Bella's big move: Changing states all worth it for young Pie

JUST a handful of players each year decide to play for an interstate AFLW team.

Due to the part-time nature of the competition, the vast majority of players still have other work commitments, meaning those choosing to play outside their home state are making big sacrifices for a six-month competition.

But South Australia's – and now Collingwood's – Bella Smith is used to making big changes for her sport.

PLAYING U16s WITH THE BOYS

Smith was a star junior cricketer, playing at national level for three years before fast bowling began to take a toll on her body.

Between her cricket and football commitments, Smith and her parents were often driving around 1200km a week between the family farm in Verran, on the Eyre Peninsula, and Adelaide.

She's only played three years of women's-only football – for SANFLW side Norwood, where Collingwood coach Steve Symonds worked before getting the Magpies gig – spending most of her time playing under 16s with the boys at Port Pirie.

Unfinished Business: Bella Smith

01:52 Jan 26. 2021. 3:00 PM

Collingwood youngster ready to make her mark in the big time

"I have to credit them for toughness about my game," Smith told womens.afl.

"They didn't really see me as a girl at all. I loved it. Back home we had junior colts and senior colts and then A grade to D grade (seniors). We don't have a huge range to choose from, we don't have the under nines.

"So, I guess is different (compared to everyone else), but it wasn't different for me."

THE CALL

At 182cm, Smith is a versatile tall who can play at either end, and even had a run in the ruck during last week's practice match against North Melbourne.

She nominated for South Australia's draft pool but with just three spots available with the Crows, was overlooked by the 2019 premiers.

Collingwood had flagged its interest in Smith before the draft, so she was still hopeful of an free agency call-up the following day (clubs can sign players from other states if they aren't drafted in their nominated state).

AFLW. This is Us.

00:30 Jan 21. 2021. 12:34 PM

Get your voices ready to go!

"They passed on their 33rd pick and that happened I was like, 'oh, all right', and then the next day I got the call from Steve and he said, 'welcome to the club', so I was absolutely stoked," Smith said.

"I was a bit stressed, a bit on edge and nervous (waiting overnight), but when Steve gave me that call it was all worth it."

MOVING TO THE BIG CITY – TWICE

Smith had already made the big move from the family farm to Adelaide at 16, living with her older sister who was at university.

When her sister returned home when uni shifted online last year due to COVID restrictions, Smith stayed, living by herself.

"I called Mum every single night asking what I should make for tea. I'm not a chef at all, but I can cook the basics," she said with a laugh.

It made things easier when she moved to Melbourne at the end of October, and she now lives with Collingwood and Norwood teammate Ebony O'Dea.

"[My parents have] always been very supportive moving me from the farm to Adelaide at 16, and they've always supported me so there was no doubt in their mind that they'd send me over here as well.

"So, a lot of in-depth conversations about how it was going to play out, but it was always going to.

"Melbourne's huge. I remember driving in, and from about 90kms out, I could see the skyscrapers. When I saw that, and driving on roads with four lanes everywhere, I was like, 'what is going on?'"

THE SEASON AHEAD

Having made the big move interstate, Smith has been fortunate enough to transfer her job as a teacher's aide from the South Australian to the Victorian branch of SEDA College.

It means she's now got her eyes firmly focused on cracking the best 21 in a young and improving side.

"For anyone coming from interstate and not having the 'full-time' label on yourself – we're part-time athletes so it's having to pick up extra work, it's just getting over here and putting the work in and fighting for a spot on the team.

"I spent the SANFL season predominantly in the backline, and I like having the ball come towards me and being able to watch it come down and react, but having game simulation at Collingwood, I've really enjoyed being in the forward line.

"Steve said they'd train me up both ends, which is good, I'd love to learn about both, but the forward line might be my position this year. I'm pretty stoked about that, actually."