Star Rochy footballer believes she's back where she belongs
IT didn’t take long for Rochester teenager Kelly Shotton to show the youth girls football world she was a star in the making.
Playing for Echuca last season in her first all-female game, the talented forward had multiple touches and kicked a goal in the opening minute of the Shepparton junior league match.
Just 12 months later, Kelly is preparing to line up at the national under-18 championships in Canberra after earning selection in the Victoria Country squad.
The modest 17-year-old is still a little stunned by her rapid rise.
“I was pretty shocked to be picked,” Kelly says of the state honour, which came after she was one of Goulburn Murray’s best players at the recent Subway Shield country challenge.
“Some people were surprised by my ability to play in all conditions because apparently lanky people like me often can’t play in the wet - and it was very wet during the Subway Shield!”
Kelly first developed her strong marking skills and accurate kicking playing for Runnymede’s under-12 boys’ team - one of very few girls back then to pull on footy boots in the Goulburn-Campaspe junior competition.
She spent two more years at the club in the under-14s, then had to give the game away at 14 when she was deemed too old for mixed-gender football.
Playing netball for Elmore helped fill the sporting void for a while, though Kelly clung to the hope that she might one day run out with Bendigo Thunder in a senior women’s league.
But things changed early last year when the Rochester Secondary College student read an ad in her school newsletter seeking players for a new youth girls football team in Echuca.
“I was never a real fan of netball,” she says. “It was only ever something to do because I couldn’t play footy any more.
“But then the girls’ team started up in Echuca and I found that opportunity again.
“It’s great to be part of such a growing game - an honour, really.”
To say that Kelly took full advantage of her opportunity would be an understatement.
Not only did she have an immediate impact in that first game, she went on to be a consistent contributor in a dominant Echuca outfit that went through its debut season undefeated.
She represented Shepparton in an inter-league clash against Bendigo and was one of about 35 girls accepted into the 2014 AFL Victoria Youth Girls Academy at the Calder Cannons.
Another highlight was booting five goals in the second semi-final to help Echuca reach the grand final, which they went on to win by a whopping 62 points.
Mum Sam Shotton has seen her daughter grow in confidence and leadership since resuming her football career, not to mention developing into a tenacious player.
“Kelly has a very individual personality and is a bit ‘outside the square’,” she says. “That can be difficult, because some people are not always very accepting of different choices.
“Football has been a way for her to show that you can do something considered different and still be recognised. She’s very excited, but quiet enough that she often doesn’t let you see it.
“She is now sports captain and a house captain at school - something we wouldn’t have expected her to achieve - and even her studies are improving because she has got a real focus.
“She knows she has to be on top of her school work so she can play football, and she is.”
Everyone would always say, ‘oh, there’s a girl playing football’, but now it has become such a normal thing to do.
The year 12 pupil balances her studies with club training in Echuca on Wednesday nights, and fortnightly academy sessions with the Cannons in Craigieburn.
Being part of the inter-league side and the Vic squad have added to her workload, but she wouldn’t want things any other way.
“Vic Country will be my fourth team in the same year,” she says, her broad grin a clear sign of just how much she loves kicking the Sherrin with her mates.
“It’s great how football brings people together and helps you realise what a small world it is. I have made so many friends over the past few months.
“Times have certainly changed from when I was playing under-14s. Everyone would always say, ‘oh, there’s a girl playing football’, but now it has become such a normal thing to do and everyone is so supportive.”
Being part of the AFL academy, Kelly plays a role spreading the word about female football opportunities among her peers.
This can involve something as simple as wearing her Calder Cannons uniform to the local footy as a conversation starter, to taking the skills she learns from her high-performance coaches back to club and local community level to mentor other young hopefuls.
It’s all part of the academy motto of “making great footballers and outstanding people”.
Kelly never imagined it would help her become a leader or a captain at school.
“I’d never been that kind of person who would get picked by their peers and never dreamed I’d be chosen for such a role.”
But thanks to football, she has taken to it with great confidence - at her swimming sports, she went around with a microphone interviewing other students and together with the other captains, compiled a video of the occasion to play at school assembly.
“Everyone loved it”, she said. “It hadn’t been done before.
“Now I’m going to miss the athletics sports because I’ll be playing footy at nationals and our head of sport is gutted I won’t be there to make another video!”
Kelly has had some wonderful football mentors, including Glen Rathjen who coached her at Runnymede and still maintains an interest in her career, and her current Echuca and Goulburn Murray coach, David Pearson.
They have encouraged her to reach for the stars and that’s exactly what she intends to do.
In 2014, she hopes to play several games for Bendigo Thunder in the Victorian Women’s Football League division five competition to gain experience at a higher level (youth girls can play up to five senior matches a year).
“It is such a big leap from youth girls into senior football, but to one day play for Thunder in the premier league would just be outstanding,” she says.
There are also other big possibilities looming for Kelly and other girls just like her.
The AFL now holds a women’s draft in which Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs select the nation’s top females to play a curtain-raiser during women’s round. And plans are afoot for a national women’s league by 2020.
For now, Kelly is focused on playing well at the national under-18 championships.
Her Victoria Country side includes Huntly Hawks duo Isabella Ayre and Ruby Campbell, former Echuca team-mate Alana Long who is now studying and playing in Bendigo, and Kyneton teenager Ainslie Kemp.
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