5. KATIE BRENNAN
By Sam Squiers
Injury and suspension plagued Katie Brennan’s first three seasons of the AFLW as the captain of the Western Bulldogs. Katie joins host & sports journalist Sam Squiers to discuss moving from Brisbane to Melbourne to pursue AFL, how it felt to be involved at the start of AFLW and why she moved from the Western Bulldogs to Richmond.
Hey, I’m sports journalist Sam Squiers, welcome to On Her Game.
I first met Katie Brennan long before she was a household name of women’s sport. We were both living in Queensland and I was keen to learn more about this Brisbane girl turned Aussie Rules prodigy.
In 2015 I was doing a campaign for my Women in Sport website Sportette called “Strong is the New Pretty”, which was really about capturing athletes in strong, powerful poses, to try to flag young girls’ social media with these kinds of healthy images. I asked Katie to be part of it, she jumped on board, I followed her career ever since, watched her become a marquee player of the AFLW, Captain of the Western Bulldogs and Richmond, a commentator, an advocate, but most importantly a leader and a role model. But before she made her mark on the AFLW, she was learning to love the game, growing up playing with her brother.
BRENNAN: (Laughs) So, I, I loved footy, I was from Queensland originally and loved footy, um, ever since I was very, very young and dad often says that I was kicking a football before I could even, even walk, because I was always sleeping with my footy and just, um, (SS laughs) yeah just absolutely adored the game. And fast forward to when I was about six years old, my brother was, um, in the Under 8’s and my dad was coaching at the time and, um, I was just was so keen to play footy, I’d gone through all of the Auskick years and um, I was just ready to, to get out there and actually play for a team and the season had started, it was about eight weeks into the season and every week I would kit up, I would have my um, Logan Cobras jersey on (laughs), my socks on, my boots on, I would have my mouthguard in, in every week, just waiting for dad to give me a call up just in case the team was short and, um, about eight weeks in the team was short and, ah, dad came up to me and said, “mate, we’re short this week” and I was like “you beauty” and he said “don’t get hurt” and like “excellent”.
So, ah, this was my, my first big break in Under 8’s, we played Under 8’s and we, um, we ended up winning that game and I ended up kicking seven goals that day and getting best on ground. And dad let me play for the rest of the year and that was sort of how it all began. So, yeah absolutely adored football, um, adored my older brother who was probably the reason why I got into it and is part, ah, why I guess I’m so physical out there on the field because he was always bashing me up in the backyard, so, yeah, I loved it.
SQUIERS: I was always find it so interesting, because back then there were no female role models for you, especially in Brisbane and you couldn’t switch on the TV even and watch a female run around playing Aussie Rules, so it was a real raw love of the game that you had.
BRENNAN: Yeah it was, I think, um, both parents were Victorian so it was sort of in the blood and dad always played and my older brother, he was um, he was mad about footy too, so I just naturally did everything that he did and followed him in the backyard and, and from the age, that I could even remember we were always tackling and grappling in the backyard and, probably playing more of a rugby style of AFL (SS laughs). Um, you know still kicking, but just tackling each other and taking each other on and, um, even the earliest memories of, we were Brisbane Lions supporters and they were running hot in, in the 2000s, and before that, Paul and I would even barely even watch the game. We would go into this little area of the social club, where, um, you know, it was the, sort of the old GABBA, now it’s all been re, redesigned. But we’d go into this bar area and we would literally just play, like we’d kick the footy and play this rugby style of football and people would be walking through going through to the bathroom and joining in on our game (laughs). We would kind of bring them into the game, so, and then we would just kick the footy on the GABBA after the game, so really fond memories of, um, yeah, the childhood that I had and um, yeah, the love for footy.
SQUIERS: Because it was, because it is, Brisbane is a rugby league town through and through but as you were growing up, you would have been nine or ten when the Lions had their threepeat?
BRENNAN: Yeah I was, I was really fortunate to, um, to witness that time when they were running hot and, um, you know, Michael Voss, was probably always my childhood hero along with Jonathan Brown and, um, I guess the rest of the Brisbane boys, um, and it really sparked just a, a love of, of footy. And um, yeah, I used to watch them really closely and even analyse the game, when I was at a, a really young age.
SQUIERS: That’s really cool. You mentioned as well, that you played, you would have had to play with the boys, you had seven goals in your first game. So, they would have been happy that you were on the team, but were, were the boys quite welcoming. What was it like playing with the boys, but how, how did they welcome you into the side?
BRENNAN: Yeah it was fairly welcoming I think when you sort of get to the older years, they start to learn that some of the girls were better than them in the sense. We had one other girl, um, her name’s Jade Pregelj and she’s actually, she got drafted to the Gold Coast Suns this year, which is really exciting for her. But we sort of, yeah, we hung out together and she was one year older, so she was always in an older age group. But she was somewhat a role model for me because I could see, um, her out there on the field and she was really hard at the footy and um, yeah never took a backward step. But, um, the boys were really inviting, and I think once you earn the respect that you could actually play football and somewhat beat them in certain situations (laughs) then, um, yeah, they, they were really rapt to have you on the team.
SQUIERS: There were limited pathways though for girls, um, in Aussie Rules, in the 90s and early 2000s, did you have to stop at a certain age? And, and how then did you, did you have your breakthrough in that system that was quite restrictive for girls.
BRENNAN: I guess the, the earliest memories of the pathway, ah, were yeah, playing with the boys up until under 14s and at, at that point you are told you that, yeah, you can’t play football anymore just because you were physically, because you’re a girl and, um, you know.
SQUIERS: Was that tough, was that a tough pill to swallow?
BRENNAN: It, yeah, it was really tough. I think at the time, like in hindsight, I think it’s, it’s the right idea, the boys are getting stronger and it’s probably you, you’re somewhat putting girls at harm, young women at harm, when the boys are getting stronger and more physical. So, right now, I think it is the right decision, that it’s sort of the, it’s the cut-off for young girls. But, um, you know, at the time where you’re running, you’re running around and you’re holding your own out there on the field and, you know, we’d just won a premiership with the Under 14 boys, um, and you just, I, I think, hearing that and probably knowing it was coming, (SQUIERS: mmm), it was pretty, it was pretty upsetting, it was pretty sad.
SQUIERS: And not having another option.
BRENNAN: Yeah exactly and I’m, I’m really fortunate that I was, that I never had to step away from the game. So, I, after that year, ah, we rallied, we rallied all my friends together for, um, a youth girls’ team. Back in Queensland I had dancers on the team, I had soccer players (laughs), I had, I’d just, little young girls that, um, that were just doing athletics or swimming and I tried to get as many of my friends down just so we could field a team to play, um, in the first youth girls competition there. So, that’s when that sort of initially started, the youth girls in Queensland and, I ended up playing Open Women’s when I was about, um, I think fifteen years old and then. From there, yeah, played a few years, I ended up moving over to Yeronga, um, because I was studying at UQ in Brisbane and living sort of closer into the city, so, um, and then yeah I decided to, to move down here to Victoria and pursue the dream.
SQUIERS: You took it upon yourself then to save your football career so you wouldn’t have to stop, like rallied whoever you could get into your side.
BRENNAN: Yeah, I think it was just, you know, football clubs are a big part of childhood and I know I spent a hell of a lot of time there. I was, um, with my brother all the time and we were always the last kids on the ground kicking goals, um, before the lights would turn off (laughs) and even when the lights were off, Paul and I would still be out there trying to kick goals in the dark and dad would always have to yell for us to get off the field. So, when that is part of, yeah your life and your journey, um, you don’t really want to lose that (SQUIERS: mmm), even as you’re getting older and so, yeah, I just really wanted to, I just break down those barriers, the fact that we couldn’t play anymore and even the fact that there was no female role models. It was um, I, I sort of had a, a vision that I’d just be the first woman playing in the AFL in the future. So, yeah, I never gave that dream up.
SQUIERS: Did you? That’s awesome, that’s really cool.
SQUIERS: You did move to Melbourne when you were a teenager as well.
BRENNAN: Yeah, I guess, um, I was actually sitting at university one day and prior to that, about three weeks before that, with, we had an All-Australian camp and I was lucky enough to be able to come down and, and spend some time here in Victoria with about, with, with forty other girls that were chosen from around Australia and, I spent some time here, um, we stayed around Carlton and we trained at Icon Park and we sort of lived for a week of a professional footballer in a sense and everything that, you know, that comes with that. And, ah, the AFL Women’s wasn’t even a thought at that time (SQUIERS: mmm). We never knew it was happening, um, and then that was a, a really amazing experience where we were able to play on the MCG and, and yeah, just have a really amazing week and then (laughs).
We, we all talk about in, um, sort of the, the sporting world after you’ve had something, like in the experience like that for a week, you sort of get withdrawals in a way and you, you want it to be real life. You wanna, um, you wanna to be able to experience it all the time and it was probably a week later I came down, my mum was living down here at the time, and I, um, actually stayed with her and trained with Darebin for a week, which was my, um, my community club before I came in to play, play with the Western Bulldogs and, it was likes of Daisy Pearce and Darcy Vescio and Lauren Arnell and, um, Karen Paxman and Melissa Hickey, it was a, an, um, like a, pretty much a, a star-studded team (SQUIERS: mmm). Um, and I was able to, yeah, be really fortunate to run around for a week and Peta Searle was actually coaching at the time (SQUIERS: oh wow).
So, um, after that week, I’ve got another, another batch of withdrawals and just thought to myself, oh my God what am I doing, what am I doing here in, in Brisbane where, um, I guess the football still, um, was in a developing phase and there was certainly none of those who superstars running around, um, in, in Brisbane at the time, so, um, for me I made a decision to yeah, to put, ah, uni on hold and, and move down here, ah, to Victoria and, um, it was purely to, yeah start training with Darebin and, and to have a bit of a, um, I guess a change in, in scenery, it was something I always wanted to do when growing up. We would have family holidays and come to Mt. Buller every year to go skiing, um, as a family and I would always really wanted to live in Victoria because I think it was just, yeah the place that I loved knowing that footy was massive. So, that’s where it all started the move here to, to Melbourne.
SQUIERS: That’s a massive move when you consider there was no professional league at that moment, there was no inkling that there was going to be a professional league at that moment and it’s so interesting that you’re playing with these girls who are essentially are the future of the game (BRENNAN: yeah) right there and then, it was just the love of footy that, that drove you down to Melbourne.
BRENNAN: Yeah it certainly did, and I think I had, like I, I guess that the way the league was developing and how, um, how much talent was out there, which was sort of unearthed talent that no one else knew anything about. That was the most exciting part because I, I knew it was gaining more and more momentum as the years went by and we were lucky enough to have these All-Australian camps and then we started playing those exhibition games, um, between the Western Bulldogs and Melbourne, and it was just gaining traction and getting more and more exciting. So, if you asked me five years ago, um, whether I would be sitting here, you know, after playing four years in the AFL Women’s or three years and a, a fourth year coming up now, I’d just be, yeah, I’d, I wouldn’t believe it. But, at the same time I knew something was going to happen and it was going to get bigger and bigger, so, um, yeah, it’s been a really exciting journey.
SQUIERS: So, let’s talk about the AFLW and that first year, you were of course, one of the marquee players, um, you were on all the marketing everywhere, it was Katie Brennan, Katie Brennan, Katie Brennan. You were named the inaugural captain of the Western Bulldogs, then injury, injury really cruelled that opportunity didn’t it?
BRENNAN: Yeah, um, that was such an, an exciting time the start of the league, I think. When we, when we look back now, um, I think so many of us were incredibly nervous as well. We never, we didn’t know how big it was going to be or where it was going to go and you’re sort of thrown into the spotlight all of a sudden and, um, or all you sort knew how to do was just play footy and, and that’s what we all did, so, um, yeah it was phenomenal. I always think back and the fact that we saw Darcy Vescio kick four goals in that season opener, and we saw a lockout and ah, we saw so many (laughs), you know, I was incredibly emotional that first game, ah, the season opener of Season One and, um, just because it was there. It was, it was real, um, we were running around in AFL colours for premiership points and it was just something that, you know, we had exhibition games in the past and it just didn’t really mean anything it was just a showcase of talent and this meant we could win a premiership at the end of it and it was just phenomenal, so, um, yeah it was.
SQUIERS: Beyond expectations (BRENNAN: yeah) like the fact it was a, a sell out and then they had to lock people out. I think women in sport who played the game knew it could be that good but to actually see it come alive was just something else.
BRENNAN: Yeah, I think that, that the visions I still have of people climbing on the roof (SQUIERS: mmm) and the, the fences trying to get in and get, (laughs) and get a look of, um, the excitement and then what was going on and there was a handful of us that were so emotional during that game that all the people I was standing around, all of my friends, um, who were from other clubs, or whether they were, they were from Darebin, yeah, we all had a bit of a tear in our eyes, just back then it was finally here (SQUIERS: mmm).
Unfortunately, um, I sustained an ankle injury in the practice match of, of that year and was going into Round One just a little bit lame and, um, going back to Round One, it was phenomenal we played at Whitten Oval, I think there was about thirteen thousand in the crowd and there were fireworks and it was just this amazing community feel and people always talk about AFL Women’s games compared to the men’s in terms of the, I guess the, the community feel it goes back to sort of, country football and just the inclusiveness of, um, of the whole environment, which is, yeah really amazing.
So, um, the, the first game was phenomenal, um, and then in the Second Round I um, rolled my ankle again so I was probably had a twelve week injury that we turned around in a, in about six weeks, um, which somewhat is a recipe for disaster (laughs) which it turned out to be. We worked really hard, I worked really closely with the, ah, the conditioning staff, ah and the physios at the Bulldogs who were, um, amazing and I was probably pushing them more than, than anything (laughs). I was really wanting to get back and play one more game for that year knowing that I had a whole year to recover the ankle (SQUIERS: mmm) and whether I needed surgery or not.
Um, and we pushed really hard, until we got to Round, ah, the end of, ah, of the Round Six and I was, ah, I had, I had two training sessions, two full trains and I was ready to play Round Seven, which was back home (laughs) in Brisbane and I was really excited to just get all my family to, to come up and play them and I just did one more kick that night and I ended up, um, doing a twelve centimetre tear in quad, so (laughs). So it was ah, yeah, it was pretty devastating you always talk about now the highs and lows of the AFL Women’s and that you could be so incredibly high at the start of the season and, it’s just like creating history and you feel all these emotions and then you, you sort of do an injury or, um, you know, just some of the girls, you’re not selected or just things that are out of your control, um, you experience the, the lowest of lows. But that’s what makes the game so beautiful and you’ve got to ride those waves and yeah, it’s sort of part of it, part of the journey.
SQUIERS: It was devastating though, how devastated were you and how did missing that season, how did it affect you, given that there was so much hype, so much anticipation and you could see the excitement and you were the marquee player, the Captain and, on all the posters everywhere.
BRENNAN: I was actually talking about this, um, to our group, ah, at Richmond. We were having a bit of a discussion in our players’ meeting about our journeys and we’ve got probably eight AFL Women’s girls within our, our Richmond team that have, you know, had the experience of playing one season or just being in an AFL club, um, prior. And it was a, it was a really great time for me to reflect and talk about, um, I guess the journey of the last couple of years with some of the girls and, and the lessons that you’ve learned during that time. And as I’ve mentioned there’s incredible highs and, um, and yeah, and really low lows and I think I started to, to experience those lows, um, yeah really early on in, in that AFL Women’s campaign.
So, how I was feeling, it was incredibly low, it was something that you’d inspired towards your whole life and I was really fortune to play two games or one and a half game and, and, um, and have to that experience and, and to say that I had been out there. But you’re also forced to sit on the sideline for the rest of the year and being the leader was really tough for me, um, as well.
But in, in the lessons that I learnt, um, I think I changed a lot as a person, you often do during those hardships and, and particularly during injury that football was really my life and it was, it was probably like my identity as well. Everything, everything I did revolved around football and, once it’s taken away from you, you sort of learn, ah, a lot of different things about yourself and, and how you can’t throw all your eggs in the one basket and that when you do and it’s taken away from you, um, that you feel more than, than like, you know, it’s amplified, it’s, it felt like the end of the world (laughs) in a sense, but it really wasn’t and it taught me a hell of a lot of things.
And it also taught as a leader and as a captain that I think I used to just go out there and lead by example and know that, um, you know, that my football would also do the talking if you could bring your teammates along with you. And when you’re not able to, to be out there with the group and, um, you still have to, to lead you’re, you’re forced to develop connection with the girls and, and have conversations that you’ve probably wouldn’t have in the past and, um, and really change your leadership style so there was, yeah, really amazing lessons that came out of missing that first year of, of AFL Women’s.
SQUIERS: Not being able to lead with what you do on the field but also what you do off the field.
BRENNAN: Yeah exactly, that’s it.
SQUIERS: We’re talking about hard times; we’ll talk about good times I promise you (laughs). But that second season there were again highs and massive lows, um, the ultimate heartbreak of course being, that you were forced to miss out on that Grand Final and what turned out to be the Grand Final win for your beloved Bulldogs. Take me through what, what happened and why you weren’t allowed to play that match.
BRENNAN: Yeah, so, um, in the second season the ankle strikes again, so I was able to, to play the first three games of, of the AFL Women’s, it was still seven games in that season. So, um, yeah I played three games and we were in Adelaide for Round Three and I was in the last thirty seconds, changing direction, I had Chelsea Randall on my, my back and I got a little bit of space from her and a little bit of separation and I thought, beauty, I’m gonna to cut, I’m gonna to change direction and head back, um, goalward and I think I got a little bit too excited about (SQUIERS: mmm) getting around the corner and, and sort of beating her and, um, I dislocated my ankle with twenty seconds to go. And my teammates always hang, um, a little bit of crap on me during that time because what happened was I dislocated my ankle and then I handballed the ball which meant that Adelaide got the ball on the wing and then they, they ended up kicking a goal and they beat us with ten seconds to go (laughs) and so instead of just holding the ball in and holding onto my ankle and trying to put it back in place.
So, we ended up losing the game and, um, once again I was, yeah, forced to sit on the sideline for, for a few more weeks, um, we got to Round Seven, which was against, um, Melbourne at Whitten Oval, so packed out, with no more really exciting and really fortunate that I was able to get back and the ankle was probably at about fifty percent, ah, in hindsight it wasn’t, it wasn’t good at all. And so from that game, um, there was a, it was cited a dangerous tackle, um, during the game, which I still think was fairly questionable, ah, the tackle, and it was very borderline and I think, I am more about the safety of the players and the fact that we have these rules for given reasons, but there was no, sort of, yeah there was no damage, there was no concussion, there was nothing.
So, it was a, a really tough, ah, tribunal period and a really tough week where, you know, we, we sort of went in really confident knowing that, um, (SQUIERS: mmm), you know, as a, a team, um, I had really amazing support from the, from the Bulldogs, from the club and, um, from all of the people there at the club, um, and we really put a, a great case together in order to, to fight this to be able to play, um, in the Grand Final, which is why we play footy it’s, you know, it’s certainly something, ah, you always dream about, ah, playing for premiership points and, and playing in a Grand Final. So, yeah it was a really, really tough week, um, and incredible highs and lows where you sort of think that you’re gonna play and you’re, and you rock up to training, ah, preparing like you’re going to play and then it was, it got to the, the Thursday night we lost the tribunal appeal and it was, (SQUIERS: mmm) um, sort of, I was deemed guilty in a sense and, um, I wasn’t able to, to play in a Grand Final.
So, from those highest of highs to the, sort of, lowest of lows and, and how, um, how I had to sort of respond, ah, during those times were, were really difficult but also you’re, yeah being the leader in a, in a sense as well and not being able to be out there with your teammates and, and play the game, so it was a, yeah, a pretty tough period of time.
I take so many positives from, from the whole situation, um, you know, as you always do, there is so much growth in, in these challenging times (SQUIERS: mmm) and, um, for me it was still one of the best days of my life, um, although I didn’t even, um, you know, I didn’t lay a foot on the pitch during the game. We were sitting in the stands with nine of the other girls who were, um, either not selected or injured and, um, we all wore our jerseys underneath our polo (laughs) shirts on the day just to feel we were part of it and, um, I had a really big job on that day to make sure that no girl sat back and, and sort of it isolated herself. It was one of my goals, was that I, I didn’t want to sit back in the crowd and just feel as if, you know, why me, I, I didn’t want to be, um, in that mind frame at all. I wanted to really soak up the moment and, and be there for the girls, and, um, I think we did that incredibly well as I said it was one of the best days and, um, yeah, I thoroughly enjoyed being out there and celebrating with the team and, um, and I was just so, so proud of them that they could come home with the cup.
SQUIERS: That must have been tough though, there must have been a moment beforehand where, did you have your moments beforehand? Did you allow yourself some moments to actually feel, to feel disappointed to feel let down, to, to have a cry?
BRENNAN: Yeah, I did, um, probably more so behind closed doors with my, my friends and family and um, I’m pretty big on, um, especially, you know, being a leader within the group that it was never about me and, that the club was fighting behind closed doors for, for me to be out there and to be able to play with the girls. But, you know, if they didn’t have me, it was completely fine because they hadn’t had me there for the whole season and they still, um, yeah, made it to a Grand Final (laugh). So, (SQUIERS: mmm) you sort of take yourself out of the situation, you never wanna go into the club and mope around and, um, and show that, yeah, that you’re, you’re even disappointed so it was just business as, as usual. I think I, yeah, really embraced it all, made sure that, um, you, you take the focus off yourself and make sure every other girl is okay going into a, a big game like a Grand Final. And, ah, make it a really exciting group and make sure that, ah, um, sorry a really exciting, um, moment and a really exciting week and make sure the whole group is prepared but also just, um, really soaking up and celebrating the week.
SQUIERS: Who do you lean on the most when things don’t go right? Who’s your support, who do you talk to that you know can help you get through tough situations like you’ve been through?
BRENNAN: Um, my partner Liv, she’s, um, she’s been really amazing for me over, she’s sorts of been there the, the whole period of, um, you know, during that, that Grand Final period and, ah, through the injury. I had an ankle reconstruction and she was the one that was, um, you know, making my food and, and really looking after me. But she’s my sounding board and, and my rock and, um, she’s incredibly wise and, and incredibly supportive. So, she’s just, um, she’s massive for me during, ah, I guess the low moments but also during the high moments where we just get to celebrate it all together.
Um, my family and, um, close friends, I’ve, I’ve got some really amazing friends that are, um, still at the Western Bulldogs, um, some of my best friends are still there and you have a really tight crew that you can rely on. Um, my manager Alex has been amazing for me during sort of (SQUIERS: mmm), since day one of, um, of AFL Women’s, she’s been there from the very start and, um, it’s more sort of a friend relationship with her that, um, you know, she looks after me in, in a professional sense but also you can lean on her during certain times and. And then it was just a, a real collection of, um, either mentors, um, or just sort of people that you, um, yeah, um, that you either really trust or and, and you lean on during those times. I think everyone has their circle of, of friendship and circle of family and, and circle of people that, um, that have their sort of best interests at heart and, um, that can look after you during those really tough times. But, on the flipside, that you can celebrate with during the, the really amazing times too.
SQUIERS: You were going to take the case to the Australian Human Rights Commission for Gender Discrimination because that same incident would have attracted a fine and not a suspension if that happened in the men’s game and if it was a male in the men’s game they wouldn’t have missed out on the Grand Final like you had to. What made you want to do that, what made you want to stand up and, and take the stand?
BRENNAN: Yeah I guess I was really passionate about the fact that it, it happened the year prior where Trent Cotchin did a, a bad tackle on Dylan Shiel and he was able to pay a fine and, and play, ah, the Grand Final and that was big for me during that period of time where, um, you feel as if you’re out of control of the situation and that there’s nothing else you can do to be able to play that game. And (SQUIERS: mmm) I thought to myself there’s an opportunity here that, that the next girl that, um, that is involved in, in a situation like this that there’s an opportunity that if I can speak up and have a conversation with the AFL about changing this rule that she wouldn’t have to go through the same situation again. And, um, I think that we as a, sort of a, you know, the, um, the Western Bulldogs and myself, ah, we thought there was an opportunity to, to do so there. And it ended up having really positive discussions with the AFL around, um, changing that rule and making sure that we’re thought of, it’s a really short season in AFL Women’s, it’s amplified, (SQUIERS: mmm) emotions are high, girls just wanna play to football during that time. So, yeah, it was a really positive outcome to a situation that was, um, pretty tough.
SQUIERS: You didn’t have to go as far as the Human Rights Commission but the rules as you mentioned were changed the following year. It’s tough being the first isn’t it, it’s a bit of a tough pill to swallow, (BRENNAN: Yeah) but it’s great you’ve changed the game for someone else, but it just came too late for you and your opportunity in that Grand Final.
BRENNAN: Yeah I think so and I think, you know, it’s, it’s sort of, it hit you more post-season where, um, I had, I spent, you know, a few weeks away from, I had my ankle reconstruction and, and you sort of have some time to process everything that has happened. And I wasn’t playing footy at the time, I wasn’t really going to training, hence because I was doing my recovery and, and that was probably where, um, yeah it was a really challenging period for me and I perhaps lost the love of the game a little bit. But also, you sort of remember that, yeah, it has all happened for a reason, like we talk about, you have the lowest of lows and the highest of highs, it will come around the corner, um, eventually. So, um, yeah I’m a big believer that, um, you know, all the hardship you go through and the challenging times just, um, help you during, during the journey to get back up to, ah, where you’re really enjoying your footy again or you’re celebrating, um, the success.
SQUIERS: And those difficulties and those challenges have made you the leader you are. You can see the way you reflect on things just your leadership and your strength and, ah, your courage and how you manage to do it, it’s really made you into the person you are today and a leader you are.
BRENNAN: Yeah that’s it, I think, um, drawing from all these experiences and drawing from hardships, and I often think about my life and, you know, I’m fortunate enough to be able to be a professional athlete playing, ah, in the AFL Women’s and yes I’ve gone through some, some hardships with injuries and, and not being able to miss the Grand Final, but God that’s not half the things that most people go through and, um, you know, my journey is, is nothing compared to, to most, to, um, to most challenging times and hardships, um. So, you sort of put it into perspective in that way as well, perspective is something that really helped me to sort of get through the, the whole, um, period of not enjoying my football (SQUIERS: mmm) and, and sort of working back up to being out there on the field again and, and getting the love back for the game.
So that, um, we (laughs) went over after the getting the ankle reconstruction, we, um, Liv and I did a trip to America and Mexico and no one knows football (laughs) in America. There’s, there’s not many people who know what AFL is and we were sitting in, um, at the baseball one day in San Francisco when we sat next to this young girl who, ah, was a die-hard baseball fan and she was sort of telling us about the game of baseball and she played and she played at quite a high level. And then she sort of asked us what, what we were doing and, and what we were doing with our lives and, and what we do for work and we started talking about football and I tried to, ah, explain the game of football to her. It was, you know, a bit, a bit of rugby league, a bit of basketball, showed her a little bit of, um, of vision of football in, on YouTube and she was just mind blown by it.
But the fact she had no idea what football was it really put it all in, in perspective that, sometimes (laughs) you just live in a bubble and particularly here in Victoria, um, where it’s so football crazy, um, but, um, yeah, it does give you a lot of perspective on the fact, um, that it is just a game and you’re going to experience highs and lows in the game and, and sometimes, yeah, that it’s, it’s just, you’re gotta think about the fact that people are going through much bigger things than just playing football and getting injured.
SQUIERS: Is that how you found your love for the game again? You’ve moved to Richmond now, you’re again the inaugural captain there, why the move?
SQUIERS: Did it have something to do with those difficult years?
BRENNAN: Yeah definitely I think, um, for me it’s, you know, I’ve said it before that I adored my time at the Western Bulldogs. I was there for, for three years of the AFL Women’s, um, but also prior to that, three more years at club during all those exhibition games and, um, and sort of, yeah, just when we were starting to, to think about AFL Women’s, and creating the, the team there.
So, I spent a fair, I’m twenty-seven now, so I spent a, a good six or seven years at the club (SQUIERS: mmm) and that’s a fair chunk of anyone’s life really, um, and for me it was about getting the love back for the game and, and having a fresh start, um, a bit of a change, a new experience and, um, I felt like I had to do that for myself to do something, to reinvigorate, yeah, my love for the game and my love for footy. And, um, so, I met with Richmond, I heard a lot about them prior to, to the move and um, you know, during anything like this, a massive decision you always lose your sleep over, um, over these, these conversations and, and over a decision like this and I certainly did. I had, you know, lengthy conversations with, um, the leadership at the Bulldogs and, and also, um, yeah, my management and my friends and my family and, um, and it just took a bit of time to, to process it all.
But I did decide to, to move to Richmond and, um, yeah, I haven’t looked back ever since I have found the love for footy again and it’s been a really amazing period of time where you know, I’ve only been at the club for just under a year now and just the way they operate and how, um, it’s one of their values to just celebrate the moments and really enjoy the ride. You can see with the success of the boys and, and, um, how amazing their journey has been and how connected they are. It, it does come back to, to really celebrating the good times and, and having fun while playing, ah, playing this game that can be, yeah, it can be crazy at times. You (SQUIERS: mmm) just need to go back to, to enjoying yourself out there.
SQUIERS: It takes a lot of courage to make a change as well, especially if you’re, um, you’re unhappy. But, I’ve always, it’s something I always tell myself, if I’m ever unhappy, I hope I have the courage to make a change and courage is something that you’re definitely not short of at all Katie Brennan.
BRENNAN: (laughs) That’s for sure. If you just, you owe it to yourself, like I, I always think about, yeah, I’ve disappointed people, I’ve disappointed fans, um, I probably disappointed my teammates even though I’m, I’m really close with some, most of the girls still there now. But you, you also, um, you have to make decisions for yourself at times and, you know, I always think that if I’m sitting there and playing, ah, football to, to, you know, make people happy or to make fans happy or to make sure that I don’t disappoint people and then why are you playing the game, because it’s not, it doesn’t really come back to you, um, doing it for yourself and, and really enjoying, um, enjoying the ride.
And, you know, it’s really a team sport as well, I, um, I wasn’t playing my best footy there because, because I wasn’t enjoying myself which wasn’t a reflection on the club or the team it was just where I was at during my time. And in order to get that love back I knew that I had to, to make a change and, and do something, otherwise, um, yeah I, I never really knew where I would probably end up, whether I still would be playing the game or, or not, so, yeah.
SQUIERS: We saw Tayla Harris this year, on another point, um, of some challenges, she really fought back after sexist attacks through her social media channels, um, and one of the great things I think we saw was that the public really rallied behind her as well. Is this something that you’ve gone through too through your social media, do you, is it something you have to constantly deal with?
BRENNAN: Um, not, not to the level that Tayla had to deal with and she was, she’s a pioneer in that space. I think, um, across the journey a lot of the AFL Women’s girls have had to deal with different, um, different things whether it would be sly remarks from trolls telling us to go back to the kitchen or that women can’t play footy or that it’s boring or, you know (laughs) and, um, our response to all those things is just don’t watch it. If you don’t, if you don’t enjoy it then don’t watch it, we’re not forcing you to sit on, on the couch and (laughs) and watch the brand that we’re really excited to play.
So, um, yeah Tayla’s been a trailblazer in that, just fighting back and calling people out and I think, um, it’s been really important over this journey that, um, that we are doing that, and it’s, it comes back to all female athletes as well and it all, and it also comes back to all athletes. Like the boys’ cop a, just an outstanding amount of, I guess, backlash and, and just, um, they get trolled on, on the daily basis. It’s not just coming back to women I think there’s a, a big issue in, in sort of the women’s space, but it’s just people who put their self, themselves out there in general and, um, and so, yeah, it’s been really amazing to see that Tayla’s stepped up and um, and she fighting that on behalf of, of everyone.
SQUIERS: Do you have any advice for maybe young girls who may be experiencing trolling and on social media?
BRENNAN: You know, I am always told to not look at the comments and, and to not read into things and I think, yeah, it can really sort of do your head in if, if there’s, um, particularly in the sporting world that everyone has an opinion on how you kick the football, whether you go in hard enough or not. Whether, you know, there’s all these different topics that, that people can, can troll about or talk about and, yeah, you’ve just gotta go back to the positive comments as well. I think sometimes you get two negative comments on, on a feed or, um, you know, that you hear about and there might be a hundred positive comments as well and you hang onto the two negative comments from people who have probably done nothing with their life and they’re sitting on the couch trolling you right now.
And I just think that, that if I have any advice it’s just to think about what, what these people are doing with their life when they are trolling you and how unhappy they must be to, to really sort of put someone, um, on the spot like that and to, yeah, make comments about someone’s decisions or someone’s life. So, um, it’s almost, it’s almost funny in a sense for me I just think how do they have the time to (laughs), to make comments about how I’m living my life or, you know, or how Tayla’s kicking the ball or, you know, just, just things like that, so, um, it’s really easy to say and it’s harder to do, but, but I’m trying not to listen to the negativity and just keep doing what you’re doing.
SQUIERS: Are you happy with the pace of change in the AFLW?
BRENNAN: Yeah, I certainly am, I think, um, you know, I was, I was thinking about the fact that we’ve got, ah, these expansion teams coming in and that, um, it is spreading talent. And I’ve always been somewhat on the fence about the expansion versus the talent coming through and I think, if we still had eight teams what would AFL Women’s look like, I think it would probably be more fast paced more exciting and, um, and, yeah it, it would have a whole heap of, of talented girls, um, fighting for those positions, um, in the AFL Women’s. But the fact of the matter is that in the men’s league we’ve got, um, you know, these eighteen teams and every team wants a women’s team because socially within their club it’s such an, an amazing thing, it, it changes the whole dynamic of a football club and it also opens up this other side of the, the fifty percent of the population of, of the women who, um, who are part of the football club who want someone to, to, ah, to support as well.
And, um, so, for me in terms of the, I guess the, the competition of going forward, I think we’re at a really healthy spot where, um, it’s so exciting that we’ve got something like, ah, ninety new spots on , no sorry a hundred and twenty new spots on AFL lists, so thirty new spots per team. And the fact that there’s opportunities for all of these girls to come into the league now and to be part of the league environments, um, have an elite coaching and have this opportunity to play at the highest level is only going to make them better again.
So, that’s where I sort of sit on the fence in terms of the expansion versus non-expansion (SQUIERS: mmm), it’s so exciting to see, um, that it’s all happening and, you know, that young girls can look up to all of these girls, um, in all these different football teams. We’ve got fourteen teams now in the competition, um, and I know that, that the league will eventually expand to the eighteen teams, um, which is super exciting too. So, it’s just a phenomenal time for, for women in sport and also for, for AFL Women’s, the growth has just been just incredible and yeah, looking forward to how Season 2020 plays out.
SQUIERS: So where to here for the competition, where would you, if you had your Katie crystal ball right in front of you, your ideal setup for the next five to ten years for the women’s game, where do you want it to see and can we see it become that?
BRENNAN: Yeah I guess, um, for most of us we just want to make sure that, that the league is sustainable and that we, you know, we don’t ask for too much so it sort of cannibalises the competition and makes it a really, um, you know, not, not an amazing product. We need bums on seats, we need TV ratings, um, we need more sponsors coming in, in order to, to fund the league going forward. So, it’s just getting that happy medium between, um, the fact that we also want to play more games in the AFL Women’s. Um, you know, we, we train all year round, we play VFL through the Winter and then AFL through the Summer and we just want more time to, to play in AFL colours for premiership points and for it to be a, a full, sort of, national competition for longer and having more rounds. So, it is again, um, that battle between, um, you know, do we play everyone once during the season, um, and then, you know, the interests for AFL Women’s sort of drops off towards the end of the season and also during which time.
SQUIERS: Will it?
BRENNAN: It’s the, yeah, it’s the golden question. We, I think probably you’ll, we’ll know more this year having more teams in the competition, there’s four more teams and so we’ve got eight games, three finals. And I think for me I don’t think it will, I’ll, I’m a, I am, um, backing the side that the more opportunities we have now (SQUIERS: mmm) to play football on the big stage and to develop our skills and, um, get better and to have, you know, more games within your, your team, so you can have that team cohesion over, it’s pretty hard to get it over seven weeks, um, that it has been in the AFL Women’s in the past. Now that we’ve got eight games, but you know the more games the better for teams, um, and the more games the better for, for athletes as well and that’s what we’re gunning towards.
I really love the fact that we play over the Summer, I just think that it’s such a, you know, being, being a Queenslander might be a little biased loving (laughs) playing in the sun and, and I don’t love so much the, you know, the Winter nights training for VFL when we, when we training in five degree weather and it’s raining. But I think it’s a really exciting period of time during, um, sort of that, that Summer period where the AFL Men’s aren’t playing during that time and whether we move the games prior to Christmas and, you know, have half the round or half the season prior to Christmas and then, um, compete with the tennis. Knowing the AFL and knowing how many decisions that they have to make during this time (laughs) and how many things that they have to accommodate it’s incredibly hard but if, if I was in Gil’s position and I had his hat on for the day I would love to see more rounds, um, and also being able to sort of play, ah, during that period of time.
SQUIERS: I think Katie Brennan CEO has a nice ring to it (laughs) as well, so.
BRENNAN: (laughs) Maybe in twenty-year time.
SQUIERS: Um, you are called an AFLW pioneer, Katie Brennan the AFLW pioneer, how does that sit with you?
BRENNAN: I think it’s something that you probably will reflect on more post-career more so. I’ve been able to sort of reflect on the journey, um, that I had with the Bulldogs and, and how amazing that was and, and how, yeah, I was fortunate enough to be the inaugural captain and, and it is something I’m incredibly proud of and I feel, yeah, really humble to be able to do so. Um, so, I have been trying, reflect on, on these things along the journey (SQUIERS: yeah) but I do think it’s something that you’ll probably sit back and and look back on at the end of your career. You try to be a bit more in the moment while you’re here and I think that’s, um, what I’ve learnt coming to Richmond is just about enjoying every single moment and, and not missing the, um, opportunity to celebrate things in the moment. If you’re thinking about, ah, sort of the past and, and what you’ve done or if you’re thinking about the future, um, your, your mind isn’t on that present, present moment, so, yeah. I think it’s, ah, something that I’m, yeah, I’m proud of and humbled, um, but it’s, yeah, it’s something that I’ll probably look back on more.
SQUIERS: We finish off every podcast by asking our guests, what would you tell your ten-year-old self, if you could go back to that little Logan Cobra as a, in ah, Brisbane, what would you tell that little Katie Brennan?
BRENNAN: I would tell her, um, to keep fighting, to keep fighting for whatever it is that you love and to keep doing what you love, um, during that period of time there was so, yeah, so many people that say that, you know, AFL Women’s, um, wasn’t, wasn’t even a, a thought and that there’s no pathway in women’s football and that you’re wasting your time and. And, if there is something that you, you love, to make sure that you just keep pouring your heart and soul into it and that you keep working incredibly hard to get to where you want to get. I think that’s why my dad was so influential in my football career as well, he never told to stop playing football, um, he always taught me to, sort of, go after my dreams and that hard work will take you to really beautiful places and, and that stuck true to me and that’s something that I, I try and pass on as well. And lastly, um, it’s probably a lesson that I’ve learnt, um, more so in the last year, is just to enjoy, like just to really celebrate the moments, to have fun doing whatever it is that you do, whether you play elite sport or you play sport just for fun, um, or it’s your career. Just to make sure that you’re just enjoying every single day because, um, yeah, life is incredibly short and if you’re not enjoying it, then why are you doing it?
SQUIERS: An incredible message from an incredible athlete, footballer and more than that, an incredible leader and person, Katie Brennan thank you for joining me on On Her Game.
BRENNAN: No worries Sam, thanks so much for having me.
SQUIERS: On her game is presented by me, Sam Squiers and produced in collaboration with Podcast One Australia, Producer Lindsey Green, Audio Producer Darcy Thompson, Executive Producer, Jennifer Goggin. For more episodes, head to podcastoneaustralia.com.au download the free Podcast One Australia app or search on On Her Game podcasts.
Transcribed by Nadine Maraldo www.gossipcom.com