lots to work on.
“I think any girl that’s crossed codes would probably say just developing the basic skills has been really important.
“Kicking a footy doesn’t come naturally when you’ve been throwing a netball around for so many years, so certainly getting those basic skills down pat and continuing to develop those to a level that’s competitive has been really important.”
Just as important to Erin’s life is her other career as a professional health researcher upon completing her PhD last year, yet she played down any concerns of balancing the two careers.
“I tend to manage it really well; I think everyone does when you love it as much as we do, which is of course why we play,” Hoare said.
“I think that there’s a lot of what maybe could be perceived as sacrifices, but when you love the sport as much as we do, you just make it work.”
The 194-centimetre tall – who is five centimetres taller than the AFLW’s tallest player, GWS’s Erin McKinnon – is remaining hopeful of gaining a spot on an AFLW list for the 2018 season, but says her focus remains solely on this season with the Cats.
“I think you’d find it hard to find a player who wouldn’t say they’d be interested in playing AFLW.
“At the moment, of course my focus is the VFLW season with Geelong, and then whatever comes on after that, I’ll welcome the opportunity with open arms, but I’ll get to it when I get to it.”
It may not be her focus, but two Victorian clubs will be keeping a close eye on the ruck option.
Collingwood and the Western Bulldogs look to have their ruck options for 2018 sewn up, but both Carlton and Melbourne could do with support for Alison Downie and Lauren Pearce respectively.
The Cats are currently still sitting in sixth position on the Swisse VFLW ladder, despite going down in a low-scoring affair against the in-form Darebin Falcons on the weekend, and will have to fight hard to regain a spot in the top four.
The gifted athlete also spoke about her admiration for the current crop of AFLW players she both plays with and lines up against in the VFLW.
“I pinch myself, and some of the things that you see them do you sort of look twice and you think you’ve seen a bit of magic.
“They’re amazing players and amazing people and I’ve personally learnt a lot from them, in training and especially in games when it all comes together.”
The Cats face the Box Hill Hawks this weekend, who are coming off back-to-back wins after defeating Cranbourne by 22 points on the weekend, and there’s little doubt that Hoare will have a big role to play for the remainder of the season, if her team is to achieve its hopes of playing finals football.
You can listen to Peter Holden’s full interview with Erin Hoare below, or by searching ‘Girls Play Footy’ on iTunes.