Isabella with her team
Born and bred on the Mornington Peninsula, AFLW rising star Isabella Shannon, who plays for St Kilda, was 14 when she played her first game of footy at Balnarring. Growing up in a “footy-mad” family and having a kick with her brother was her initial training ground for the sport that’s unexpectedly become the centre of her life. Isabella’s the third graduate of Padua College to make the AFLW, after North Melbourne’s Bethany Lynch and Carlton’s Bridie Kennedy. Nikki Fisher caught up with her.
Can you tell me about your path to AFLW?
My path to AFLW started in 2016 when I was in Year 9. I was playing a lot of netball and then Balnarring Thunder started a youth girls’ football team. I decided to give it a go. From Balnarring I was scouted to play with the Dandenong Stingrays for the next three years. The growth in female footy during these years was phenomenal and the AFLW competition began. I decided to focus on football and began making my way through representative levels. I played in the nationals for Vic Country for three years. Through this I was lucky enough to be chosen for the NAB AFL National Academy that was created to develop future AFL players. This was a great opportunity; it helped me realise the work that was required to make it to the next level. At the start of 2019 I was invited to train with the Southern Saints (St Kilda’s VFLW team). At the time, Saints were building their list for their upcoming inaugural season and could sign on two under-18 players. I was lucky enough to be signed at the beginning of 2019.
What’s been a highlight of your AFLW career so far?
A highlight was my debut game against Melbourne FC. It was our first season in the competition. I’d missed the first two games and worked hard for a spot in the team. It was a perfect, warm night at our home ground in Moorabbin. All my family and friends were there to watch and the St Kilda AFLW had our first ever win. It was a monumental moment for the club and our team who had put in the hard yards over pre-season. Watching all my teammates celebrate was a moment I’ll never forget, and getting to share it with my family and friends was extra special.
What have been some of the challenges and how have you handled them?
Being a female professional athlete certainly comes with its challenges. The first challenge was juggling my training schedule with Year 12 studies and a social life. Year 12 was a very big year in all aspects. I handled it by being disciplined with training – waking up before school to do gym etc – and keeping a tight circle of friends and family that have always been great supporters. Since being in the AFLW, I have found the juggling of training, work and university difficult. Sometimes things get sacrificed, such as time with friends, but having a close circle of friends means they’re always supportive.
Who are your AFL and AFLW heroes?
Growing up I was never an avid football fan, but my family are footy-mad. So my AFL heroes would have to be my dad and my brother. They were instrumental in teaching me how to kick, spending hours with me out on the street. They’re both really good players themselves and I like nothing better than going to watch my brother play. My AFLW heroes are my four captains at the Saints: Hannah Priest, Cat Phillips, Rhi Watt, and Kate Shierlaw. Our leadership structure allows there to be four captains and each one brings something unique to the table. They’ve created a great team culture. They are all very inspirational women and some of my best friends.
You’re studying for your Bachelor of Natural Environments (Wilderness & Philosophy) at the University of Tasmania. What drew you to this course and what do you hope to do when you finish?
Growing up on the Mornington Peninsula meant I’ve always felt best in nature. This course was really unique in that it offers me the opportunity to combine my passion for natural environments with society and culture. I’m learning about the interplay between humans and the environment and how we can shape human behaviour to have better impacts on the land. I chose to come down here because I’m always looking for adventure and heard the Tassie wilderness was pretty spectacular. We do a lot of practicals off-campus, so I’ve been able to explore while studying. I’m still not completely sure what I would like to with the course, but I would like to work outdoors, that’s for sure.
What would you say to young people dreaming of an AFL career?
My message to all young females is that there’s never been a better time in history to be a young female footballer. The opportunities are constantly expanding, with four new teams coming in 2022. To get there requires hard work and discipline, but it’s nothing you can’t do. If you’re determined, persistent and a keen learner, you’ll go a long way. The most important thing is to do the work, get your skills right, your fitness levels up, and keep enjoying your footy. Also, always listen to your coaches – they know their stuff!
Isabella in action