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Practice pays off for new ruckman

Bruce Matthews  February 8, 2018 9:29 AM

I would grab my footy and duck out during my lunch break and spend it doing ruck work in the park with them

PART OF Melbourne rookie ruck Erin Hoare's daily routine in early spring 2017 was to leave the Alfred Hospital to meet a couple of important men in her fledgling football life.

As a researcher, not a patient, she headed across the road to Fawkner Park in Melbourne's inner south for lunchtime lessons from Demons AFL Women’s coach Mick Stinear and ruck coach Justin Crough.

"I would grab my footy and duck out during my lunch break and spend it doing ruck work in the park with them," Hoare said.

"It was amazing support from them to come down and invest that development time with me even before the start of pre-season."

"We worked on specific things that I was behind in not having a footy background. My workmates would watch out the window and take pictures and we would have a laugh when I came back inside. Everyone was supportive."

A measure of the former elite netballer's remarkable sporting transition was on show last Saturday afternoon when she shared the ruck work with Lauren Pearce to help set up Melbourne's six-point win against Greater Western Sydney in the opening round of the NAB AFL Women’s competition at Casey Fields.

Hoare's contribution, which included 22 hit-outs, in just her ninth game of football earned her selection as one of three debutants in AFL.com.au’s AFLW team of the week from the opening round of matches.

"Individual recognition is nice, but more importantly, we got the win. It was amazing to win because it was a little foreign to me how the game would feel, particularly in a close match to start the season. The intensity was noticeable. It was quicker … almost more clinical," she said. 

A feature of Hoare's impressive AFLW introduction was her ability to leap and fully use her 194cm frame. And she took a crucial intercept mark across half-forward late in the last quarter and roosted a high ball deep to create the stoppage from which teammate Richelle Cranston conjured the game-sealing goal.

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"I remember taking the mark and wondering whether I should handball it off and I got a little eyeball from Daisy [Pearce] that meant 'send it in'. So, I wound up and sent it in," she said.

"My kicking is something I've really had to work on. It didn't come naturally and I'm still working on that. When we do our individual craft, I work on my kicking, whereas someone else might work on their speed.

"I've always known my height was a useful thing for sport and I didn't want to take the superficial, easy route and just be a tall person who plays sport.

"I've made it my goal to work to be able to run and get my jump a bit higher, get stronger and potentially offer other strengths." 

Cranston, who often shares a car with Hoare and the team's other Geelong-based players to training and games, said the former Melbourne Vixens and Sydney Swifts goal-shooter was driven to learn and succeed as a footballer. 

"Usually the tall girls don't end up jumping because they think they don't need to. But she has an enormous leap and she's a big threat in the air," Cranston said. 

"She has good skills and she's really coming on nicely. She's a quality person who thrives in an elite environment. She's loving it and the girls are loving having her here.

"She's a sponge. She's always asking questions and her ball skills are developing, like all the netballers and basketballers who have come across." 

Hoare, whose older brother Damian is a ruckman with Drysdale in the Bellarine Football League, has a PhD in psychology and public health and now works at Deakin University in mental health research.

She played eight games for Geelong in the VFLW competition last year and was elevated to Melbourne's main list after forward Ainslie Kemp damaged her right knee in a training mishap, ruling her out for the entire 2018 AFLW season. 

"In terms of training, I had all the same opportunities and I didn't really consider it [being a rookie] too much because I didn't want to think too far ahead," Hoare said.

"I just wanted to get better, essentially. It was certainly a goal to play, but that's the same as everyone. So, it was great to achieve that goal.

"I just love playing so much and that is encouraging me to want to develop more. I'm 28, but I don't think age really matters. I was a rookie at 23 in netball and had a few comments that that was too old."