In keeping with the Falcons story, the beginning of cricket at the club has its genesis in friendship.
“I used to play cricket against a few of the girls that played for Fairfield,” explained Trish Riddell. “And I used to go watch the football and then I sort of said to Sal [Rees] and Ann [Rulton] ‘well, why don’t you put a cricket team in?’ Because there was always a group of us friends. But over the summer, we all sort of went separate ways and did our own thing. And so we put a cricket side in, and that’s how it sort of started.”
“Back then there was a bit of to-ing and fro-ing, oh do we have softball, do we have cricket, so we ended up [with] cricket,” explained then club president, Sal Rees. “And we had some good cricketers too, especially when Kerry Saunders played because she was an Australian women’s cricketer.”
The Falcons inaugural cricket team took to the field in the 2001/2002 season. Some of the women involved in the Falcon’s’ first team include Trish Riddell, Kristy Carbis, Rochelle Egan, Yvette Taylor and Janice Shaw who was the team’s first coach. Also a part of the team in the early years were Julia Boyle, Michelle Gadd and Rebecca Hickmott. Many of those early players continue to play for the Falcons.
“We had a pretty ordinary [first] season,” Trish recalls. “I think we came about fourth. And the next season wasn’t too bad. I think it was the third year we won our first premiership.”
The first premiership in the 2003/2004 VWCA B West season came soon after the arrival of a number of players from Parkside including Kerry Saunders and Bec Hickmott. By the 2005/2006 season, the fortunes of the cricket team had dipped. The 2006 annual report noted that the season ‘was not our most successful [but] the girls really dug deep and played out the year often undermanned but always went out swinging’. The following season, the team just missed finals but again, player numbers were a challenge with the team often taking to the field with ‘only 7 or 8 players’.
After the move to AH Capp, the cricket team took on a new role in the club: ensuring the club could keep access to the clubrooms year-round. It wasn’t an easy task.
“I think… we tried to keep playing because if we didn’t have a team over summer, we’d lose the clubrooms,” says Louise Potter who joined the club in 2001 to play Aussie rules before joining the cricket team in around 2003 and also served as Vice President of the club.
“It was a real battle every week to get enough players,” Louise said. “But eventually it became this core group of us that, although that seemed to be the motivation, was to keep the clubrooms, I think that became not really the motivation. I think we actually, well, I know, we actually really enjoyed playing and we were quite successful as well.”
In the early years of cricket at the Falcons, there was some tension with a local club, the Druids, who used the club’s ground for training but the Falcons worked to build a sustainable relationship with the club.
“Over the past decade we’ve developed a great relationship with the Druids cricket club who are the summer tenants at Robinson Reserve,” Jasmine said. “This was a key factor in the upgrade of the pavilion, that we were able to work together, and with the Council to create a shared space that suited us all. It also makes the winter summer season cross over so much easier as we’re able to work closely together to make sure both clubs get as much time training and playing as possible.”
With the cricket team struggling to get numbers, Julia Boyle took over as captain in the 2008/2009 season, doing double duty as cricket administrator, and the Falcons’ fortunes were again on the rise with a second premiership secured in the One Day North West Competition. This run of success continued into the 2009/2010 season with the club taking out the One Day Central Competition and the Inaugural VWCA Twenty20 competition. The 2010 season was ‘without doubt… the most successful cricket season Darebin has had’. Alongside the two premierships, Rebecca Hickmott and Faele O’Connor won the batting and bowling VWCA Averages awards respectively.
The Falcons headed into the 2010/2011 season without having lost a game for two seasons and with their eye on a third consecutive premiership. But they faced a new challenge with their success pushing them into a higher grade. It was going to be a tough season, with injuries and player losses making fielding a team a task.
“We sort of went back to the same story, we got put up into a higher division [and] we were struggling with players again,” Julia recalled. Familiar rival Riverside would end the club’s unbeaten streak and the Falcons would miss the finals by one game.
Stability was again a major concern for the cricket team in the 2011/2012 season. The Falcons struggled to get players on the field but with the help of a few converts from Aussie rules, they managed to get themselves into the finals. An upset win against minor premiers Riverside propelled the team in the grand final but another premiership wasn’t on the cards.
This 2011/2012 season was the last that Julia Boyle was cricket administrator with Dani Moore taking over. However, in the 2012 Annual Report, cricket’s dual personality and the issues this presented was succinctly outlined by Julia.
“The club also needs to decide in the direction we want the Cricket team to go: do we want to tap into local youth teams and build the Cricket part of the club or do we just use AFL, Soccer and Pool players to keep the ground over the off-season. If the second option is the case we will need a huge lift in the participation rates of all club members. I personally would love to see the Cricket side of the club grow.”
This declaration seemed to spur the cricket team into action. Under the administration of Dani Moore and with Julia Boyle continuing as captain, the Falcons returned to the winners list in the 2012/2013 season, securing the T20 premiership against Gisborne. An appearance in the second grand final in two seasons again ended in disappointment, with a washout awarding the premiership to minor premiers Riverside.
The next challenge for the team was finding that stability that they had long craved. “[T]he main focus for the cricket administrator was to move from an environment where the cricket team had to beg for players from week to week, to one where players would have to fight for team positions,” wrote Dani Moore in the 2013 Annual report
New uniforms were highlighted as a priority in 2013, with the cricket team ‘keen to develop their own identity. One that is independent from football and identifies the cricketers as professional and unique sportswomen of their own right’.
The following season, the Falcons missed the grand final. However, they did introduce a best and fairest competition, with votes awarded each game by the umpire and the opposition captain. The inaugural winner of the Falcons Cricket Best and Fairest Award for the 2013/2014 season was Rebecca Hickmott.
With some challenging seasons behind them, the Falcons took to the cricket field with gusto in the 2014/2015 season and the results speak for themselves. It was another ‘clean sweep’ with the team taking home the T20 and One Day Shield premierships. Individual accolades followed with Julia Boyle taking out the best bowling, Faele O’Connor the best batting and Carrie Brown the best wicket keeping for the WCCC. The awards didn’t stop there. Julia Boyle was selected at number 10 in the VCCC team of the season and was named captain of the team.
Alongside the silverware, in 2015, the Falcons received a Community Facilities grant from Cricket Victoria and Cricket Australia which was used to upgrade the pitch at AH Capp. However, the fortunes of the team would take a significant turn the following year.
By the time the 2015/2016 season rolled around, cricket was flailing and the 2016 annual report noted that the cricket team would be ‘retiring’. Injuries and the retirements of key players meant the team faced a ‘constant struggle to find enough players to field a team each week’.
“Basically what happened that year [was] that we decided enough’s enough,” explained Bec Hickmott. “We can’t play anymore. And mainly it was just because we always struggled to get the numbers to play cricket. And the Cricket Association, it was always, you know, you’ve got to play one day games, and we were just all at the point that one day games are too long, 40 over games were too long.”
“Again, won a few premierships,” Louise Potter explained. “But then it just got to the point where it was just getting so hard to get people to commit. A lot of the younger players weren’t interested. It was the same old group of us that were doing it and with our lives going in certain directions it just became really hard.”
Demonstrating the challenges long faced by the cricket team to find stability in their list, records indicate that between 2008 and 2015, the club had 99 registered players. It’s estimated that from the beginning of cricket at the Falcons in 2001 to 2015, that number is likely as high as 200 players.
Cricket returned to the Falcons nest in 2018 but this time around things looked a little different—namely, the players were slightly younger. While senior cricket at the Falcons continued their hiatus, the juniors jumped right in.
Jasmine Hirst, who had done extraordinary work developing the junior soccer program—the jewel in the crown—turned her attention to cricket in 2018. “We used to have cricket at the Falcons many years ago, and we really need[ed] to have a summer sport to kind of fulfill the conditions of our lease,” Jasmine explained. Serendipitously, Jasmine’s youngest daughter was interested in playing and her partner was willing to coach. “Again, it was that sort of intersection of having something, a child who’s the right age, and then there is another thereis sort of being another sort of slightly external need for us…—the Darebin Falcons traditionally had summer and winter sports—to get a summer sport back.”
The junior program kicked off with an U11s team in the 2018/2019 season. The team—all of whom were ‘brand new to the game’—played in the Jillian Boundy Under 11 All Girls Competition. They may have started the season as ‘raw beginners’ but by the end, they were ‘topping the league’. In the 2019/2020 season, the Falcons added an U13s team.
“And this year (2020-21), we’ve had another, well, it’s not quite the same as the soccer explosion, but we’ve had an explosion year… where we’ve now got an U10s, two U12s and an U14s,” Jasmine said.
With the senior cricket team returning to the pitch for the 2020/2021 season, Jasmine is hopeful that the juniors will be able to benefit from the years of experience and knowledge amongst the club’s cricketers.
“They’re extremely good, they’re all highly skilled cricketers. So having them back involved in the club… we’re hoping to do a lot more with them with the junior program.”
The plan in 2016 was for the senior team to take a year off and return to the following season. But it would be four years before the Falcons fielded a senior women’s cricket team again. The team was resurrected in 2020, after club stalwart Bec Hickmott discovered that the growth in women’s cricket meant that 40 over competitions were no longer the only option.
“The Australian women’s cricket team has just gone ballistic, and we’re all like, ‘Oh, geez it’d be good to play cricket again’. If only we could just play 20 over games. So, I did a little bit of research and found out there is a competition [where] you can play T20 games,” Bec explained. “It’s more social cricket… so we’re getting sort of—same as masters—getting a few of the old girls back together.”
Trish, who was a driving force behind the cricket team at the Falcons believes, “cricket was probably just as successful [as football].” Trish lists players like Rebecca Hickmott, Roi Boutsikakis and Kerry Saunders and the many footballers who did double duty for the club: “Our footballers just were amazing cricketers”.
“Rebecca Hickmott, she was probably… an A-grade player. And Darebin, we were probably C-grade. Kerry Saunders actually played for Australia,” Trish said. “We won a fair few premierships… but it was more just about keeping us together and keeping the club running, ticking over.”
In a nod to the return of cricket at the Falcons and to the long and successful history of the team, club stalwarts like Julia Boyle, Louise Potter and Michelle Gadd acted as flag bearers at the T20 World Cup Final at the MCG in 2020.
“We had a huge group of girls that went to the game,” Bec Hickmott said. “So, it was the most incredible day… They absolutely loved it.”
The Falcons Senior Women’s Cricket Team went on to win the 2020/2021 Division 1 NWMCA grand final with players, Sarah Logan, Carrie Brown and Louise Potter receiving individual league awards. Throughout the season they were also able to call on junior players to fill in for games where they were short. This was a luxury that cricket at the Falcons has not seen before and would begin the pathway that Julia Boyle mapped out back in her 2012 annual report. Cricket at the Falcons now has a new direction and the cricket side of the club is set to grow, just as she had envisaged