Clarke reaps AFLW reward

The moment Amber Clarke 'won't ever forget'. Pictures: MICHAEL WILSON/AFL MEDIA

By Tyler Lewis

To escape the hysteria ahead of the AFLW Draft, Amber Clarke sought solace at the place in which it all began.

The former Dandenong Stingray went down to her local footy ground – the home of the Narre North Foxes – to clear her mind and to ultimately avoid overthinking the life-changing night ahead.

And though gracing the old patch was a brilliant plan, Clarke revealed it only postponed the eventual tidal wave of nerves before the unforgettable night.

“It was all amazing, I was so nervous for it all,” she said.

“But getting up there, getting presented the jumper by the coach and Maddie… oh, it was just something I won’t ever forget.”

With the first three picks of the Victorian zone of the draft being with Hawthorn and Essendon, Clarke felt one of those clubs could be her new home.

And ironically, the Bombers and the Hawks have unknowingly fought for Clarke before.

“There were lots of rumours that I was going to either the Hawks or Essendon,” she said.

“Obviously there was no guarantee with that, but I had that maybe in the back of my mind that it could be one of those.

“When I heard Essendon call my name out, I was so excited for that.

“When I was really young, I actually went for Essendon, and then when I moved to Rowville (Sports Academy) in year seven I switched to Hawthorn because my school is associated with them.

“I got a tour of their place and met a few of the players… but I’ll have to go back to the Bombers now.”

In the wake of receiving that first Essendon jumper, Clarke reflected on the endless list of inspirations that drove her to that point.

At the very top of the list – of course – is mum and dad, Pauline and Rod, who have quite literally driven her.

“My parents have been an amazing support network,” she said.

“(they’ve been) Taking me to training, to games, running me around everywhere and always supporting me.

“At the Stingrays, all the coaches have been amazing: the line coaches, the strength and conditioning, the media, everyone there have been amazing – obviously Coxy (Nick Cox) oversees it all, so he is incredible, he will always be one of my favourite coaches.

“Even my school coaches that have helped me since year seven, they have helped me until now and I couldn’t be more grateful and thankful of them.”

While many AFL draftees have completed studies and have nothing but footy to focus on when their name is called, Clarke is now engulfed in an important balance for the next four months, but she is supremely confident she can steadily juggle both.

“I’m in the first week of (school) holidays at the moment, so I will start term three in a week or so,” she said.

“When that’s done the season will have started, so I will also have exams later in the year, I will be managing studying, exam prep and balancing training as well.

“I think I will be able to do it pretty well, because I have been able to do it pretty well so far this year.

“I have always wanted to be a paramedic, so I have always had that in the back of my mind – potentially going to uni next year and study paramedicine – that could be an option next year.

“I have also thought about becoming a tradie, being a carpenter or something, but I am not 100 per cent sure what I want to do yet, but paramedic is still definitely in my mind.”

When that juggling act begins, her aim at training will be simple:

Make an immediate impact!

“I think it will be similar to VFL,” she said of the step up.

“Stepping into the VFL, I was quite nervous because the girls are a lot older, some of them are nearly 30 – it was pretty daunting stepping in as a 17-year-old.

“But I am excited to get into it, get around all the girls, get to know them, show them who I am and how I play.”

Clarke was shortly followed into the now 18-team competition by four Dandenong Stingrays teammates:

Mack Eardley (Hawthorn, pick 6), Taylah Gatt (North Melbourne, pick 28), Charley Ryan (Richmond, pick 38) and Charlotte Blair (Collingwood, pick 56) all deservedly made their way into the AFLW.