Gallivanting Garner still hoping to achieve plenty more

NEW Box Hill Hawks skipper Nicole Garner has come along way in footy since her days in Victoria’s Gippsland region.

Before the shiny lights of AFLW or even VFLW, her footy journey began back with the Gippsland Galaxy in around 2016. Playing Division 3 and 4 footy, Garner says the local scene is where she found her love for the game.

“We won every game, went through the finals and I sort of got my love for footy through that,” Garner said. “Then I started travelling up and down between Sale and Melbourne to play at Casey in the VFLW.

“I had two seasons with Casey and then was lucky enough to get drafted to Geelong for two seasons in the AFLW, then was delisted end of 2021 season, came on board with Hawthorn VFLW and haven’t looked back since.”

Coming to footy relatively late due to a dearth of teams in her local area, Garner instead grew up playing baseball thanks to the fact her older brother had also been playing.

“I played baseball my whole life and really enjoyed that and the pathways that opened up for me; travelling and meeting new people. I really enjoyed the competitive side of baseball,” Garner said.

“Not many people play the sport so it was a bit different and it’s not your usual transition over to football. Once I found out there was an AFL Women’s team available in my area I pretty much jumped straight on board… I would love to have played as a kid.”

Garner ended up at Casey because of the travel as they were the closest club to where she was living at the time in Gippsland. Even though she initially joined based on location, she speaks so highly of Casey and how it is run.

She was soon off to the other side of the bay and down to Geelong for a career in the AFLW that Garner describes as “short and sweet.”

“Unfortunately it was Covid impacted,” she said. “My first season I think we played six games and then the season was cancelled. Unfortunately I didn’t get to play any of those games, so it was hard.

“Training every week, doing all the right things and knowing you’re just not quite in the best 22 yet. I tried to take all the feedback onboard and just keep working, keep developing, keep pushing, but it does take a toll on your confidence.

“In the last round before the season got cancelled, on the Wednesday night of our training I was picked to play at the start of training the coach told me ‘you’ll play this weekend’, so obviously I was over the moon and excited, then by the end of training we were told that the AFL had cancelled the season,

“I sort of went from the highest of highs to pretty low, and drove home that night to Melbourne and we basically went into Covid lockdown for however long after that, two or three months.”

Facing a lot of uncertainty, Garner was able to earn a second season at the Cats and did eventually make her debut. Unfortunately that was to be all for Garner as she was subsequently delisted after the 2021 season, but is still appreciative of the opportunities she was given in Geelong.

She then ended up at the Hawks because she was living in Waverley Park and after watching the Hawks train from her balcony, liked what she saw. She got in contact with Bec Goddard, who was coaching the VFLW side at the time, and was able to slip straight into the side.

With so many of her teammates getting drafted by the Hawks last year ahead of their inaugural season in the AFLW and her not being one of them, it would be fair to expect Garner to feel disheartened, but she feels quite the opposite.

“Where I was coming from, I was 29, I was in the Police Academy at the time so my life had sort of taken me in a different journey maybe away from AFLW,” she said. “I was really, really happy to be pursuing what I have held myself back from doing outside of football for a long time while I was pursuing football.

“I’d sort of reached the age where I needed to prioritise that, and I was just really, really happy we were able to get I think 17 girls drafted overall from our VFL program, as hard as it was to see them leave each week.”

Despite being overlooked for another crack at the AFLW, Garner has not completely ruled out a return to the top league.

2023 is also Garner’s first year as full-time captain of the Hawks’ VFLW side. She said she was “pleasantly surprised” to have earned the role, but said that it was “nice that the girls have the confidence in her” to be able to provide that leadership.

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