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Tara Stribley joins Fremantle Dockers in AFLW

Wednesday, July 20, 2022 - 9:30 AM

Tara Stribley has been a regular in Western Australia squads ever since she was 12, but it's now as an 18-year-old that her dream has been realised after being drafted by the Fremantle Dockers ahead of the upcoming AFLW season.

Despite being slight of stature, Stribley has been an exciting emerging prospecting coming through the ranks of WA football having played in State teams for the last six years now including being part of the State 18s once again in 2022.

She has also played some impressive WAFLW football with Swan Districts across 31 matches at League level including nine in 2022 while having been at the black-and-whites for several years now which started with an early Youth Girls premiership.

She might be small, but Stribley has shown what an exciting ground level player she can be with her ability to win the ball, to use her terrific speed to great effect and to also kick goals and set up her teammates.

Those are all the things that the Fremantle Dockers saw in the 18-year-old when they selected her in the 2022 AFLW Draft as she now ends the era of being in State Academies through her teenage years to now begin life at the top level.

It provides Stribley with the chance to reflect and while there's a tinge of sadness just like any time an era comes to an end, the timing couldn’t be more perfect as she dedicated 2022 to her football after graduating from high school last year and using this year to see where her future would head.

"There's so many memories but the big thing is just seeing how the pathway has grown from when I was 12," Stribley said.

"The State Academy back then meant you just went down on a Saturday morning with a group of other girls and that was it. But this year we trained three or four times a week, we got to use some great facilities and everything has just improved over time.

"My first year at Youthies we won the Grand Final so that was pretty sick. I was only a 13-year-old and we had people in the team like Mikayla Bowen and Miky Hyde who have gone on to play AFLW so that was pretty sick.

"One year when I was in the State Schoolgirls team we went over to Adelaide and we had a pretty strong team that year. We were filled with stars who are already playing in AFLW or are going to be, and we actually beat Victoria which hadn’t been done in so long.

"It was the most hectic game ever but it was just amazing really because no one ever beats Victoria but we got it done. You get so close with the group of girls you play State with and you build some really good bonds so I will miss that, but at least it's coming to an end now for a good reason because I'm in AFLW."

Stribley acknowledges that her 2022 year has been a bit of a frustrating one with finger, ankle and concussion interruptions along the way, but she was still able to play some standout football in the WAFLW with Swan Districts.

She was named to the WAFLW Team of the Week on two different occasions while she had a best of 26 possessions in Round 4 against Subiaco while also kicking two goals against West Perth in Round 3.

However, heading into the AFLW Draft she was hoping her body of work over several years would be taken into account and the Dockers took note to select her with pick No. 59.

"I had a bit of an interrupted season this year and had a few minor injuries," Stribley said.

"I had a broken finger, I got concussed in the first game of the champs which put me out for another week and then in the first game back for Swans I did a bit of ligament damage to my ankle, which didn’t end up being too bad.

"I kind of hoped that I still had done enough in previous years because I've been in the pathways for so many years where people could see what I've done in past years as well.

"I also try to make sure I show that I have good character and personality as well so it's not just about what happens on the football field. Hopefully that means I can fit in now in the AFLW after I've been given this chance."

Stribley has seen plenty of her teammates both at Swan Districts and in State teams enter the AFLW competition in recent years and she dreamed of joining them.

"There wasn’t an exact moment kind of thing, but it was just kind of when AFLW became a thing and a lot of my friends started getting drafted, I was thinking that I'm not that bad compared to them so I might be a chance," she said.

"Then just watching them go as they enter the AFLW I realised it was something I wanted to try and do to. It's definitely helped having a number of older girls going through the pathway and I've tried to follow their footsteps."

Reflecting back on her journey to now enter the AFLW system with the Dockers, Stribley is grateful to the chances provided to her by both Swan Districts and the WA State Academies.

"I kind of like just went through the normal footy pathway. I was fortunate enough to be one of the younger girls that came through the pathway pretty easily," she said.

"So I basically started playing footy when I was seven or eight and then played at my local club at Bassendean for about three years. Then I went over to Swans and played Youthies for a couple of years there and got picked up in the state academy when I was 12 years old.

"So I've been part of that for quite a while and I think it's six years. I made my League debut for Swans when I was 16 which was pretty sick and I've been playing there ever since."

Playing up against bigger, stronger and more experienced women is something that Stribley feels she will now be ready to handle in the AFLW having found out what works for her to use her speed and ground level abilities to her full advantage.

"I definitely remember the first game that I played League footy I was only 16 and was coming up against fully grown women for the first time," Stribley said.

"I was pretty even lighter than I am now, and some of them might weigh like 40 kilos than me. It's a bit ridiculous so I quickly realised I just had to use my speed to run away from them and hope I got away from them.

"I've kind of learnt over the years to try and use my body to advantage in marking contests and stuff, but basically I just try to get it to ground because I know when it's on the ground I normally have a better chance of getting it.

"But it's definitely not fun when you get matched up on someone that's a lot bigger and stronger than you."

This is a good chance for Stribley to reflect on her last six years of playing State football for WA as well including in the State 18s team in 2022.

She'll always treasure those memories as she now embarks on her life in the AFLW with the Dockers.

"I reckon over the couple of state trips that I've had they have been some of the best trips of my life. I went a couple of times for State 15s and I made some lifelong friends out of that and again with the 18s it was the same," Stribley said.

"Especially with the 18s carnival it's just treated so professionally now compared to what it was a couple of years ago. You're really in that elite environment and everyone just wants to improve just like you.

"When you're at your club like Swans you have players in the senior squad ranging from 15 year olds to 35 year olds but when you play in the State teams you're all the same age and like the same things and everything.

"It's really cool to go over to play other states too to see what they are doing and to get wins over them."