WHEN Katie Kennedy was growing up her dream was to become a dancer, but now her dream is to get more females involved with Australian rules football and she's just been given a big opportunity to help make that happen.
The Bathurst Giants skipper has been named the AFLW Community Ambassador for the ACT-NSW AFL region.
It means she gets invitations to football networking events, she will attend the AFLW finals series and she also gets a $1,000 grant to help her beloved Giants.
Kennedy is "so excited" at the opportunities the ambassador role presents and now laughs that were it not for stage fright, she might have been a dancer instead of finding a footy passion
"I wanted to be a dancer, that was my dream," the 23-year-old said.
"But then Mum and Dad were like 'No, we're paying all this money for you to run on stage but then run off because of stage fright, so you're going to go and play footy with the boys. That's what they're doing, it means everyone is in the same sport'.
"Because my brothers were involved in the sport, it was just easier for me to go and play footy."
So Kennedy joined her brothers in taking part in Auskick programs and now, 12 years on, she's been given an honour she had no idea she was in contention for.
It was Kathy Sloan, who recently became the first female president of a senior AFL Central West club, that nominated fellow Giant Kennedy for the ambassador role.
"I didn't actually know that I had applied for it because Kath Sloan did it for me. So when I got the call to say I'd won, I was in so much shock because I hadn't applied for anything. I was thinking 'Why did this happen?' I was so confused," Kennedy revealed.
"Absolutely I'm glad she put it in. I'm honoured that she thought of me and that I would be worthy to be nominated - let alone actually win it.
"It's such a good opportunity and I'm so excited. There's one ambassador for every state. Just to be recognised, it's a bit like 'What the hell?'. Like even now I can't believe that it has happened."
After her beginnings with Auskick as a junior, Kennedy did try other sports once she'd finished that program.
She did still get limited rules experience - in 2011 she was selected for the NSW Blue Birds - but in 2015 when AFL Central West added a women's premiership Kennedy signed up as a Bathurst Lady Bushranger.
"I played with the boys up until I was 14 then obviously girls can't play anymore and there wasn't any women's league back then. So there was a big gap for me when wasn't any women's team and I had to go play at state," she said.
"I played netball, I played hockey a little bit but I was too aggressive with the stick, I played soccer - but yeah, here we are, playing senior footy.
"It's a lot of hard work and dedication, but I wouldn't change it for the world."
After her time with the Bathurst Bushrangers, Kennedy decided she wanted to form a second senior female side in the city.
Her first attempt in 2017 failed, but next season she tried again and this time the Bathurst Giants women's side was formed.
"That was probably the biggest challenge. We tried in 2017 to get it happening and we just couldn't get it done," she said.
"Then in 2018 I was like okay and said this was the year I was going to make it happen. I wanted a team that loves each other and play their footy because they love the game and not because they want to win premierships and beat teams by 100 points. I just wanted a team I love that's more like a family.
"So I made the push, I recruited one of the girls from school and she had a lot of contacts from netball. Slowly people started turning up at training and other people in the club were telling their female friends to come and play.
"It was a lot of hard work and 'Is this going to happen because last year we were put into the comp and they had to re-do the whole draw when we didn't get a side?'
"It was even if we could get nine players, that's what we were aiming for, nine players, but then we ended up winning our first game and then made the grand final in our first year."
While Kennedy's main aim when she formed the Giants - and still her priority now - is to get enjoyment from playing football and building friendships, success has come for the women in charcoal and orange.
They made the grand final their first year which they narrowly lost by nine points to Dubbo, the following season they bettered local rivals the Lady Bushrangers in the decider and in the 2020 premiership decider, the Giants held the Demons to just a pair of behinds on their way to glory.
Last year the Giants were minor premiers and qualified for a direct path to the grand final, but due to COVID-19 that's where the season ended.
It's been a remarkable run of success, but Kennedy admits she is still amazed at some of the football her team-mates produce.
"We don't go out onto that field to beat anyone or try and kick as many goals as we can, we go out there because we like playing with each other, we like what we do when we are on the field," she said.
"We do these link ups and it's like 'Holy cow, we actually know how to play footy'. That was shocking to us at the start, but we just seem so well connected that we know what each other is thinking - it doesn't even make sense, but it's like we can read each others' minds."
While Kennedy had achieved her goal of forming a side that feels more like family, she wants to see the sport continue to grow in Bathurst and across the Central West.
She wants to see more girls find that passion for footy she discovered.
"All we wanted to do was have fun, I just wanted to have more girls playing footy. It was great there was already one team in Bathurst, but I wanted every single girl in Bathurst to chose AFL as their first sport," she said.
"We are slowly getting there, we've had two youth girls teams in Bathurst since the inception of that competition too. I never would have thought I'd see that.
"When I first started playing footy and I was the only girl in my team I never would have thought we'd have a women's league out here."
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