“White line fever” guides Shepherd towards footy

INTANGIBLES are often the missing piece for budding AFLW stars, and while Dandenong Stingrays prospect Emily Shepherd has some in her locker, she’s working on others. Her reading of the play, athleticism, and ability to manufacture time on the ball are all pillars of a promising game, and aggression is another which ensured Shepherd was guided towards football.

“I think I get white line fever, that’s one way to put it,” Shepherd said. “I wouldn’t say I’m a dirty player though.

“(Football) wasn’t really a big thing for girls, a couple of the boys asked me to play at their club but I wasn’t too sure so I played basketball. That didn’t last too long because tech fouls got me… basketball was just not my cup of tea.”

As a bottom-ager, the 17-year-old averaged 15 disposals and over three tackles across an injury interrupted NAB League campaign, proving her capacity to impact the game going both ways. Shepherd’s assuredness stretched into her Under 19 National Championships stint, which unfortunately also ended in injury.

Though she can certainly dish out the hits on-field, Shepherd says she is working on her “resilience” – especially after copping her fair share of setbacks.

“I’m focusing on my mindset a little bit more and resilience would be a key part that I’d like to improve,” she said. “I’ve strengthened my ankle, that’s all good. I hurt myself in the Queensland game, I popped out my shoulder so I’m working with that a little bit and should be set for the 2022 season.

“I just want to play consistent footy really, which I know I’m capable of. So, I’ll just try not to get injured and see how we go.”

With the stop-start nature of last season, Shepherd’s usual midfield rotation was altered and despite getting her fitness “up to standard”, she will likely continue that trend with more time in attack throughout 2022.

“I’m trying up a different position,” she said. “I talked to ‘Tarks’ (Tarkyn Lockyer) and ‘Coxy’ (Nick Cox) about it. They want me to play forward, which I’m happy to, I’m open to play wherever. It would be good to kick a few goals and play forward to mid instead of mid to forward, so I look forward to the season ahead.”

Quite settled among high-level teammates and opposition, Shepherd has gotten to know plenty of Victorian representatives well throughout her footballing career. As a potentially key part of the Vic Country side once more this coming season, the young gun continues to enjoy each “step-up” in competition.

“It was really good just to get to meet a bunch of different characters, which was probably the most beneficial part of (last year’s Under 19 championships),” she said. “I was a bit injured so my fitness wasn’t the best but I was still happy to be around the girls and it was a good culture.

“I know pretty much most people from SSV (School Sports Victoria) Under 15s and all during my footy career. It’s especially good to see country girls because they live so far away so I feel like we have that bond.”

Shepherd and her Stingrays commence their 2022 NAB League Girls campaign away against reigning grand finalists, the Geelong Falcons on Sunday.

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