Stella Allen's amazing journey
It was a nervous and anxious time for Stella Allen, after training hard through the summer of 2016/17 and the beginning of the 2017 inaugural women's season just days away, her eligibility to play was under a cloud due to her age, as she had only just turned 16.
The league had confirmed that Stella was too young, and the Swans would have to submit a dispensation request on behalf of Stella, to convince them why she should play the game we all love on a senior level. The pen is mightier than the sword, and in this case it needed to wield like a Shakespearean quill pen, and instead of issuing powerful illustrations of imagination, the Swans had to illustrate facts as to why Allen deserved to play, and without a moments hesitation, the leagues inbox received an electronic version of ink flow from the tip of a nib.
"Inclusion is an important part of our football club, and we believed Stella had no other opportunity to play Australian Rules football without having to travel over 200 km's from her home town of Casino. We also genuinely knew she has the potential to be a great footballer, so we were not prepared to see her miss out playing our game" Swans President Philip Tsourlinis explains.
As the letter circulated the competition managers at AFLQ headquarters, Stella had to miss round 1 as the decision was still pending. Watching the first ever women's game from the sidelines, Stella watched nervously as the Swans held on to a 3 point win thanks to a fantastic team effort & clutch defensive play by Emma Wilson in the final seconds marking the ball right on the goal line, stopping Ballina from stealing the victory.
Then, during the week before round 2, the Swans received AFLQ's response to Allen's eligibility. They had recognised the importance of allowing Allen to play, agreeing that this was about awarding an individual an opportunity to play our beloved game, in an environment where our sport is growing, and inclusion is so important.
Club President Tsourlinis then made the call to confirm this to Stella, who as you might expect, was very pleased at the outcome.
"When I got the call saying that I got cleared to play, it was a great feeling being able to play alongside the girls for the first time after all the training. It brought me great excitement" Stella explains.
"I had limited experience of Aussie Rules before joining the Swans, I had only played one game with the school and instantly fell in love. I grew up playing soccer my whole life and still continue to play that as well".
It was as if when the shackles had been broken, out burst a motivated and natural young talent, instantly making a mark on the game having been positioned in the forward line by Coach Carl Merrison.
"She's naturally athletic and one of those players you can position anywhere, and she will give you 100%" Merrison explains.
As the year went on, Stella fast started to establish herself as one of the key players in the team, especially in the area of applying pressure on the opposition when they have the football. Her ability to learn the game and improve each week was astonishing, and she was eventually moved to the half backline which seemed to naturally fit her style.
"Her run & carry is crucial in allowing us to move the football out of the backline and she has such a great kick, however it is her pressure on the opposition which is so fundamental for our team's defence" says Merrison.
The season had its hurdles and challenges, and Stella was able to navigate herself through them, however the final challenge came when the Swans made it to the 2017 Inaugural grand final, and it was this stage, where not only Shakespeare writes his scripts for, it's also the avenue where great players can leave a mark on the game in this theoretical drama we call football, and Stella was not going to let this opportunity slip.
The 16 year old Stella was outstanding in the senior final game that mattered, tackling, evading, running and finding targets as she helped Lismore quell Ballina's attack in a close hard fought grand final. She was in the top 3 of the best players on the field that day, and proved she has the ability to lift in a game where every possession and contest is the difference between winning and losing.
Stella's down to earth reflection on the 2017 season sums up her approach to the squad and her football in general.
"The 2017 season was a great learning experience for me. I look up to our captain Laura Cahill (Small), as she has great leadership qualities and has always been supportive and encouraging of my game, and gave me the confidence I needed" Stella explains.
When it comes to a team mate she loves playing alongside, there is no doubt this relationship is something very unique and not found on too many footy fields around the country.
"My favourite person to play with is Talarra, as we first met in kindergarten and we're still great friends. It’s so good to play alongside her as I always know she will have my back on and off the field".
Stella continues her rise in our game, improving week in and week out in 2018, as the Swans look to build on the success of 2017, she is not backing down in her ability to take her footy to the next level. Still training hard and an invaluable player in the squad who travels from Casino, Stella enjoys being part of the Swans family.
"Our Swans club is absolutely fantastic! Everyone is so supportive and encouraging to each other, we are like one big family" Stella explains
Shakespeare famously wrote "better three hours too soon than a minute too late", and we can certainly say it was well worth giving Stella the opportunity to be a whole year too early. Cheer Cheer