WHILE the majority of Melbourne’s list took to the VFLW last winter, Tegan Cunningham had other ideas.
The former WNBL basketballer returned to her roots, playing for the Waverley Falcons in the NBL1 competition.
Growing up as a star of the game, Cunningham decided to hit the court once again, in a move that has helped her development as an athlete.
“The coaches show a lot of trust to put me back on the basketball court,” Cunningham told Melbourne Media.
“I guess having played basketball my whole life it’s nice to go indoors in winter.
“There are so many pros and cons, but for me I enjoy being given the opportunity to go back and play something I’ve played my whole life.”
Although the two sports are different in so many ways, Cunningham has benefited from her season with the round ball, working on some transferable skills ahead of a big 2020 campaign.
“There’s always the natural things, but the footwork is probably the biggest thing,” she said.
“Basketball’s a lot more footwork dominant so it’s nice to go back and work on that, and I think it does help complement my football.
“Footy obviously has a bigger playing field, then you go back to basketball where things are shorter and sharper, and little things are so go-go-go.
“I think in football you neglect your footwork if you don’t work on it consistently, so I think I notice it more now when I go back to footy, that I’m a bit lighter on my feet.
“Basketball’s also helped my decision making in small spaces.
“Obviously there’s only five of us on the court and you’re in a confined area. I felt I was an alright passer, so that helps with my ability to give handballs and see the options around me – not just closed vision.”
The 32-year-old has had to prepare herself to compete at the top level in opposing sporting codes, which has helped her grow as a footballer.
“The fitness is very different, but I’m definitely a lot fitter,” Cunningham said.
“I feel like I am a better runner over a long period of time in terms of distance, whereas with basketball I have to adjust, and my short sharp movements become a lot quicker.
“I’m more consistent through all four quarters, whereas maybe in the past I’d blow out or be a little bit more fatigued in that fourth quarter.”
Cunningham, who has played the past two seasons in the AFLW, arrived at the Dees with next to no experience in the game, but was always keen to give it a crack.
“I literally played at Primary School with the boys in grade six, then never touched it after,” she said.
“I always knew how to kick – I have an older brother, so we went out and had a kick and I was always trying to fit in with him, but I never really knew the rules.
“I always had the passion for footy, I just never had the option to play.”
The 186cm key forward has picked up Aussie Rules with ease, quickly becoming one of Melbourne’s most important players.
And although she was deprived of the opportunity to start footy earlier, she has loved every minute of her sporting career to date.
“Basketball just naturally took off, and having gone to college was a great experience – I would never trade that for anything,” Cunningham said.
“At the time basketball served its purpose – it was great for me.
“But after watching the first year of AFLW, I always would’ve loved the chance to play.
“I was lucky, I had nearly finished my WNBL career, then (List Manager) Todd (Patterson) came to watch a game.
“I am pretty fortunate to have that second chance, and to have that football dream continue to live on.”
Cunningham is now a footballer through and through, and says the best part of all is having 29 teammates by her side.
“The good thing about footy is you get to play with people of all different ages and that’s really rare,” she said.
“I remember last year thinking when I was playing with Tyla Hanks, ‘How often does a 31-year-old play with an 18-year-old?’.
“It’s just really rare like that and there are so many different groups and girls to talk to.
“It’s just a real team feeling and there’s definitely that love for the game.”