CAVENDISH football export, Emma Kearney, has created AFL Women’s (AFLW) history after she was selected in her fourth All-Australian team at the W Awards earlier this week.
Kearney became one of two players, alongside Melbourne’s Karen Paxman, to be selected in the competition’s best 22 for each of its four seasons played.
The 30-year-old North Melbourne skipper also finished third in the AFLW Best and Fairest count, capping off what was a strong 2020 season.
Kearney said the All-Australian accolade was a nice acknowledgement of the midfielder’s season.
“It is a really nice feeling being recognised for the hard work I put in and the team puts in for me,” she said.
The Kangaroos went into the season as premiership favourites and the skipper said she enjoyed the challenge of leading a team which had high external expectations.
“I guess it does in some ways put a little bit of pressure on me,” Kearney said.
“I think I play my best football when I have some pressure on me.
“So it was just about embracing that, putting my best foot forward and leading from the front.”
Kearney polled 11 votes to finish third in the award, finishing four votes behind Carlton midfielder, Madison Prespakis who won the award.
It would have been the Cavendish product’s second winning the award after claiming the honour in 2018, but Kearney said she still looks back on the 2020 season as one of the standouts.
“Personally I thought it was one of my best seasons I have played, I probably grew as a leader,” she said.
“As a team I think we started off slowly, then we started hitting some form later in the season.
“I probably wanted to work on both (on and off field skills), as a leader I made sure I had a better understanding of players I was playing with and built strong relationships with them.
“As a player I am ultra-competitive and always striving to get better.
“I am a really harsh critic of my own game and some aspects of it, so I am always looking for improvement.”
It was an unusual season from the outset with discussions around pay clouding the weeks prior to pre-season late last year.
Kearney said it was not really a distraction for players, but it was important for the group to understand the specifics.
“In terms of the pay stuff, it happened before the pre-season started and for me it was about getting the best possible outcome,” she said.
“It was just more about making sure all the payers were educated on that and they knew the league’s direction for the future.”
With the season cut short, due to the coronavirus (COVID-19), the sudden changes caught Kearney off guard, but she was proud of how the team adapted to the situation.
She said it was a fast-moving week when it all reached a climax, including a change of opponent.
“In terms of the Covid-19 stuff, it was a bizarre build-up that week,” she said.
“We were preparing to play the Western Bulldogs and were training on the Wednesday night when halfway through the session we found out we would be playing a semi-final against Collingwood instead.
“I think it did rattle a few players a bit. I think sometimes you need some time to prepare and we only had a few days to get our head around it.
“It was just really bizarre. The club was incredibly quiet, some people were already working from home and we couldn’t have any contact with the male players at the club.
“We were wiping down our benches and everything we touched in the gym and using lots of sanitiser.”
Kearney said the team had barely assessed the semi-final when the season was officially called off.
“Getting through that game (semi-final) was fine, albeit with no fans there, then the Sunday the season got cancelled,” she said.
“Most of the players had a bit of perspective and thought we were not too hard done by given many people had lost their jobs.”
With Kearney working from home, the 30-year-old took the opportunity to return to the south-west, living on the family farm in Cavendish until COVID-19 concerns ease.