Former Hockeyroo Georgie Parker signs on with Collingwood as a rookie for the 2018 AFLW season
IT WAS December 21, 2016 and Georgie Parker had just made one of the biggest decisions of her life.
After more than 100 games for Australia — which included Commonwealth Games gold and Olympics heartbreak — Parker publicly called time on her career as a Hockeyroo.
From there, her short-term plan was an easy one: club hockey in Belgium, followed by a well-deserved trip around Europe.
But fast-forward six months and Parker committed to her next big decision, signing on with Collingwood as a rookie for the 2018 AFLW season.
It was a move that shocked the 28-year-old as much as anyone.
“I had no idea it was even in the works,” Parker told foxfooty.com.au.
“I got a random message from one of the operations managers at Collingwood and he just suggested the idea.
“It’s something that I’d never even thought of, being over here after the Olympics. There was a lot of disappointment after Rio for me and I retired from international hockey after that.
“So for me it was a really random occurrence of events.”
A lifelong Adelaide supporter, Parker also fielded an offer from the Crows, before settling on Collingwood as her final destination.
Despite still having family in Adelaide, she said the combination of work opportunities in Melbourne, along with her discussions with the club, had convinced her that signing with the Magpies was the right call.
“I had Collingwood approach me and then I had the Crows approach me as well, so I had two clubs after me playing a sport that I’d never played before,” Parker said.
“Once it was mentioned to me I thought ‘well, why not? I’m still young, I’m only 28 and I’ve got a lot of legs left in me.’
“So I just thought I’d take on the challenge and give it a go.”
Despite playing club hockey in Belgium throughout the entire inaugural AFLW season, Parker said she had been unable to escape the hype around the competition.
“I was still overseas but it was crazy,” she said.
“I was living in Belgium and I remember the first game I was actually on a skiing trip in Switzerland and I couldn’t get away from it.
“So I’m thousands and thousands of kilometres away and I still couldn’t get away from it. “Everywhere I looked on social media was just football everywhere, with so many girls playing.
“Then you could see it filter down to the younger generations with the amount of young girls that are starting to play.”
While Parker is still very much a raw talent, Collingwood views the AFLW convert as a potential midfield and forward line option, such is her athleticism.
The club’s AFLW coach, Wayne Siekman, said Parker’s explosive speed and guile with the ball were among the traits that brought her to Collingwood’s attention.
“Her attributes as an explosive player for the Australian hockey team adds great value to our team given that one of the things that we lacked in season one was our speed and explosiveness,” Siekman explains.
“Field hockey is a sport that is very similar to football in terms of reading the play and positioning, so she’s coming to us with a level of game awareness already.”
Siekman said Parker, along with fellow rookie — Australian volleyballer Eliza Hynes — would bring another level of professionalism to Collingwood.
“To represent your sport at an international level and maintain your spot in the team requires a great amount of fitness and strength,” he said.
“So we know that both Eliza and Georgie will help drive elite standards across our AFLW team.”
As an athlete that has trained with a national team for years, Parker said the AFLW was still very much a “raw” competition, with many of its players still needing to learn a lot about professionalism and training standards.
But she said the raw enthusiasm and energy of the competition meant that with increased professionalism, the overall standard would quickly improve.
“It’s still really, really raw of course, it’s got a lot of fresh players who haven’t got the athletic background,” she said.
“I remember Erin Phillips saying ‘these girls have never done weights before’ and for someone like me or her, who have been doing weights four times a week since we were 15, it’s very strange to see that in the elite level for the sport.
“So it (the first season) was very raw but the passion and the determination of the girls is something that I think really shone through.
“It’s going to get bigger and better and I’m sure when they start being a little bit more professional, the sport itself will grow bigger and bigger.”
The rapid advancement of the AFLW has sparked discussions over the amount of attention the competition has garnered compared to its equivalents in other sports.
But Parker said the impact of the competition could only be a positive thing for women’s sport.
“What the AFL is doing, they’re pioneering women’s sport for the future, they’re going into uncharted territory of sport that’s never been done before and they’re really showing that people want to watch women’s sports and it’s been an exciting time,” Parker said.
“It’s not a competition for me, it’s a win for women’s sports in general to see this amount of attention going to women’s sport.
“It’s an exciting time and I’m really excited to be a part of it. I’m glad that I’m going to be on the receiving end of all that attention for women playing sport.”
The AFL has heavily targeted athletes from other sports — like Parker — as it looks to develop its talent pool.
But the new Pie said it was more important to focus on keeping girls and young women in sport — regardless of what they pursued — than getting caught up in code wars.
“We just want to be treated as athletes, not female athletes. I mean, Serena Williams put it best, she wants to be known as the greatest tennis player of all time, not the greatest female tennis player,” Parker said.
“So for us, we just want to play sport, we want girls to continue playing sport, not to have that big drop-off when they get to their teenage years.
“Things like this AFL Women’s competition will do things like that — give them an opportunity.
“Every sport’s different, every sport’s great and I think everyone should just let us play the sport and let the sport do the talking, not get caught up in the hype of which sport’s doing better.”
Having grown up in country South Australia, playing football was never an option for a footy-mad young Parker, who often found herself as the only young girl at local footy clinics.
Though most local girls started playing netball from a young age, in the absence of footy, Parker turned her attention to hockey.
But despite her success on the world stage in hockey, Parker admitted that had footy been an option, it’s unlikely she would have taken up her first sport.
“I wouldn’t change my hockey career for the world — going to the Olympics, the Commonwealth Games, the World Cups and all that sort of thing,” she said.
“But I know that I don’t think I would have been playing hockey if football was around. I’ve been a massive fan since I was a little kid, I’ve been a Crows member since I was three or four, when they first came into the competition.
“We lived in the country and we used to drive every second week to watch the Crows play when they played at home. So for me, I’ve been a huge fan but it was just never available for me.
“So I don’t think I would have been playing hockey, but I’m glad I did because it’s been wonderful in its own right.
“But it’s exciting that I can now follow one of my passions with greater interest.”