It’s the code’s intense physicality that attracts girls to the game— ironically the very reason they’ve been locked out of contact sport.
Jan Cooper, Manager of Female Football development for the AFL, has the research to prove it. She knows that women want to get a bit aggressive in the contest, with bumps and tackles within the laws of the game: “It’s about challenging their bodies, their spirit, their physical side of themselves.”
Sabrina describes it as a freedom in the moment fueled by adrenaline, to pushing her limits to do whatever it takes to get the ball, score a goal, win the match. “Knowing the only person holding you back is yourself” which is cool for Sabrina, because holding herself back is not her style.
When it’s hard or when it’s really really good, it’s just part of the journey of doing something you really love.
Cooper is another of those influential people who encouraged Sabrina’s AFL career behind the scenes. She remembers first seeing her in that bright pink Thunderbirds uniform – running like an emu, taking massive strides, bouncing the ball like a professional – and asking herself, “who is that girl?” Sabrina excelled at every sport: athletics and swimming, playing state level soccer and basketball. Those codes had a professional pathway for women when AFL still didn’t. Sabrina was one of the up-and-comers and Cooper worried the AFL would lose her because they couldn’t offer that pathway. Sabrina remembers Cooper telling her to stick with it, that there’d be a women’s league in 2020. She held the dream in her sights.
The moment when the women’s league became undeniable was the fourth exhibition match, the first to be broadcast and the first year Sabrina was included in the all-star women’s matches. It was a ratings smash and jump-started the will to get a genuine women’s league into play. Before this women’s matches were seen on local grounds, in the flesh or in basic broadcast: one camera angle, live streamed. Lions Women’s Coach Craig Starcevich says when people saw female players on mainstream TV with multiple angles and close ups it legitimised them: “It just looked more like a men’s game.” Stars like Moana Hope, Daisy Pearce and Sabrina were made overnight. Cooper credits the broadcasters for taking this risk.
Shannon, Sabrina’s partner of 18 months, describes the moment Sabrina discovered she was selected as a Brisbane marquee player. They had just driven two hours and pulled into the driveway of a holiday house when the phone rang. It was Breeanna Brock, CEO of Lions Women’s, asking if Sabrina wanted to get on a flight to Brisbane the next day for an orientation. Sabrina’s commitment was absolute and they turned straight back and jumped on the flight. Two weeks later they moved to Brisbane together.
Five months on, Sabrina’s life is entirely transformed. Searching for a word to describe the feeling of finally arriving at her dream she pinpoints “special”: “when it’s hard or when it’s really really good, it’s just part of the journey of doing something you really love.” Sabrina would play football Women’s League or not, but admits that being acknowledged as a professional athlete is uplifting. She can’t quite hold back the emotion as she tries to explain the feeling of having an income from playing the sport, someone respecting that you want to play as a career.
Also in this series:
Sarah-Jane Woulahan is an award-winning director of drama, comedy, music video, documentary and transmedia who is known for her visual flair and original ideas across all genres in moving image.
Sarah-Jane’s short films have screened at festivals including South By Southwest and Melbourne International Film Festival. Acts of God was chosen for the MIFF Accelerator program for emerging feature filmmakers in 2014 and Ward of State won best film at the 2015 Australian Dance Awards. The feature incarnation of A Terrible Beauty was funded by Screen Australia’s Gender Matters Brilliant Stories initiative.
Sarah-Jane has directed ARIA and MTV nominated music videos for Australia’s most recognized musicians including Silverchair, Missy Higgins, Evermore, The Sleepy Jackson, Little Birdy, Claire Bowditch, Youth Group, Tim Finn and The Living End.
Sarah-Jane is a cross-media auteur and pioneer. She has created numerous multi-platform projects that integrate film, live performance and online interaction in genres that straddle narrative, documentary and comedy. Her satirical short form series, Forlorn Gaze, which first featured on ABC’s JTV, was nominated for an AACTA award for innovation.