WHILE coronavirus causes chaos around the world, it has prompted an unlikely family reunion for AFL Women’s (AFLW) player, Georgia Clarke.
With no VFLW season this year and university classes going online, the Geelong Cats player has returned to the Branxholme farm she called home for her childhood, while her younger sister, Lucy, is also back on the farm after COVID-19 forced the Ballarat Grammar student into remote learning.
Surrounded by open spaces littered with sheep, Clarke has embraced the return to the country lifestyle as she prepares for her third AFLW campaign.
“I am back at the farm now which has been good, I think I have been back here longer this year than I was last year already,” she said.
“Last year I could only come back for weekends but this year I have been back for a month or two which mum is really happy about.
“The break has felt weird really, it has been nearly six months it has been going on, yet it feels like we just finished the AFLW season,” she said.
“I have just been doing what I can, the club have given us a program and I am going through that each day.
“We had hoped to get in a VFLW season this year but that didn’t happen, so we just have to prepare for the unknown ahead.”
The club’s program includes running and strength workouts, and with gyms once again closed, Clarke is forced to adapt and use more body weight type exercises to build strength.
The hiatus has allowed the 20-year-old to explore other alternatives to build her fitness with boxing offering a new challenge.
“When gyms did open up for a while, I was lucky enough to get back in there for six weeks,” Clarke said.
“I got back into boxing and that helped keep the fitness up, so that has been quite fun.”
With 700 acres at her doorstep, Clarke has plenty of room to fine tune her skills in her downtime but is also helping with farm duties.
It is a balance that the Branxholme product is happy to deal with in the current circumstances, as COVID-19 continues to have a big impact on livelihoods.
“Dad is more than happy to kick the footy when he gets a chance between farm work,” Clarke said.
“I also have one of those one-touch balls, so I use that a bit as well.”
While the return home has taken adjusting, the fact her sister is also back home means the family is enjoying some rare time together.
Clarke now lives in Geelong and studies at Deakin University, while Lucy is in Year 12 at Ballarat Grammar.
The Cats player, who was drafted with pick 24 in the 2018 AFLW Draft, said she is enjoying the mental break from football, but is looking forward to pre-season getting underway later this year if restrictions ease.
“It has been good and bad, there have been times where I’ve really missed footy,” Clarke said.
“Being down in Geelong, I moved predominantly for footy, and now you sort of wake up and don’t know whether it is Wednesday or Sunday … it can be draining without that structure.
“It has been too long now and I am ready to go back, but it has been a good little mental break for sure.”
With plenty of time to feed the lambs on the farm, see friends and cook burrito bowls for the family, a favourite recipe Clarke learnt from the Cats’ nutritionist, the farm life is something she had sometimes forgotten about since moving.
Clarke said she is making the most of each day, as she may not get long periods back at home anytime soon.
“I grew up on a farm and got so used to that, then I went to the city and it is so different down there,” she said.
“It is really good mentally and I have really enjoyed coming back home because I probably won’t get another chance to do it again for a while.”
While the differences between city and country living are evident, Clarke joked about the technological differences providing some inconveniences.
“I definitely have adapted to living in the city, having a lack of Wi-Fi and not being able to stream Netflix has been a bit challenging, but I can’t complain too much,” she said.
With the winter months typically spent playing VFLW, it provides a strong developmental environment for the younger players.
Clarke said missing out on the season will have an impact, but is confident her teammates will adapt, given every team is in the same situation.
“For young ones like us, the VFLW season is when we can benefit most,” she said.
“There are more games during the season and it is less fast-paced than the AFLW games.
“Not having that is quite scary, we are going to go back into another AFLW season without that.”
With face-to-face meetings unable to take place, phone calls and Zoom online conferences fill the void, but the Branxholme environment makes the latter harder to achieve for the Cats’ number 17.
“Hoody (Paul Hood) the coach still calls me just to check up on me and he is always giving out a little football program three times a week,” Clarke said.
“Even things like ground balls with yourself or using different objects and how we can use them for drills has been great.
“I can’t participate with the Zoom calls, but they do them each week as well.”
Clarke also keeps in regular contact with her teammates through group chat with one senior player keen to try and infiltrate the younger group.
“Aasta O’Connor organised a group of us young ones, she is trying to sneak into our group (laughs) and she talks to them and see how they’re going,” Clarke said.
“I still keep in touch with a lot of the younger ones, we are a pretty tight knit group and we have our own group chat.
“Nina (Morrison) is in my course, so we talk about university and we talk other things as well.”
The rivalry between the young group and the older group is growing with intraclub games often pitting the two sides together on the field.
“I think there is almost a 50-50 split between people under 25 and people older at the club,” Clarke said.
“We do that a lot during intraclub, it does get very competitive during the games, even though I don’t think we have beaten them yet.”
As for the season ahead, there is plenty of unknown, but the AFL has announced a season start date of February 1.
A two-week induction prior to the pre-season will start on November 4.
Clarke, who was drafted as a defender but played as a forward this year, is planning on staying forward, but is open to a move to the back line if required.
“I have been playing forward this season,” she said.
“I played my first season up there this year and they were happy with the progress I made.
“They did say they want me to bring more marking into my game.
“They said that comes down to a lot of strength, so during the break I have been focusing on just building that up and my aerobic capacity, I have never been an endurance runner.
“I don’t want to get too relaxed then all of a sudden it starts, because then I won’t be ready.
“I just have to prepare as if we are starting in November and if it doesn’t happen, then we can adjust that going forward.”
Clarke’s mum, Tracy said having the girls home is a bonus in the current circumstances.
“The only good thing about the COVID and restrictions is my girls are home,” she said.
As for a departure date from the farm, Clarke said that will depend on the easing of restrictions.
“I am liking it up here and quite happy to stay up here,” she said.
“I haven’t got a date in mind, I can do university online, but as soon as gyms open I will probably go back.”