From a tiny WA mining town to Brisbane: Old friends reunite

IT'S HARD to believe two girls who met 10 years ago in a tiny West Australian mining town are now teammates for Brisbane's AFL Women's team.

But for Arianna Clarke and McKenzie Dowrick, that's their reality.

The pair met at primary school in Kambalda, a town with a population of around 3000 and located 55km from Kalgoorlie, and have been best friends since.

They played footy together from the age of eight – in a boy team – and have not looked back.

Although their paths have drifted in different directions over the years, they've ended up in the same place – living together and playing alongside one another in Craig Starcevich's team.

"I'm still pinching myself," Dowrick told womens.afl this week.

It hasn't come easily.

When Clarke and her family moved to the Gold Coast as she hit high school, Dowrick stayed in Western Australia, continuing to play footy with boys until she could no longer.

"In Kalgoorlie…there was no girls' footy," she said.

"We were travelling seven hours to Perth and seven hours back every weekend just for me to play a game against the girls.

"Sometimes we'd catch the train, which was also seven hours.

"If I was lucky I'd catch a plane, but mainly it was driving.

"At the end of 2016 my family and I decided to move to Perth for my footy career.

"It was a massive commitment from my parents. Dad works in the mines and does two weeks on, two weeks off.

"Mum had to find a new job. It was massive."

But the move by John and Anne Dowrick paid off for their daughter, as she played under-age footy for Western Australia and won All Australian selection at under-18 level last year with her penetrating kicking a feature off half-back.

That's where the next intersection for Clarke – already a Lion – and Dowrick, took place.

"After (the NAB AFL Under-18 Championships), Ari and I started joking about it,” Dowrick recalled.

"Ari said, ‘How cool would it be if you moved here, got drafted by the Lions and we got to play and live together?’"

"I got in touch with Craig (Starcevich) and (Lions AFLW CEO) Bree (Brock) and we sorted out coming over, I got to see the facilities and they left it up to me as to whether I wanted to nominate Queensland in the draft." (Players entering an AFLW draft can nominate the state they want to play in; once they do, only the team(s) in that state can select them).

Dowrick nominated, and the rest is history. Brisbane drafted her with pick 33 – the number she now wears on her jumper – and she moved to Queensland.

Despite Clarke living on the Gold Coast – about an hour's drive from the Lions' training base in Coorparoo – the living arrangements were never in doubt.

"It's the first time I've ever lived out of home," Dowrick said.

"Learning how to cook and do everything for myself was hard.

"I was used to coming home and mum would have dinner ready. It's been a massive challenge."

Dowrick has played every game to date in her first season and said the experience was beyond her expectation.

"It still doesn't feel real. The crowds get bigger and bigger and playing with the girls is amazing,” she said.

"Each game you learn something new. It's been a great experience." 

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