‘Being tall, you stand out, which means you can have a bit of confidence about you,’ Erin says. ‘Being the youngest, I was the least experienced so being the tallest kind of balanced that out. If I was the youngest and a smallish midfielder, I’d have been terrified!’
Erin seemed to easily slot into playing at a professional level, rucking against some of the competition’s best, earning a Rising Star nomination in Round 3. She knew her height gave her an advantage but she also knew her skills weren’t up there with the other girls yet. She’d get nervous.
‘Once the game starts, my nerves fade away. If you take away all the hype around it, it’s just footy, the same game I’ve played for the last five years, just a bit faster with a fair bit more intensity. I do tend to get quite nervous beforehand, though, and being professional has heightened that a bit. In one game, I was playing against Collingwood’s Emma King, the best ruck in the whole competition, and I just felt like a scrawny 18-year-old … But the girls got around me, they’re all very supportive.
‘With local footy, you rock up half an hour before the game and just run out and play, so when I started at the Giants I was getting a bit overwhelmed about the team plans before the game. Being professional has given me access to pre-game strategies, like focussing on just a couple of things I can do. What’s really helped me this year is talking to our midfield coach, asking, “What are two things I can focus on this quarter?” So really narrowing it down, looking for two things each quarter, each game. It might be as simple as making sure I beat my opponent in the ruck, and trying to get back and help in defence.’
Erin has never been one to blend into the crowd, and that’s not just because it’s harder for her to hide. At primary school, she was the first girl to wear the boys’ uniform. ‘I was a bit of a tomboy in school. I grew up in a sporting family; we were always very active, trying lots of different sports. I just refused to wear the girls’ uniform because I didn’t want to wear a skirt or a dress.’
As a 12-year-old, she got interested in AFL. It all started when one of her younger brothers joined Auskick, and before long she was playing footy at the park on weekends with her father and brothers, then aged nine and six.
‘I saw an article in the newspaper about how girls could actually play AFL and I got really excited. So Mum contacted the local club but they didn’t have any youth girls teams. They were great though, and said if I could get enough girls to form a team they’d pay registration, give us uniforms, and help us get started.
‘So in 2012, we started with a small group of girls with Mum as our coach. She knew nothing about AFL in the beginning but she was very encouraging and supportive. It was only the second year of the Sydney Harbour Youth Girls program so it wasn’t very competitive. We’d get smashed every week, but we had so much fun that we just keep playing. Each training session there’d be a few more girls there, and it just grew and grew. So much has happened in women’s football in the last five years.’