Red, white and back: Lifelong St Kilda fan's happy homecoming

PLAYING for St Kilda at RSEA Park is a homecoming for Emma Mackie.

The former Bulldog used to make the four-hour drive from Albury to Moorabbin with her brother, parents and grandparents to watch her favourite Saints Nathan Burke and Robert Harvey play.

With St Kilda entering the NAB AFLW competition next year, footy has returned to the redeveloped Moorabbin precinct.

The last AFL match played for premiership points was in round 20, 1992, when Mackie was just eight years old.

The Saints are scheduled to play the Western Bulldogs, her former side, in the opening round of the 2020 AFLW season.

"It's a massive part of my family history, Nan would have the sandwiches and had the hot coffee ready to go, and we'd come down to Moorabbin or Waverley," Mackie said.

"I can get a little bit emotional when I think about it, especially as my Pop's now passed away. God, he would have loved to see this (footy at Moorabbin) come back around and he would have loved to see me run out there with the Saints jersey on."

Emma Mackie celebrates a win for the Western Bulldogs last season. Picture: AFL Photos

After a decorated road cycling career, spending time based in Europe and representing Australia at the 2009 world championships, Mackie returned to the sport she grew up playing in football.

Initially at Port Melbourne, the midfielder quickly rocketed up the ranks to VFLW level with Box Hill (now Hawthorn), drafted by the Bulldogs at age 33.

Returning to Hawthorn during the 2018 winter, she captained the club to a flag, before adding another four games at the Dogs.

Emma Mackie lifts the 2018 VFLW premiership cup with coach Patrick Hill, who has now also joined the Saints. Picture: AFL Photos

Mackie (along with picks 24 and 30) crossed to St Kilda during the 2019 AFLW sign and trade period in exchange for pick No.9, which was later used on Elisabeth Georgostathis.

The 35-year-old said the pull of playing for the club she barracked for was just one component of deciding to move after two years at the Dogs.

"I'm a bit older, I've played a couple of seasons already, so it's also looking at what I can keep doing and how much longer I have," Mackie said.

"Moorabbin just works out perfectly for me, it's so close to home and work. When the opportunity came up, I just couldn't say no, and I don't think my dad would have let me say no, either."

St Kilda was one of the four sides which recorded a less than 75 per cent "yes" vote in the initial CBA, a second version of which passed with 98 per cent approval from the entire cohort.

"We just wanted to be heard. There were issues we wanted to be talked about a little bit more, and once we did that, we were all happy to sign off on it and start playing footy," Mackie said.

"That's what the girls at the end of the day want, we really want to play football and we wanted to get it done as soon as possible.

"But I think it was just a really important process to be heard, to talk about some of those issues, because it was the next three years we were signing off on. For me, I can't see myself being around till the end of that (CBA) into a new one, so it was really important to take it seriously."

Emma Mackie (2nd R), with Georgia Patrikios (L), Kate McCarthy (2nd L) and coach Peta Searle. Picture: AFL Photos

Nearly two-thirds of St Kilda's list – including Mackie – played at least a handful of games for VFLW affiliate Southern Saints during the winter, a side also coached by Peta Searle.

"Playing here in the VFLW was really important for the girls who were coming through to the AFLW list (for the first time) to just really start that bonding and culture and start establishing our goals," Mackie said.

"We could get to know everyone and the staff and start to feel really comfortable. The AFLW season is really short, it's intense, you come into it and you don't have much time to think, let alone try and make relationships. By the time you breathe, it's over. 

"I think playing the VFLW season was really important, something I'm really glad I did. I think it'll hold really well for us coming into the AFLW season."