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From envious fan to All Australian Blue

Kerryn Harrington's ride from pro basketball to AFLW began in the Ikon Park stands at the League's debut

KERRYN Harrington was sitting in the stands at Ikon Park among over 25,000 people, watching the first ever game of the NAB AFL Women's competition, and she was jealous.

The then-WNBL basketballer for Bendigo Spirit couldn't believe what she was witnessing.

"I had been playing professional basketball for 10 years and hadn't had anywhere near the support or attention the game had received," Harrington, now an All Australian defender with Carlton, told womens.afl

"It [seemed to have] only been around for five minutes and I was jealous of that." 

Harrington was at a career crossroads herself.

Kerryn Harrington playing for Bendigo Spirit WNBL

The "long-time" Carlton supporter, who grew up loving to watch Anthony Koutoufides, Matthew Lappin and Chris Judd, had to decide whether she should stick with the WNBL, make a career playing in Europe or try something completely new.

"My family and I had followed footy very, very closely. I think we'd been members for about 15 years before I started playing," she said. 

"I had just finished uni (studying physio), my partner Joel was based in Victoria at the time, so the sacrifices of going to Europe didn’t really appeal to me and a new challenge presented itself with the AFL system. 

"I could also see how much growth and potential it had within the female sport landscape of Australia. It was on the rise and I wanted to be part of it. That's what attracted me at the end of the day." 

A packed house at Ikon Park

Originally signed as a rookie ahead of the 2018 season, Harrington impressed so much she was quickly upgraded to the senior list before the year began. 

She felt better prepared ahead of the 2019 season, which saw her earn All Australian honours as well as finish third in the club's best and fairest. 

Kerryn Harrington of the Blues and Isabel Huntington of the Bulldogs in action

"In my first season, I was completely new to football and had been recruited to play more of a midfield position. Then through other players' injuries (including Brianna Davey rupturing her ACL), I ended up playing predominantly most of the season down back," Harrington said. 

"I spent the (2019) pre-season really focusing on the craft of being a defender and spent a lot of time with defensive line coach Steve Salopek about what my role was and what I needed to do within the team structure." 

Harrington has now made the backline her own, finishing the season in the top five in the competition for intercept possessions. She increased her average disposals from eight to 13, and marks from two to three. 

"I think being new to football, being put behind the ball is probably a little bit easier than having to lead up to the ball. Positionally, you're drawn to where the ball is going to be,"

Kerryn Harrington

"The ability to read the ball in flight was something that I certainly worked on, but when you're coming up against the best forward who naturally draws you to the ball, then it's just a matter of competing when it's actually in the air."

The Blues had an outstanding season, rebounding from a poor 2018 that saw them finish last, to making the Grand Final where they ultimately lost to a rampant Adelaide by 45 points.

Her partner Joel Peterson played a role in Grand Final day, calling the match for ABC Grandstand in Adelaide, where he is based. Harrington has now joined him for the winter, taking some time away from football.

Kerryn Harrington tackles Adelaide superstar Erin Phillips in the Grand Final

It's safe to say it's a fairly uncommon occurrence in the sporting world, commentating on your partner during one of the biggest games of their career, but it didn't faze Harrington and Peterson.

"I think it wasn't weird because he actually has a history of doing it. I was playing for Bendigo Spirit in the WNBL and he was actually calling the games on a regular basis for the local radio station that covered the games," she said.

Kerryn Harrington and Darcy Vescio

"It was something he did before we got together, then obviously continued while I was still playing basketball. This is the first footy match I've played that he's called. 

"I wasn't too worried about it, I was just proud of him, it's a big opportunity for him to be able to call the game. He's obviously progressing in his career as well. We were equally proud to be involved in the day."