Knighted: Burke follows famous father and becomes a Saint

THERE are few certainties when it comes to the AFL Women’s Draft, but one of three players who already know their destinations net week is Alice Burke. The newest Saint will follow in the footsteps of her famous father Nathan, who amassed more than 300 game in the red, white and black. While her father is now somewhat ironically coaching an opposition side – Western Bulldogs – Burke said the family ties are strong regardless of the colours they wear.

“I’m sure there will be a little bit of trash talking at home, but I don’t reckon it would wouldn’t change anything,” Burke said of a potential St Kilda-Western Bulldogs clash. “The rest of that home environment honestly is when we do come home, we’re all pretty easily able to just swap into our normal home life. “We’re good at separating just being a family. “I don’t see it impacting anything too much, but it would definitely be interesting to see who the rest of the family, would support.”

For Saints fans it would be a great relief to see another Burke at Moorabbin, and it is no surprise to hear that the newest addition has always had it in her veins.

“Yeah our whole family has always gone for St Kilda from the start so I do have a soft spot for them, especially with the father-daughter,” she said. “We’ve had a couple of functions there for the father-daughters, father-sons, events. “I also did work experience at Saints. “I know the the venues pretty well, and all of that, but ultimately my goal in the end is just to be the best player I can and get as far as I can.”

For such a passionate Aussie rules supporting family, you would expect she would be a lifelong player. Except the truth is, she only took up the game three years ago, instead preferring the round ball game.

“I’ve definitely got that connection with dad easily, but for about the first eight or so years, I was playing soccer with my sisters,” Burke said. “I didn’t actually start footy till I think it was, 2017. “I played for school and, that was really the first ever time I’ve done anything with a football, and it was just like a little AFL 9s game, and I just remember going out there and thinking, ‘Oh, this is kind of really fun, this is really new’ and it was pretty much from that I just kind of like I was playing proper at the time.”

At that point in her life, Burke was succeeding in soccer, pulling on the green and gold for the national Under 19s in the United Kingdom. Despite making it to international level, Burke admits her feelings towards the game had begun to wane.

“I was pretty invested in soccer at that point, but because I’ve been playing for so long, I think the kind of love of the game, had worn off,” Burke said. “So when I did start footy, it was something new. “I’m one of those people who really enjoys learning new skills and just like getting into new routines.”

Burke began to forge out a stellar junior career, as it escalated from something that was new and fascinating into an atmosphere and environment that she loved.

“I was pretty bad at kicking and all of the skills and the tactics and all of that (when I first started),” Burke said. “I remember that having Tam (Hyett, head coach) as my first coach, and she’s just pretty much staying back after trainings to help me learn to kick and all of that. “I just fell in love with just having all these new things to try and all these new things to do. “I like the games like having that bit of uncertainty. “Like in soccer you’re pretty set about your role and everything. “In footy, it’s a lot more chaotic, and all of that uncertainty makes it a lot more enjoyable for me, it’s a lot more exciting to play.”

A question on many people’s lips might be, when your father is a 300-game AFL player, how have you not at least played some junior footy before?

“Yeah at the time there was no one around, no girls that I knew that played it,” Alice said of women’s football “It wasn’t really an option, most people just played netball or soccer. “I think my oldest sister – I’ve got two older sisters – and they got into soccer first. “I was one of those siblings where if my older siblings are doing it, or if they were trying something, I had to do it with them. “I just got into that through following them.”

Having reached the international stage and having a promising soccer career in front of her, making the choice to cross to Australian rules football was far from straightforward, but Burke felt it was the right one.

“Yeah at the start (it was a hard decision),” Burke said. “Just because I had been doing it for so long. “Does that mean I’ve wasted seven, eight years to doing the wrong sport or something? “Once I actually I went down to the open day for Dragons and I loved it so much. “That was massive turning point for me that I was just full set on. “Soon as I got my first taste of an actual team, it was pretty easy for me to be like, this is a lot more enjoyable and it’s probably got more of a future in it then soccer did for me and plus, having Dad’s background, he was able to like go outside and teach me, and we’re spending a lot of time outside of it from that point on as well, just practising the skills and everything.”

Burke started her career off half-back, a position she was familiar with through soccer. While her technical ability was still adjusting, it was obvious from the start that she was dual-sided. It was not long before she soon caught up to the rest and was thrown in the midfield, a challenge the teenager thrived on.

“It was pretty new that having that different perspective, where you actually have to be aware of what’s around you,” she said. “Have that whole 360-degree perspective compared to just 180 when you’re in defence. “Having all those new perspectives and the multiple things to focus on in the game just made it all the more enjoyable for me. “And playing in midfield was definitely was the first time I’ve done it and straight away it was just really fun.”

Burke defines her ability to use both sides of her body, and her repetition of the techincal side further enhanced her ability. Through soccer she became familiar with running down the left side of the pitch despite being a right footer, and when caught on that left side, she naturally used the left foot.

“I was still in that habit from soccer is always using my left foot,” Burke said. “And from that I kind of learned, ‘alright If I can’t train myself not to use my left, well I’m going to have to learn to use it well, because I could be using it either way. “I’ve been pestering dad doing a lot of practise on that, and I reckon that’s definitely paid off this year.”

Burke recognised how lucky she was to have a father who had reached the elite level, but more so one who was always happy to aide in her development and assist in any way that he could, just being a father as much as a coach.

“It’s definitely been like it’s really important to me keeping on top of my skills and everything because, dad’s been working at home and everything now during lockdown,” Burke said. “It’s been pretty easy for us to just go down to the Trevor Barker Oval it’s a couple of blocks away. “We’ve been going down there a lot, and he has a really good input of he’ll teach you how to pick up your own mistakes, because in a game, he knows that you’re not gonna be able to have someone tell you what’s going wrong or not.

“One of our pet peeves has always been if you make a mistake, it’s okay. “But what matters is whether you make it again or if you fix it. “So being able to pick up those environmental cues yourself and realise what’s going wrong and then how to fix it. “That’s been something he has really diligently taught me and I reckon that helped me improve a lot in the game.”

Burke said she would love to build the knowledge of her inside midfield game. Whilst he has no problems attacking the contest and then using it once in possession, she wants to improve her decision making, as well as reading the play and at the stoppages off hands. What she calls her gameplay intelligence.

Her development as a player in a short space of time came to the fore after winning the 2018 best and fairest, an accolade she backed up in her middle-age year last year. Burke describes it as a “real shock” but said she loved how footy rewarded hard work over results.

“If you’re shepherding someone you might not necessarily be impacting the play, but you are still playing a vital role in the game,” Burke said. “That’s why that’s something that I’ve always tried to work really hard on in the games, is putting in those extra one per cent efforts. “I reckon it was definitely a shock for me when I got that first best and fairest, because it really it was good to know that I’m in a sport that values those kind of things.”

Burke progressed through the Vic Metro program and went up to the Gold Coast for the AFL Women’s Under-18 Championships. She loved the increased standard and said it was amazing playing alongside so many talented players all in one team and across the competition. What made it a little different to most is that her father coached the team, though she said you would hardly know they were related on game day, and they are able to switch back into family mode once home.

“During the day he’d be my coach and we wouldn’t have any talk at home (about it),” Burke said. “There’d be a few inside jokes of of ‘don’t pass Alice the ball’ or something, but I remember one night I snuck into his room and we watched Bachelor together and then we woke up next morning and he is the coach again. “He’s really good at swapping between putting the coach hat on and the dad hat, and we’ve never had any issues with that.”

While her father has undoubtedly been an inspiration over the journey, a former Dragon has also had a huge influence on Burke’s career. Jemma Owen was Burke’s first captain at the Dragons, and crossing from another sport it was daunting at first, but Owen helped her fit right in.

“I was pretty like scared to come into a brand new team by any sport, I didn’t know anyone or how to do anything,” Burke said. “Jemma … was fantastic, straight away was so nice and welcoming to everybody. “She was really good at being that leader, but also kind of demanding the best out of everybody on the field. “She was never afraid to talk, you know, let somebody know they need to be doing something. “One thing that I really liked too was she didn’t ask anything of the team that she didn’t do herself. “I found that she was someone that I could really respect as a player. “And, you know, her dedication through the game was really admirable.”

Now she is officially an AFL Women’s player – with her selection to be confirmed on Tuesday – Burke is ready to hit the ground running and knows her career goals.

“The reason I loved footy was I did play for fun, and I wanna make sure to improve and get better at the game and everything, but ultimately I just want to enjoy it, it’s a wonderful opportunity,” she said. “I’m going put everything in, I just hope that I do just keep enjoying the game because I love it, and it’s unlike anything else I’ve ever done. “I hope that definitely stays with me.”

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