RMIT Representative Sport Officer Eliza Goulding and RMIT Sport Participation Officer Sarah ‘Big’ McKenna have been moving from the desktop screen to phone calls to meetings all day in the RMIT Bundoora Sports Centre office. Now, the order of the day is about to change.
They slide out from their desks and stand up from their chairs, gathering their bags and their kit.
Out of the office, out of the Sports Centre and they meet up with Sport Officer Julz Nannetti, who is also signing off for the day to join her colleagues.
Past the buildings and along the path to the wide clearing of Bundoora Oval, where Nicole Lane (Trips Coordinator) and Mia Deverell (Elite Athlete Pathways Program Coordinator) are getting out of their cars.
Shoes off, boots on. It’s training time.
The five RMIT staff Redbacks all had similar journeys to the Academy. As Big and Eliza are executive committee members, their stories begin back in the Academy’s early days. Nic, Mia and Julz all got wind of the plan for a fully resourced women’s football team on campus from Sally Tanner, who encouraged them to join pre-season training if for no other reason than to fill out numbers for drills.
“I suppose we’re a little bit more invested in it, and that stems from Sally’s passion in it,” says Big. “Sally is a great boss so when she’s enthusiastic about something that enthusiasm rubs off. So, we’re all really committed to it and want it to do well so it’s nice having everyone wanting to reach a common goal and be successful.”
Nic has been at RMIT for nearly a decade after initially starting in a Sports & Recreation admin role.
“Based on working in Student Life and seeing the excitement build with Sal, Big, Liz, I started going to the first training sessions and just found it was such a friendly, welcoming environment,” she says. “From there I really enjoyed the training and because they were short on players I thought ‘why not play?’”
Of the five staff members, Mia is the most recent addition to the University, having punched in for the first time in December 2018. Reserves coach Gezim Zeneli appointed her the captain of his side on the Thursday before Round 1, a recognition of the leadership experience she carries in football, having previously coached at Kew, the Eastern Ranges at NAB Cup level and Melbourne Uni.
“It’s been a big honour and an absolute surprise; I didn’t expect it at all,” says Mia.
“It’s been a wonderful experience to see them grow as players and people, see their confidence grow and their abilities come out as they take on the game. The way we play allows the girls to take on the game and I’ve been very open in encouraging them to work on their personal skills as well, to pick something they’d like to improve on in a game. These girls have improved tenfold from then to now and it’s been really exciting to see.”
There is something special, some deeper perspective, about being able to play footy with workmates. Saturday’s moments become part of the workplace convo fabric – “Monday morning debriefings are a must,” grins Eliza – and the sight of the staff Redbacks ecstatically celebrating each other’s goals or marks or tackles has been regular in 2019.
“I love the sense of community and the culture within the group,” says Julz. “The coaches and committee have done a remarkable job of creating a really inclusive environment.”
It’s an environment felt by all Redbacks, but for the RMIT staff it is enhanced with moments that overlap with their careers: Julz’s delighted koala-hugs on anyone who kicks a goal. Nic kicking the Reserves’ first ever goal in Round 5 against the Yarra Old Grammarians (“It was the first game my mum came to watch me play”). Big coaching the Reserves against Mazenod in Round 6. Mia leading the Reserves to their first win against North Brunswick. And, most memorably of all, Julz swooping in the final game of the season to win the Reserves’ Goal-Kicking Award, finishing one straight kick clear of Eliza.
“Playing has definitely enhanced my experience with being involved in the Academy,” says Eliza, who coordinates the RMIT Nationals Sports program for the Uni Games after joining the University in 2013.
“I feel proud to join the girls on game days, and I feel that I can also provide guidance to the committee from the point of view as a player which I feel is also beneficial,” says Eliza.
Fun, friendship, leadership … they’re all things Mia can reflect on as her young side continues to grow. Months ago, the Academy was words on paper and in the air. Now, she and her colleagues are a part of something that will build on itself, year after year, with their foundation season together a memory forever.
“It’s been a unique experience. I don’t think there would be too many environments where you’d be able to work with colleagues and play footy, so I think it’s been pretty special.”
“Last week I was standing around with Sally and Chris O’Connor talking about how amazing it is that we’ve gotten through the whole season. We have to reflect and say this is pretty amazing that we managed to field two teams in our first season. Going from the summer, where we didn’t have any players, to then having 60 girls on the list is just amazing and it’s great to see that everyone is loving their time as well and also great that we can see where we can improve next year too.”