It was not uncommon for Gab to turn up to games with socks that remained unwashed from the week before. In fact, I’m fairly certain she still owes me a pair of clean, blue socks. Sporting the messiest bun you’ve ever seen, a coffee in her left hand and her car keys, water bottle, protein shaker and her Falcons backpack in the right – she often looked flustered. She was fashionably late to games and needed strapping on top of some ripping fake tan efforts.
But despite the fluster that is Gab off-field, she is fierce, prepared and ‘on’ when she crosses that white line onto the field.
Hailing from Wagga Wagga and a prolific netball background, the Collingwood-diehard just wanted to have a kick. A friend pointed her to Darebin, where she headed to take part in our 2016 pre-season. “It was one of the scariest things I have ever done, but as soon as I got there, everyone made me feel right at home. It has been love ever since.”
However during a social netball game in that 2016 pre-season, she suffered a dreaded ACL injury, keeping her from taking to the footy field that year.
She spent 2016 in the gym, on the bike, running laps around any oval she could find, and made her way back to Darebin’s pre-season in 2017 – flustered, but still somehow more prepared than anyone else – absolutely raring to give the season a red-hot crack.
Which she absolutely did.
In fact, the three seasons that followed prove Gabby’s game has gone from strength to strength.
In 2017 she played 3 games in Darebin’s NFNL Division 1 side, and 12 VFLW games. She was knocking on the VFLW team list every round, with coach Jane Lange forced to make some tough decisions from week to week. You see, the 2017 Darebin side hailed some serious names (and later on a premiership, for that matter). Whilst Gabby did take part in the finals series, she just missed the chance to take to the Etihad greenery. But when you look at the team list for the 2017 premiership, it’s easy to understand the difficulty coach Jane Lange had when picking a team.
In 2018, Gabby took the field in 14 VFLW matches and in 2019 she played 12 VFLW games, only missing one as she was dragged unwillingly from the field following a concussion. In the round 12 game against Geelong, Gab got slaughtered by our – and her now Melbourne AFLW – ruck; Lauren Pearce. Loz’s knee, which hails higher than most of our belly buttons, collided with Gabby’s head. Gabby hit the ground before Loz’s foot could touch back to earth. Groggy and confused, Gabby kind of waddled to the sideline, but was spluttering something like “nah I’m good, let me back on.”
In true Gabby fierceness, she turned up to training on Monday night and was practicing goalkicking before teammates and the strength team told her to sit down and stop resisting the help.
Throughout the 2019 season she was a pillar of power – she encouraged a group of us to get to Altitude Performance in Footscray – where on the days she was meant to be resting and recovering, she was doing off-leg conditioning. At the end of trainings, when the group was called in to cool-down, Gabby would drag me around the oval for a couple of extra laps.
Gab is loud but not showy. She works hard and she puts her teammates and the game we play before her own. In the 2018 and 2019 seasons she sacrificed many of her own games, letting the other 5 in the backline rack up disposals whilst she was told to shut down the big guns. It was Darcy Vescio or Jas Garner, Bri Davey or Chelsea Randall. Gab was in charge of making it as difficult as possible for them to get their hands on the ball. And she did an almighty job. Just watch her highlights reel. She’s the girl you want on your team, not lining up against you. And so, her fate was sealed as Melbourne picked her at number 77 in the 2019 AFLW draft.
I can only imagine the inner anxiety and serious fangirl that is Gabby as she turns up to training at Melbourne’s pre-season. She hails fellow Falcon and Demon Daisy Pearce as one of her most prized football figures, “she’s one of the main trailblazers of women’s footy and it wouldn’t be where it is today without her.”
As we all do, Gabs has her hiccups – too often putting on a bib when she didn’t need to. Or forgetting an item of uniform or getting a stitch after eating too many snakes at half time. But Gab has this incredible talent to bring people back down to earth. Her passion reminds you to enjoy footy. Her triumphs will remind you to be humble, hard-working and grateful.
I cannot wait to see what this cat-loving, effervescent Falcon brings to AFLW 4.0.
Go well Gab.