Trailblazer Marshall looking to return to the top level

DANIELLE Marshall is a trailblazer. There is no other way to put it. Her journey to the top is one of the most unique in the AFLW. She is American, and was the first American born player to play in the AFLW competition for the Western Bulldogs. Her story begins in Arizona, playing with the Arizona Hawks in the USAFL competition.

“I was just in uni, was watching some Premier League on ESPN, and there’s this little thumbnail of this super weird sport I’ve never seen before, and I started watching it and I thought it was really awesome,” she said. “Then about nine years later I found out there was a team in the team of Phoenix, Arizona where I was living and started playing footy in 2018.”

Her journey from the USAFL to being an AFLW player began after a regular season game in Los Angeles.

“I had played a footy game in LA, just a normal season game and about a month later I get a call from one of the other girls that had played and said ‘hey, I’m thinking about going to Australia to try out, like there was an Aussie guy at the game, he thinks that you should come too, would you be interested?’ and I was like ‘I don’t know, sure, I guess?’,” Marshall said.

“I’ve always been competitive so to see what I could do at a higher level was enticing. “So yeah, just started training, working out, and the guy had worked at the Bulldogs in the past and had connections that were still there and was able to get me a trial. “I came and tried out and they happened to have a few spots that year so was signed to the Bulldogs in 2019.”

She made her AFLW debut in Round 1 of 2020 against St Kilda. She joined the elusive ‘First goal with first kick’ club after she kicked the opening goal of the match.

She has nothing but praise for the Western Bulldogs during her time there.

“First of all, the club was just amazing, just really welcoming,” Marshall said. “All the girls just got around me, helped me out, invited me to Christmas, out for my birthday, just made me feel at home and welcome, so definitely really thankful for that.

“Great staff, great coaching, good culture, and then just getting to play at that level was such a jump from America, definitely had a really big learning curve. In America it was just who could run the fastest, jump the highest, but in Australia all the girls can run just as fast and jump just as high so just having to adjust and learn the structures and everything. “That was probably the biggest learning curve I guess I had was where to be when.”

Even though she played her role every week and did everything they asked her to, she was still delisted after the 2021 AFLW season. Despite the disappointment, she seemed to understand why the Bulldogs decided to not keep her for 2022.

“I mean it’s always a difficult thing delisting anyone with a club that’s not really retiring or anything like that,” Marshall said. “I think that’s just the kind of nature of professional sport. “There’s a lot of girls on the Bulldogs that are around my size, the 172/173, kind of the mid size, and I think just, like I said, that learning curve of where to be when, just a lot of the younger girls that had grown up playing footy kind of had that already so even though there was some upsides to me in different ways.

“I think they were just looking for someone who was a little more advanced in their footy IQ. “And then yeah just age and the girls coming through, 18 maybe having 12 or 15 years left as opposed to four or five, just makes a big difference for the longevity of a club.”

Danielle Marshall Bulldogs
Danielle Marshall running with the ball against Port Melbourne in the 2021 VFLW season. Picture credit: Rookie Me Central

After being delisted, she went and played the rest of the 2021 VFLW season with the the Bulldogs VFLW side.

Most delisted AFLW players then play at different clubs in the VFLW to the one they were delisted from. Marshall on the other hand had some very good reasons as to why she did not do that.

“I’m just a very loyal person,” Marshall said. I love the girls in the VFLW, I really liked the culture, Whitten’s (Oval) pretty close to my house so it made it easy, and then them knowing me and where to play me and giving me games still was really nice.

“They even actually said ‘hey we’ll give you a spot this year too if you were still interested’, and I actually work for the list manager outside of footy, so we have a pretty good relationship. “We’re all still friends, no hard feelings, just the world of professional sport sometimes, you get delisted, you’ve got to just work hard until you get back on your feet.”

Like many in her situation, Marshall’s goal is to get back on an AFLW list. She will be working as hard as possible in the next six to 12 months to do so.

“Yeah definitely, my goal is definitely get back on an AFLW list. “I definitely think I have more to give and more to prove, and I think even just having those VFLW games and hopefully having a full VFLW season this season will really bolster my knowledge of where to be, my footy IQ, being able to impact the game a little bit more. “I really think that I can be an impact player so hopefully someone will give me a chance to prove that.”

She will be aiming to achieve that dream as part of Essendon’s VFLW side in 2022. With a strong aerial game and time to improve her weaknesses, she has time to get AFLW clubs’ attention.

So with her sights firmly set on a swift return to the AFLW, will she get the redemption story she deserves? Only time will tell.

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