At the relatively young age of 25 years, Gena Lawson-Tavan could be regarded as a veteran of the Darebin Falcons VFLW team, having been a part of the club for more than a decade.

Living locally to A H Capp Reserve, she rolled up one day to footy training, aged 15 years, wanting to give it a go and before she knew it, she’d spent three years in the U18s.

Swapping the round ball game for the Sherrin had been a wise decision, as it turned out, because she proved to be quite the recruit.

“In my final year at U18s, I started playing seniors at the same time, so training with both the youth girls and then going to senior training as well,” said Lawson-Tavan.

“And then in that year, I was lucky enough to play in both the U18s Premiership and the Seniors Premiership – which was pretty exciting.”

Lawson-Tavan says that footy has also given her balance in what is a hectic and sometimes stressful life off the field. She is both a midwife and now a nurse, working at the Royal Children’s Hospital in the Emergency Department – a role which she readily admits requires nerves and emotions of steel.

She says though that footy gives her a sometimes much-needed outlet.

“I guess I have always had those challenges of balancing work with coming to footy, but I actually think it’s something that keeps my mental health in check.

“Even if I’m feeling overwhelmed, it’s a place where I can let it all go. It’s nice to just come here and even sometimes when you’re not feeling the best, you can’t wipe the smile off your face (once you start running around) because everyone’s just up and about.”

Lawson-Tavan explains that Darebin has kept her grounded with its sense of community and support.

“It’s definitely a very inclusive environment. And the fact that it’s a women’s only club – means there’s a lot of support of women by women, and I guess that’s what has enticed me to continue playing at Darebin.”

She talks of a sense of unbreakable loyalty that feeds into that community.

“My whole family have been coming down and they love it too,” she said.

“They feel part of the community: so I feel like it’s very much about family and culture.”

As a sign of the key role she plays and the high regard in which she is held, Lawson-Tavan was this year named as one of four players in the VFLW team’s Leadership Group.

She says she is both honoured and excited with her new role and will draw on all she has learned over the years from the experienced mentors, who have been a part of her 10-year journey so far.

It’s nice to be in that position, believing that I can now have an impact on young girls to see if they want to keep playing footy and to contribute to the good community and culture here within our team.”

“The important part for me as a leader is the balance between setting the example of the off-field component, reinforcing those community values, but also then at training, creating a really professional environment and helping facilitate that for young girls, so that when they come to Darebin and play, they want to stay.”

While she admits to having thought about what it would be like to be drafted, her priority is to give everything she can and excel to an elite level in the VFL.

I’ve put a lot of work in over the past few years to improve my skills and performance and I feel that every year I am getting better and better.”