CHARLOTTE Dolan only started playing Australian rules football a few years ago, and played her first South Australian National Football League (SANFL) Women’s match this year. Running out for Woodville-West Torrens Eagles, Dolan was involved in the club’s inaugural win back in Round 4, marking a really memorable debut for the teenager.
Dolan said she was thrilled to win on debut, but had not thought about being the club’s first win when it happened, just soaking up the moment in a great team effort rather than being a lucky charm of sorts.
“Yeah wow nah I thought everyone played really well that game,” Dolan said. “I was playing off the wing and onball for a part of it and the pressure was just really high which made it successful. “I don’t know what to say, I’m good luck?”
Whilst the game’s result had Dolan on a high, the uncertainty around the season – that would eventuate not long after – put her new found senior career on hold. Despite this she used the COVID-19 pandemic postponement as a way to improve her overall game to hit the ground running when it restarted in June.
“It was a really gut-dropping feeling,” Dolan said. “I was at the game on the Friday night (before her debut) I think it was, and we didn’t even know if the game was going to go ahead, and everyone was like ‘they might be cancelling the game’ because of COVID and stuff. “I was like ‘oh no’ but finding out out the week after the next game against Westies had been cancelled and I was like ‘you’re kidding? I finally made my way into the side’. “But I guess it gave me that break to push harder, train a bit more, get a bit fitter again and keep working on my skills.”
As mentioned above, Dolan was not always a footballer, instead she came from a a soccer and surf lifesaving background. She reached state representation in both those sports, but was a chance chat with friends that got the ball rolling for a girls football team at SMOSH West Lakes.
“I remember it was a friend of ours who was highly involved in football around at SMOSH West Lakes and we were like ‘let’s get a girls team going’ and the parents weren’t too sure about it obviously but we thought we might as well give it a crack and it was like something new,” Dolan said. “At the time it wasn’t really a big thing, and were like ‘oh this could be cool, let’s get involved and see what happens’.”
From there it grew, as Dolan was starting effectively from scratch, having only brought across a competitive nature and being involved in a team environment from her other two sports. Prior to the Eagles having a team entered in the SANFL Women’s, Dolan was initially in the Glenelg pathway before her zone changed to Woodville-West Torrens and played a couple of Under 17s matches there prior to progressing into the senior team.
That debut came in the famed Round 4 win, and aside from the climate at the time and uncertainty that came with it, Dolan had her own natural nerves heading into the game against senior opponents.
“My first game I was pretty scared going out there against everyone older,” Dolan said. “It was a bit nerve wracking but I haven’t struggled too much I don’t think. “Just having confidence in myself is just the main thing. “I can do this.”
Dolan gained confidence over time and was included in the State Under 18s Academy this year which further enhanced her self-belief and love for the sport.
“That (State Academy) was good, it started off really well,” Dolan said. “Every weekend we’d have a training on the Sunday morning and that was good to have as different to the other trainings were were doing at our clubs and it was good to have another training. “It was different coaches and you’ve also got to hang out with the other girls from other teams which was good.”
After collecting the wooden spoon in 2019, the Eagles showed great development in 2020, picking up two wins and as Dolan pointed out, were a lot more competitive across the board.
“I guess you look at it as a learning curve obviously and you can see where things went right and things went wrong,” Dolan said. “It’s not like we were far off getting wins throughout the season. “The games were usually pretty close, they weren’t smashings aside the game against North.”
Dolan is a natural onballer from the time she spent at junior level, but began running around on a wing and increasing her versatility with the Eagles. Her fitness base gained from her other sports allowed Dolan to run out full games and often mentally work over opponents.
“I’m naturally more of a sweeper, defensive player, midfielder,” Dolan said. “Playing centre on the ball and playing in my first game off the wing and I played that natural on the 45 and then behind the play and that suited me pretty well. “But definitely when I played school footy for example, I’ll play onball and I prefer more of that onball than a wing.”
Dolan stopped playing soccer when she took up Australian rules football, but unlike many top-age hopefuls, she had initially quit footy as well until she found the hunger to run around again.
“I stopped playing soccer three or four years ago to focus on footy and then do surf lifesaving on the side as a bit of fun and fitness,” Dolan said. “I quit footy last year actually and then I got really bored watching my brothers and my sister play so thought I’d play again and that’s when I got picked up. “I did surf lifesaving, I would train for that.”
Despite being one of the fittest going around, Dolan still aims to build her fitness even greater, as well as improve her acceleration to be able to take the game on even more and apply increased defensive pressure to her opponents. As for her goal, while the All-Stars game did not go as she had hoped, Dolan is still eyeing off a future at the elite level at some stage.
“It would be pretty awesome to make an AFLW side,” Dolan said. “For the draft this year, it was just a bit unfortunate the game on Friday night (All-Stars game). “I wasn’t too happy with how it played out but I guess not the end of the world and more bigger and brighter things to come.”
Picture: Karley J Photography