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Ralphy reveals paramedic’s rough nights to make footy field

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Studying paramedicine and living at St Mary’s College, Ocean Grove’s Burchell had long ago been forced out of football by under-14 level like so many girls before her.Her dad was a doyen of the Ocean Grove Football Club but when she was “aged out” she moved on and decided her dream of becoming a paramedic would be her No.1 goal.Five years later Burchell is about to enter her third year at Richmond after that single game reignited the flame.Catch every moment of The Ashes live and ad-break free during play on Kayo. New to Kayo? Try 14-days free now.The journey has taken her via Geelong’s VFLW and AFL teams to a club at Punt Rd Oval her family has supported for her whole life.It is an extreme juggling act, with Burchell balancing a burgeoning professional football career with her work as a paramedic in Ocean Grove and Melbourne.It means turning up at pre-season training the day after an all-night 16-hour shift, but Burchell is determined she won’t compromise either pursuit.“Footy was always No.1 and dad was heavily involved at Ocean Grove Football Club as a life member and like many of us I had to pull the pin once we got to under-14s,” she said.“So I stepped away and got into boundary umpiring. It wasn’t what I wanted to do but I still loved footy.“I went to Australian Catholic Uni but lived on residence at Melbourne Uni and there was a girls’ footy team. They called it “chooty”. Chicks footy. So I gave it a go and I don’t want to say I dominated but I did better than I thought I would and thought, “This is quite fun”.Burchell’s “chooty” performance led to a talent ID day at Geelong, where she progressed from the VFLW to representing the AFLW side in its first season before repeated quad tears saw her delisted.“I played one game and I was delisted and devastated,” she said. “I reached out to Richmond the old-fashioned way. I grew up a mad Tiger and so I reached out to (footy boss) Kate Sheahan and fortunately signed as an AFLW player in their first team.”Burchell, 26, has played 14 games across two seasons as a hard-running winger while learning to integrate her football life into her off-field employment.“I get to live two dreams,” she said. “I think it gives me a greater perspective on things. “You have that part of my life where you see some nasty and sad things, but it just gives you a greater appreciation of what you have, as cliched as it sounds. “It’s certainly tough but I love the challenge of it. I love having to think at 3am in the morning, helping people, seeing smiles on patients’ faces and the gratitude they have.“It’s tough at times. I have been fortunate to have a part-time arrangement, which wasn’t an easy process, but I have had really good support around me and I can’t thank them enough for that. “Working full-time and training and doing gym and tough sessions can be really tough.”Burchell says sleep deprivation is the hardest challenge leading into training sessions or games.“I do 14-hour night shifts that can turn into 16-hour night shifts,” she said. “So if you work Thursday night and then drive back from Ocean Grove to Melbourne and then get a few hours sleep and come to training early on Saturday. “On paper it seems OK but in reality you miss a lot of sleep and meal times and you are fatigued because of work. “That was a struggle but I worked closely with the dietician and performance coach and we adjusted things and managed it as we went.”Now for Burchell comes what all athletes aspire to as soon as they make the grade — team success after 0-6 and 3-6 seasons.“The initial novelty of the first and second seasons is done,” she said. “We are out there to win. Not that we weren’t in the first seasons. We are settled as a group, we have found our connection. We have a very solid coaching group in place and our whole core group feels very settled.”The Matildas dream that became a Saintly AFLW realitySince she was a kid kicking the round ball in her backyard in Traralgon, St Kilda forward Jacqui Vogt had always dreamt of playing for the Matildas.An aspiring defender, Vogt looked up to players like former Matildas goalkeeper Melissa Barbieri, as she started to make her way through the junior football pathways.Vogt was selected in Victorian representative teams, played for the Melbourne Victory in the W-League and attended young Matildas training camps.But in 2012, her dreams were struck down.Not long after she had been invited to attend the national team camps, Vogt ruptured her anterior cruciate ligament, which was to ultimately spell the end of her soccer career.After a year of rehab, Vogt was unable to make the Melbourne Victory squad again.A year in the second tier National Premier Leagues followed, before Vogt decided to take a year off to focus on her podiatry studies.Vogt feared her hopes of playing elite sport were all but over.“I probably thought my time was up and I had to move on,” Vogt, 27, said.“But I wasn’t ready to move on, I was still young and I had always dreamt of being elite and playing elite sport.“From a young age, I had always wanted to play for the Matildas. That was definitely my aspiration to play for them and even just to make a camp with the young Matildas was an amazing feeling.“I did think that my time was up and I needed to do something at the community level but, for me, I just can’t do anything at that level.“I need to try and be the best that I can be so I always want to push the barriers.”Then the unexpected sporting career shift happened.A St Kilda supporter growing up, Vogt noticed an advertisement for a VFL trial day for the club in 2017 and decided to give it a go.“I always loved footy and thought it was amazing but there was no real pathway for females at that time when I was growing up and I was picking what I wanted to do,” Vogt said.“So I had seen the AFL set up and thought it would be an amazing opportunity and thought that I could take some of what I had learned in soccer over to footy.”Vogt hasn’t looked back – even if her transition to playing Aussie rules initially presented a bumpy road.After making the VFL training squad, Vogt was hit with another injury setback when she hurt her meniscus and needed surgery.She returned playing local footy and worked hard to get herself fit for the 2019 VFL season with the Southern Saints but missed seven games that year after a nasty concussion.Knowing the Saints would be entering the AFLW, Vogt kept at it with an eye to being drafted or elevated.Vogt missed out that year but was invited to join the club as a train-on player for its inaugural season as Covid hit and wiped out the VFL year. She would finally get her chance to join the AFLW list after being drafted ahead of 2021.Vogt missed just the one game in her debut season and, after spending all her time trying to stop goals as a defender in soccer, she is now relishing her new role as a forward.“I was a centre-back and now I’m playing in the forward line for the Saints, so it’s definitely different,” Vogt said.“But I think being able to read the game as a defender really helps as a forward. You know as a defender what you don’t like forwards to do so you try and do that as a forward.“I obviously still have to learn a few things like running patterns and things like that but I feel like soccer has given me some really good concepts and things that I can take into footy.”Despite her late start in footy, and injury setbacks, Vogt, who has recovered from off-season surgery on her ankle, is confident she still has plenty of time to carve out an AFLW career.“Ideally I would have liked to have been younger, but I still think I have got some good footy in me,” said Vogt, who helps manage her parent’s hotel in Traralgon.“I’ve had a few injury setbacks, there is no doubt about that with the knees and the recent surgery during the off-season for a fractured medial malleolus in my ankle, which I played all last AFL season with.“But I always hold myself to high standards in terms of recovery which can hold you in good stead for longevity with your body.“I think even though I’m 27 I still feel like I’ve got really good footy in me to come that’s for sure.“I’m really glad that I went down to that trial day.”Dees’ OG says AFLW stars inspired by men’s success—Nick SmartMelbourne AFLW star Karen Paxman says the Demons’ premiership success has created a “happy energy” at the club as the women’s team attempts to emulate the men’s side.With the AFLW season less than a month away, Paxman is one of six foundation players at Melbourne about to enter their sixth season.They’re still on the hunt for their first AFLW premiership after playing in a preliminary final last season.“I’ve loved my time at Melbourne and really can’t imagine being elsewhere, so it’s nice to have been there from the start and to have seen the program grow over the years,” she said.“Coming into our sixth season it’s been an awesome transformation and seeing not just the program grow but the players involved grow as well, it’s been a pretty cool journey.“Hopefully we’ve got some time left, that would be nice.“It would be super rewarding (to win a premiership) and it’s what we’re aiming for.“And for those original girls that have grinded out the journey from the beginning, it would be awesome to win one alongside those girls too.”The Demons’ ball magnet said the recent premiership success was even more inspiration for the AFLW side.“There’s definitely a pretty happy energy around the club,” she said.“You look at the boys’ success and not that it makes you want it any more because we’ve always wanted to win the flag, but certainly you get pretty motivated watching them and how they’ve gone about it.“We’ve probably taken some learnings from their success, which is pretty valuable.”The Demons are looking to grow their AFLW membership base this season and they are available on the club’s website.“Hopefully the momentum of the boys’ success gets a few people turning Melbourne’s way, that would be awesome,” Paxman said.“We’d love to get more memberships and more people coming down and supporting.”AFLW PRACTICE MATCHES DURING WEEKENDHow island paradise shaped Lions’ Magnetic captain– Chris HonneryA few kilometres off the coast of Townsville sits the grand, tropical haven of Magnetic Island – aptly named because of the way it attracts you in with its palm-fringed golden beaches and spectacular coral reefs. It’s home to hundreds of koalas, countless schools of fish and a handful of resident rock wallabies. It’s also the home of Brisbane Lions new skipper Bre Koenen. The 26-year-old now lives in Brisbane but her parents still run a newsagency store on the island – which makes for a handy excuse for Koenen to get back to the tropical paradise as often as she can.The island is only about 52 square kilometres in size – just slightly bigger than inner-city Melbourne – and exactly how you would picture a tropical Queensland getaway.Palm trees, beaches, granite boulders and coral reefs – the perfect backdrop for any childhood.“Every afternoon we were out on the beach or doing something outdoorsy,” Koenen recalled.“It was pretty amazing.”The eldest of four children, Bre has always harboured leadership qualities, especially when her siblings are as gifted as she is.Her sister Cara is a foundation player for the Sunshine Coast Lightning netball team, her other sister Alyssa is a national representative in Surf Life Saving while her brother Dirk is another talented Aussie rules player. And it was inevitable for the four athletic, competitive Koenen kids to butt heads every now and then. “There were a lot of sibling rivalries between us,” Bre laughed.“There were a lot of tears over board games and we’ve always been ultra competitive.“We were always active growing up, always playing different sports together so that played a big part in getting to where I am today. “As we’ve gotten older though, we’ve become a bit more supportive and we like to see each other succeed in our separate sports.”Not very many sports were played solely on the island though, forcing the Koenen’s to travel onto the mainland and into Townsville to play each and every weekend. There was, however, the Magnetic Island Magpies Junior AFL Club on the island which Bre played for since she was around five years old, sparking her love for footy from an early age.Koenen tried her hand at several other sports during her junior years but it was always footy which proved to be her calling. After taking a gap year when she finished Year 12, Koenen then moved down to Brisbane with her sister Cara, to begin a physiotherapy course at the University of Queensland – a move which she admitted to being an eye-opener to say the least. “There’s not even any traffic lights back home so it was a big learning curve for me moving down to Brisbane,” she said.“I definitely enjoyed it though.”While at uni, Koenen joined the University of Queensland Red Lions squad where her footy career really took off – to the point where she took out the best and fairest award two years in a row.“I had played a little bit of women’s footy (before UQ) but nothing to the level that south east Queensland was back then,” she said.“It was massive for my development, playing for UQ.“Being fresh out of high school, I had a lot to learn but I loved it.“I learnt a lot during those years.”Then came along the AFLW competition in 2017.Koenen was Brisbane’s pick number 50 during the 2016 AFLW Draft to become one of the club’s foundation players. Since then, Koenen has enjoyed a meteoric rise in the AFLW, becoming a crucial cog for the Lions since their inception and handed the vice captaincy during the club’s premiership-winning season in 2021. So it was almost a no-brainer that her peers voted her in as the captain for the upcoming 2022 season. “It was fairly unanimous that they wanted Bre to lead the team,” Lions head coach Craig Starcevich said.“She’s got great off-field care for people.“Anyone who doesn’t watch our games that doesn’t know the character or the person can just see in the way Bre plays that she is the type of person who upholds team values on the ground.“She performs roles even at the detriment of her own personal performance as well as being skilful and tough as well.”Teammate Emily Bates was also full of praise at the announcement. “Bre has had an amazing leadership journey over the years,” Bates said.“She’s just a really caring and supportive leader but she also plays by example.“She will do anything we need to get the win.“It’s a new chapter for our team and a very exciting one for Bre and all of us.” Though the decision came somewhat as a surprise for Koenen, she admitted it was something she had been working hard to achieve over the last few years. “My first thoughts were of shock and relief,” she said of being named the 2022 captain. “It’s not something I thought about overnight or just decided on the spot, it’s something that I’ve put a lot of time and effort in developing myself personally and my relationships on and off the field.“I’ve had very good leaders along the way to model what I try and do.”There may not be the palm trees and golden beaches of her childhood in Brisbane, but Koenen – along with the rest of the AFLW reigning premiers – is still as competitive-driven as she was with her siblings back on the idyllic Magnetic Island. “The reason we play is to win a premiership but this year we’re taking the approach of it being a completely new season,” she said.“We haven’t played any teams yet, there’s been a lot of list changes this year and it’s a completely new comp.“We tasted that success last year and it almost makes you more hungry to taste that again.“Everyone is pretty competitive and driven at training at the moment.“Hopefully we can back it up again this year.”  



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