IT was no surprise that Geelong Falcons’ Sophie Walmsley took to Australian Rules without much work, having already rowed, played local netball and school soccer.
“It started last year, I was playing netball with Newtown & Chilwell and I was in Year 12 and the girls that were playing footy on Sunday just said ‘come have a kick’ so that’s where it sort of started,” Walmsley said. “Then the season went and I just loved it and it was sort of my not-as-competitive sport because I was new to it. “Then just got a call from Jase (Jason Armistead, Geelong Falcons Girls coach) in October and then just came down to Falcons and it’s taken off from there.”
Walmsley is no stranger to switching codes, but why choose Australian Rules?
“Probably just the fact it was a new sport and something I hadn’t done before and there was lots of opportunities going around and Falcons is probably the top level I’ve been involved in a sport,” Walmsley said. “The community was really good and I just thought I’m going to take this opportunity and see where it goes to.”
Unlike many others in the TAC Cup Girls, Walmsley has not had the pressure of her final school year weighing down on her, instead focusing on her university studies and enjoying the freedom of football on the weekends.
“Yeah I’ve really loved Falcons,” Walmsley said. “It’s my first year at uni up at Melbourne, so it was sort of just new, footy was new, uni was new too. “It was just a good way to get involved and it’s been great and I’ve been lucky enough to play all the games.”
Walmsley was only nine days away from being a top-age player this season, and while Vic Country could only take one overage player to the AFL Women’s Under 18 Championships (Rene Caris), the Falcons’ utility has enjoyed every opportunity thrown her way.
“I was really lucky in that there’s lots of girls who have been in Falcons for a while that are so experienced and play very mature and act very mature,” she said. “I guess I was just lucky I’ve been involved with sport for a while so I’ve been able to know how to step through it all, but just for every other girl that’s young, just have a crack. “Don’t let anyone else stop you, there’s so many other opportunities and pathways. “Girls footy is a prime example. “Who knew that there’d be an AFLW team now there’s VFL teams, there’s TAC Cup which is amazing. “We’re being included in so much. “It’s definitely good for me I’ve been able to get involved with it being older, but for everyone else there’s so many opportunities to take from it.”
Having joined the Western Bulldogs in the Victorian Football League (VFL) Women’s competition, Walmsley could hardly believe her luck.
“I’m so super excited about that,” she said post- TAC Cup Girls season. “I really didn’t know much about footy since it was my first year and then Katie (Geerings, Geelong Falcons Female Talent Manager) and Jase have really got me through TAC Cup and have talked to me about the possibilities and then now starting joining with the Bulldogs is just really exciting. Just happy to see where it takes me.”
A super athlete, Walmsley said her fitness has helped her adapt to the new sport, and having supportive teammates has been a bonus.
Mainly endurance has really helped me being consistent across the game,” she said. “Just being able to sit back and watch and get into it, has helped me understand that being in the sport my first year, it doesn’t always come first round, you don’t always have the best game but as we got more into the season I’ve been a lot happier with how I’ve been going. “It’s still new, you’ve just got to accept that and lots of the other girls have helped me realise just how to play it.”
Instead of trying to do too much, the Falcons coaching staff have kept it simple for Walmsley, something she has enjoyed while trying to develop the fundamentals and improve.
“(I’m) Just learning how to play the position and accepting that sometimes your role is just to play a position and not really so effective on every single ball you get,” Walmsley said. “So I’m just focusing on understanding at these levels that’s just how you go about your game, but (all the) coaches have been so helpful with that and helped me understand that it’s the best you can do and all you need to do to play your position.”
Walmsley is taking it one step at the time and as a sports addict she enjoys playing football in the winter and rowing in the summer. In her own words, “Sport is my main hobby.”