MILLIE Hipwell describes herself as a “girly tomboy”, if there can be such a thing.
Anyone who has seen her feats on the footy field for Bendigo Thunder would understand the tomboy tag, especially when the tough on-baller dives head-first into a muddy pack to emerge with the ball or dispossesses her opponent with a ferocious tackle.
But take a look at the beautiful images of Millie modelling wedding day designs in the 2012 edition of Bendigo Bride magazine and there’s no denying her feminine side.
“I see myself as a girly tomboy,” the multi-talented 20-year-old laughs. “I don’t mind getting all dressed up and girly, but I don’t mind getting dirty playing football either.”
As part of Thunder’s dominant midfield, “Millsta” played an integral role in the team’s unbeaten run through the 2012 home-and-away season.
She was among her side’s best players in almost half the games she played – including last week’s semi-final loss to La Trobe Uni – and she’s determined to take that form into tomorrow’s do-or-die preliminary final against North Ballarat.
Thunder is desperate to atone for last year’s disappointing finals debut, when they were bundled out in the penultimate week after being decimated by injury.
“One of our goals at the start of the year was to beat every team in the league and we have done that,” Millie says, “but the biggest thing we want is to win the grand final.”
When she’s chasing the football – and at whatever sport she takes on, really – Millie plays by the motto “go hard or go home”.
“I basically want to get the ball, be first to the ball, always put my head over the ball to pick it up,” she says.
“People say there is not much of me and might think I am a bit fragile – but I am not afraid to get right in there. I just love the game, being able to kick and being able to tackle.”
Millie’s all-in approach has made her a stand-out since she pulled on the boots as a 15-year-old, playing for Eaglehawk in the Bendigo youth girls league in 2007.
She was runner-up in the club best-and-fairest by a single vote in her debut season and won the award the following year, when she was also awarded the best afield medal for her performance in a losing grand final side.
In 2009, she again finished second in Eaglehawk’s best-and-fairest and was a member of AFL Victoria’s elite youth girls academy.
Then, the ardent Collingwood fan who’d grown up booting the oval ball around with her mates before school, during recess and at lunch times simply stopped playing.
Too old for the youth girls competition and with no local senior team, she would have had to travel to Melbourne to continue her football career. Fortunately, after just 12 months on the sidelines, the Bendigo Thunder women’s team was born and Millie was back in action.
She says it is a thrill to be part of such an exciting venture, especially given the success the side has experienced in such a short time.
“We have a great group of girls, it is so much fun. Just being able to go out there with other girls who can kick the footy, I often think to myself, ‘this is where I am meant to be’.
“Our coach (Russell Jeffrey) is the best – he knows exactly how to train us, what we need to practise, he studies other teams and he pushes each player to their individual limit.
“He has definitely made me a better footballer. In youth girls I used to just get the ball and boot it, but now there is a lot more structure to follow.”
At home games, played at Dower Park in Kangaroo Flat, Millie has developed a small cult following. From the tin grandstand on the wing, a group of lads sit and barrack for the ponytailed player wearing jumper number 10. There’s a bit of good-natured heckling, as well.
“Get in the game, 10.... get a kick, 10,” are among the oft-heard quips.
“That’s Dave, George, Ryan and John – they are four of my mates who come along and support me at all the home games. My little cheer quad.”
There are other light-hearted moments that further bind this tight-knit Thunder squad and provide lasting memories.
Like the time Millie kicked the ball with all her might to clear it out of defence, but hit her shepherding team-mate squarely in the face.
“She went straight to the ground,” Millie recalls. “After the game, she was talking to someone and they could see something in her mouth. When she opened it, there were still tiny bits of leather footy stuck to her braces!”
When she’s not chasing kicks, Millie stars in the midcourt for Kangaroo Flat’s B-grade team in the BFNL.
The specialist centre and wing defence has passed the 50-game milestone for the Kangaroos and was runner-up in her side’s best-and-fairest trophy count last year, in a season when they made the grand final but fell short of claiming the ultimate prize
The commitments make for a busy life, with Millie playing netball on Saturdays, football on Sundays, and training of some description every night other than Monday.
This comes on top of her full-time job as an insurance broker at Bendigo Insurance Brokers. She she also helps out at the Family Fish Shop in Kangaroo Flat, run by her mum Elizabeth Wilson.
“It is hard juggling everything and I am tired a lot, but I am not someone who likes to sit down,” Millie says. “Sport helps keep my busy and occupied – there’s no time to think, just do. I’m go, go , go – I get it from my mother.”
Millie is grateful to her mum for getting her into sport “as soon as I could walk”.
“She was a sport freak as well,” Millie laughs. “She was always driving us around to different places. Now that she works seven days a week in the shop, 10am til 9pm, I don’t see her that often. But she usually comes to home games and has a sneak peek then goes back to work.”
And about that bridal photo... just how did Millie end up gracing the pages of a magazine, looking like she belongs on a catwalk, not streaming through a muddy centre square?
“I had never done any modelling before but the magazine was looking for some models and I was asked to do it,” she says, though she adds she knew staff who were putting it together.
“It was a really good experience – they thought I had been modelling for a while and the photos turned out okay. Without a doubt, I love doing photos.
“And if it comes about, I’d be happy to do more modelling.”
In the meantime, Millie plans to keep working hard on being the model midfielder that Thunder needs to help them go all the way and win the premiership.