IN a couple of weeks, passionate footy fan Tyanna Smith is set to live out a lifelong dream of reaching the elite level. The talented midfielder who starred for Dandenong Stingrays and Vic Country over the past few years is among the top prospects heading into this year’s 2020 AFL Women’s Draft, but her road to the top was not completely smooth sailing.
The former basketballer had to turn away from football for a period of time due to the lack of options and instead focus on hoops rather than goals. The moment the AFL Women’s pathway opened up, Smith’s dream was alive once again.
“I started playing footy when I was quite young,” Smith said. “I kind of grew up around it when I was younger and then played two years of Auskick and then went on to play one year of Under 9s with the boys. “Then I stopped playing after that, played basketball for about six years and didn’t play any footy.
“Then about four years ago I think I joined our local Beaconsfield team again in the Under 18 girls. “I’ve been playing there for four years and then from then went up in the ranks, playing Stingrays this is my fourth season. “Then I was lucky enough to get chosen for the Under 16s Vic Country team and then Under 18s Vic Country.”
Whilst meeting plenty of friends on the court – some she has also shared the football field with – Smith knew her calling was always Australian rules and she was never going to turn down the opportunity to play at the highest level.
“Obviously I went to play basketball because there wasn’t any opportunities for girls to play AFL at that time,” Smith said. “I kind of aimed to play basketball and then footy opened back up and ever since I was a kid I wanted to play AFL professionally. “I just knew as soon as that opened back up that it was definitely what I wanted to do.”
Juggling multiple sports can often be a challenge for any aspiring athlete, but Smith said there were only a couple of years where the spots crossed paths.
“I think I only played two years when I was playing both,” she said. “I had to give up representative basketball so I just played domestic for a couple of years as well as footy. “That was pretty tough, I’d go from a footy game then I’d go to a basketball game within the same day. “It was definitely full on, but it was really fun. It was definitely worth it.”
Smith said she was thankful for her journey to-date, having travelled through the more traditional pathway once she returned to football. She transitioned from local footy at Beaconsfield to the Stingrays and then Country. While she concedes she is not the loudest player on-field, past leaders at the Stingrays helped her develop more of a voice and guide the younger players.
“When you start off young, your’e a bit intimidated by the older girls but we had some great leaders and role models in the team when I was younger and I think that really helped me this year like you said we had a lot of younger girls,” Smith said. “Even though I’m not the loudest or most outspoken person, I still chose to be as much of a leader on the field and a role model for the younger girls as much as I could.”
The journey through the pathway led Smith to represent Country up in Queensland where she starred as a middle-ager for her state on grounds such as Metricon Stadium.
“Yeah that was a really, really good experience,” Smith said. “We had a great bunch of girls and we really bonded as a team up there and it was really cool to play on Metricon and stadiums like the AFL plays on. “It was really professional and a really cool experience.”
Her performance as a 16-year-old in the NAB League and Under 16 Championships led to her being named in in the AFL Women’s National Academy – a feat that “shocked” the teenager – and backed it up by retaining her spot in her top-age year.
“That was really cool actually,” Smith said. “I was in it bottom-age and top-age so think when I was bottom-age I was pretty shocked actually that I made that, but it was really cool to go through that for two years and do that at the highest level and they have the best people there. “It was just a really great bunch of girls aiming towards the same thing.”
Smith is currently juggling a part-time job at Kmart, her Year 12 studies and her footy, of which the latter has been a big part of her life the last few years. She said she finds it “fun” keeping herself busy rather than not doing anything. With big expectations on herself this year, Smith said she takes it all in her stride and uses football as a motivation to get better in every possible way.
“Yeah definitely I would say my life is very footy-orientated,” Smith said. “But I think that I can switch off quite well and pretty easy with that stuff. “It doesn’t stress me out too much and I think other things footy, like watching footy, training those sort of things, it just sort of fuels me in a good way.”
Smith has never been short of on-field and off-field inspirations in her time, with both her family and trailblazers of the women’s game among those she looks up to. Not only has she been a keen observer of the AFL Women’s since its inception in 2017, but has enjoyed watching past Eagles’ teammates rise through the ranks.
“Probably my biggest inspiration are my parents,” Smith said. “I think everything they do for me has just helped get me to where I am today.
“When it (AFL Women’s) first started, I was a massive fan of those pioneer girls so Daisy Pearce, Katie Brennan, those first ones. Also the most recent times probably Monique Conti and there’s been a couple of girls from my local club in Tyla Hanks and Georgia Gee who got drafted so I think that’s really cool to get to play with role models who have been drafted.”
Her local footy and NAB League footy collided a couple of times, playing at Holm Park in Beaconsfield, a ground the Eagles and Stingrays midfielder is very familiar with over the past few years.
“Our (Stingrays) first game was there as our home game which was pretty cool,” Smith said. “That’s my local club’s home ground as well so I know the ground pretty well which helps. “But yeah it was really cool to be able to play Stingrays footy on that ground. “Obviously my family could get to that because it was close, so it was really cool.”
It was on that ground where she kicked a miraculous goal from the pocket in Round 1 this year against Eastern Ranges. With not much angle and pressure all around her, the talented leader got ball to boot and put through a contender for goal of the year. When asked the thought process for kicking a big-time goal like that, Smith said it was “probably mostly instinct”.
“At the end of the day when it’s in the balance and it’s quite tight at that stage,” she said. “I knew that as soon as I had the ball in my hands I just had to make the most of my opportunity and soon as I saw the goals open up I thought that I have to do this for my team and thankfully it paid off.”
Possessing elite speed and footy IQ, Smith has been one of the most consistent players in terms of overall game, with very few weaknesses. But that has not stopped her wanting to improve all aspects of her game, but one area in particular has been a focus.
“I think a big thing for me is contested marking,” Smith said. “I think that’s one thing that can definitely set the game apart with who can take a big contested mark. “I think that’s really valuable so really trying to work on upper body strength and stuff like that to make it happen.”
The COVID-19 break has not been ideal for any Victorian footballers, unable to get out on the park, but for Smith, it has been a chance to work on those areas and still have the chance to build her fundamentals further.
“I think I’ve taken the time we’ve had off to improve those sort of things and doing stuff that I probably wouldn’t get to do at training as a group,” Smith said. “A lot of strength and gym work as well. “Me and dad go down to the footy oval and mum as well, and we do a lot of skill work stuff as well which has really helped.”
Looking forward, the likely high draft pick has her sights set exactly where she has had them for most of her life – the AFL Women’s Draft – but she remains grounded and focused, setting little goals at a time.
“I probably don’t try to look too far into the future, I just try to stay in the moment and set little goals that are achievable with a short amount of time” Smith said. “Then look to the next thing, I don’t try to look too far into the future and set massive goals.”
Watch out for one of the next big stars coming through the ranks after a sensational body of work throughout her junior football career.