LIKE A shooting star, it has been a meteoric rise in the football journey of Casey Demons co-captain Nicole Garner.
As with many female players, playing football was never an option for her growing up, especially in rural Victoria.
But when an opportunity presented itself with the Gippsland Galaxy in 2016, Garner grabbed it with both hands.
“Football is something that I always wanted to play, but I never had the opportunity to growing up in Sale,” Garner told Melbourne Media.
“There was no women’s or girl’s leagues, there was nothing available.
“But as soon as there was, I jumped on board and haven’t looked back since.”
Garner enjoyed a stellar first year in the sport with Gippsland, playing in the Victorian Women’s Football League.
Her outstanding play as an inside midfielder helped the Galaxy go undefeated and capture the division three premiership, earning Garner best-and-fairest honours in the process.
A feat the modest star downplays but credits for fuelling her football passions.
“It was an enormous honour to win the award, it was an extremely talented team,” Garner said.
“There were girls who probably deserved the honour more.
“But from there my love for the game just grew and grew, I wanted to push myself to play at a higher level.
“So that is when I started making the drive down to Cranbourne.”
Garner’s outstanding play earned her a spot on the Cranbourne VFLW squad for 2017, where the savvy ball-winner was prepared to make the five-hour round-trip from Sale to pursue her football dream.
“2017 was a relatively unsuccessful season by my terms, but it still gave me experience to the standard of VFLW football,” Garner said.
“The speed, the intensity, the skills, and standards all lift as you progress through the divisions.
“I needed to adapt, so it was a big learning curve my first season with Cranbourne.”
While she was still learning the sport, Garner showed enough promise to earn her a position on the squad for the Casey Demons inaugural VFLW team in 2018.
But she was dealt a cruel blow when Garner suffered a knee injury in the opening game, effectively ruling her out for the remainder of the season.
Determined to come back to better in 2019, Garner made a giant decision in the off-season to better focus on her football.
“I’ve made the move to Melbourne from Sale,” Garner said.
“It is something I have wanted to do for a long time, but the move down here means I am able to commit fully to the Club.
“I wanted to give back to the Casey football club which has been so amazing to me.
“But it also means I am able to be more present with the team and enjoy the social side of footy.
“When training finished last year, I pretty much got in the car to drive home, it was get in, get it done, and get out so I could be home before midnight… It was a tough slog.
“But I can already see in the last week or two being down in Melbourne, there is such a difference to the way I can prepare for training and stick around afterwards and be more involved with the team.”
The move is already paying off for the beloved club figure, with Garner being voted by her team-mates as one of the co-captains for the 2019 season.
An unexpected yet gratifying honour for the humble Garner.
“It is a huge honour to be named co-captain, and a bit of a shock to be honest,” Garner said.
“It is an enormous opportunity and something I am extremely grateful for.
“I am really, really excited to be one of the leaders amongst a group of skilful, talented and amazing girls.”
Garner’s dedication to the Demons and her resiliency to come back from a season-ending injury are being embodied by the rest of the team in 2019.
A resiliency evident in the Demons opening round comeback victory against Essendon.
A trait Garner credits to the hard work the squad has put in on the training track.
“Our resiliency comes from the fact we are confident we know we can play footy,” Garner said.
“If we play our style, we always feel like we are in with a chance at the victory.
“We know in the game that if we aren’t where we should be, we know to make those in-game adjustments and focus on our fundamentals… It is our main focus at training.
“I don’t think anyone felt at any point against Essendon that we were completely out of the match.”
The squad values hard work, and Garner epitomises the value, working diligently on her craft whenever she can, all towards being the best player she can be for Casey and towards achieving her football dream.
“I spend a lot of time outside of the season and pre-season working on my craft,” Garner said.
“I want to improve on my knowledge of the sport, given I’m only in my fourth year in the sport.
“I work on my kicking and my handpassing, all those things I can do to continue to improve and develop through the rest of this year injury-free and have a great season for Casey.
“Then my goal I really want to try and push towards is an opportunity to get drafted to the AFLW.”
While she has come from a Galaxy team far, far away, our co-captain Nicole Garner is a Casey Demons star on the rise.