Speedy Clarke eyes “proper” nationals campaign

AFTER an outstanding bottom-age NAB League Girls season with the Dandenong Stingrays, Amber Clarke was ready to impact for Vic Country at the AFL Women’s Under 19s Championships. Though her journey through the pathways had provided plenty of highs, unfortunately for Clarke, her championships would be cut short. As in, five minutes into the first game, short.

Clarke went down with injury that would curtain the rest of her 2021 campaign not only at national level, but with the Stingrays’ finals series. She was coming off a great NAB League Girls season where she slotted 10 goals in six games rotating between midfield and forward. It further emphasised her versatility after a combination of defence and wing the year before. Averaging 18.2 disposals, 2.3 marks, 2.6 inside 50s, 4.0 tackles and 1.7 goals, Clarke was primed for a great Country campaign, but it was not to be.

Despite the disappointment of not getting a sustained run out on the park for her state, she took the positives out of the experience.

“The training before that was such a good experience, considering I was one of the youngest on the team, it was great getting to know older girls, playing with girls going to play AFL,” Clarke said. “The time I did get to play, it was a great atmosphere, I just loved it.”

Clarke emphasised the importance of training, such as when she headed back to the Stingrays to do it throughout the finals series. She was able to maintain touch and clean hands even if she could not fully participate in the training. Since then, Clarke has been involved with the Vic Country hub, and named in the 2022 AFL Women’s Academy.

“We’ve had two camps for Vic Country so far,” Clarke said. “We had about three weeks ago one night thing a bit of induction then (in December) we had a two-night camp which involved a lot of training, and preparation and ready for the NAB League season.

“The AFLW Academy we have training in April next year, so we haven’t had much for that yet, but that will be happening soon. “We had one (Zoom), it was a bit of an induction.”

Training with the Vic Country girls rekindled friendships from earlier in the year, and Clarke grew closer to others.

“I knew a few of them from the 19s this year, but Octavia (Octavia Di Donato),” Clarke said. “I’ve known her for a few years, so I’ve been really good friends with her. “Tegan Williams I knew her from 17s but didn’t really know her. “Her and I have gotten a lot friendlier now so it’s good. “But just all of them, knowing them all is really good.”

Clarke’s journey is not too dissimilar to many aspiring AFL Women’s players coming through. Having been able to play from a young age, she was able to progress smoothly through the pathway, and at a high level.

“I started playing when I was eight years-old. I saw it on TV and I thought it looked great,” Clarke said. “So I signed up for Narre North Foxes, and I went into my first game without any training because I was in America for that time. “Then from there I played five years of boys, then went into four years with girls. “Played interleague for a few years, represented Victoria. “Got All-Australian, then Stingrays decided they wanted me, so I’ve been playing at Stingrays.”

Looking at Clarke as a player, it is not hard to work out her greatest strength. Clocking up a blistering sub-3.2 second 20m sprint, she is widely regarded as the quickest player in the NAB League Girls competition. But there is more to Clarke than her dash.

“My speed is definitely one of them (strengths) I like to get the ball and run if I can, and my long distance kicking,” she said. “I get a lot of power so I can really hit those long targets. “They’re probably two of my biggest ones.”

As for her improvements, Clarke has her sights set on building up her defensive pressure and aerial work inside 50.

“My tackling. It never used to be great, and it’s improved a lot but I reckon I can still really improve that,” Clarke said. “And my contested marking when I’m in the forward line and just making sure I’m really clean.”

The Stingrays utility said she enjoyed rotating between forward and midfield, and was happy to keep doing that. Off the back of an outstanding NAB League Girls Preseason Testing Day thanks to Rookie Me, Clarke said she beat her 20m sprint and agility times and equalled her personal best Yo-yo test time.

Now she is focused on her on-field goals and what she wants to accomplish in 2022.

“Getting drafted is the big point,” Clarke said. “But having a proper nationals campaign, actually getting to play more games and really developing myself as a player, and as a person as well. Just really growing as a person as well.”

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