Self-discovery a big part of fierce defender's footy journey

SOME people find friendships in footy, others discover a love for the game.

For draft hopeful Shantel Miskin-Ripia, footy has helped her find her culture. 

She's moved around a bit in her 18 years, having started her football journey as one of Broome Saints' first female juniors (along with her sister), before spending time in Perth and Cairns. She now calls Darwin home.

Along the way, she's been involved in both the AFL's Kickstart and Woomeras programs for young indigenous players. 

"My mother's Torres Strait, and my dad's Maori, so he's from New Zealand. I wasn't raised in any of those cultures at all," Miskin-Ripia said. 

"Throughout (her time in AFL programs), they asked us what we knew about our culture and at first, I didn’t know anything at all. I asked my mum and dad, so I started to get to know it a bit better and how important it was for me individually.

"I wouldn't have asked those questions otherwise. There are so many indigenous players I look up to and when they talk about their culture, I'd ask myself 'What's mine?'

"They had a reason for playing, they wanted to represent their family, and that was what I wanted to do so I wanted to learn my culture. I definitely look up to (Adelaide's) Stevie-Lee Thompson, I played with her in the VFLW (for NT Thunder) and she spoke about her culture and being Maori as well." 

Stevie-Lee Thompson of the Crows celebrates a goal during the 2019 AFLW Grand Final match between the Adelaide Crows and Carlton.

Miskin-Ripia is fiercely proud of being a defender, relishing the responsibility that comes with anchoring the backline as fullback, as she did for the Central Allies in July's NAB AFLW Under-18 championships.

"I love the pressure. You can read the ball, tackle a lot, rebound. If a goal does go behind you, you bring the team in, have a chat, go out and do better. I love that," she said.

"I'm the one who's always yelling, so I love that role, looking after the structure. When you lay the perfect tackle, it's so good. The crowd and the girls get around you and you feel so pumped, the energy gets to you."

While she now plays for Nightcliff in the NTFLW – and sports a bright, white helmet after three head knocks in one year – Miskin-Ripia began playing at 10.

Shantal Miskin-Ripia in action for the Central Allies in her eye-catching white helmet

"My sister and I were the first girls to play for Broome Saints. It was good, but it was kind of embarrassing at first, people thought we just wanted to play for attention, but then my sister and I really got into it.

"The boys trusted us, as well, so we built our skills with them and went from there."

Miskin-Ripia is a game development officer with AFLNT, working to deliver footy programs to kids. The amount of football in her life can become somewhat draining, but she wouldn't have it any other way.

"If I ever do get drafted, I feel like I could give back to those who have provided for me, like my father," she said. 

"It's got me out of trouble, football, provided so many opportunities. Not only that, there have been so many people who I've lost who really believed in me playing this sport.

"I've really pushed hard, so that's why I love it. It makes people smile."