Written by Smokie Dawson
During the 2017 football season it was decided that, come the following winter, the Williamstown CYMS Football Club would field a women’s team for the very first time in its then 133-year history. It was a development that would fundamentally and monumentally alter the makeup of a club which had hitherto been male dominated. Anyone who has been associated with the CY’s over the past five years would agree that the establishment of that women’s team – dubbed the Seagals – and the enthusiasm and passion which the players have subsequently displayed, have had the effect of irrevocably changing the face and the culture of the club for the better.
With a finals appearance in their first season, and a narrow grand final defeat the following year, the Seagals are in the process of building their own unique history within the football club. There have also been some individual highlights of note, not the least being Georgina Petty winning the competition best and fairest in 2018, and Ruby Tripodi’s successful progression to the Williamstown VFLW team. Matches, training sessions, victories, defeats, injuries, social functions, and end-of-season trips will all continue to combine to tell the Seagals’ evolving story.
Traditionally, Williamstown CYMS has been heavily invested in maintaining strong links with local groups, and prided itself on being a community club. One of the most obvious ways this has manifested itself, is in the large number of sons of former players who have played – and continue to play – for the CY’s. Family connections remain an important fabric of the club. Of course, as time marches on, it is inevitable that the cohort of past Seagals players will continue to grow, which in turn means that the offspring of past Seagals will one day play for the CY’s.
Past players such as Liv Petty, Liz Howell, Sara Borowiak and Steph Payne (also a former club president) were mothers either prior to playing, or have become mothers since playing for the Seagals. And in what can only be described as the most amazing of coincidences, earlier this year, three Seagals players gave birth within five days of each other. On March 29, Andrea Cameron welcomed into the world son Mason; Jessica Bartels gave birth to her daughter Autumn on March 31; and then, on April 2, Lucy Craigie’s son Reuben was born.
A Williamstown local, it was almost inevitable that Lucy Craigie would play for the Seagals in their inaugural season. “I definitely grew up as a sporty kid,” she says. “I had a couple of good mates such as (club captain) Tom Johnstone and Sean McVernon who had played for the CY’s for a long time. It was then at a reverse raffle that I met my fiancé Zac Read, and after tagging along to a few of his games I met Steph Payne, who told me about a CY’s women’s team she was keen to start up – and I told her to sign me up!”
In her second season, Lucy was a member of the grand final team which was narrowly defeated by Therry-Penola. “Making the grand final in our second year as a team stands out as one of my best memories in footy. I still get an adrenaline rush thinking of the great Steph Basile getting the centre clearance and bombing the ball into Peta who turned around and slotted it through for a very pivotal goal which fired us up for the last quarter. We ended up just losing that game, but we played our hearts out to get there”.
The path to the CY’s was a little different for Andrea Cameron. “Coming out of Covid I was looking to get back into team sports after spending so long in lockdown. So I searched local women’s footy teams and CY’s was my top pick”. Jess Bartels had moved into the area from Perth. “I had played in high school in WA,” she says, “but it had been about nine years since I had played. I moved to Yarraville at the start of 2021 and really wanted to play AFL that year, so I looked on the VAFA website for the closest club to me and it was the CY’s”. Andrea says that her best memories of her time playing football “are the friendships that I have made across all the clubs I have played for”. Jess retains fond memories of her time at the Seagals: “my favourite part of the CY’s is that was more than just playing footy, you felt like you were part of a community”. She is planning on playing footy again: “I would love to play again next year! Although I have moved to Perth, hopefully I can find a club that’s just as fun as CY’s”. Andrea also fully intends to pull the boots back on in the future: “I haven’t given football away and as soon as my body is up to it, I will be back!”
For now, the responsibilities of parenthood are naturally front of mind. “Life as a mum was definitely a huge adjustment,” Jess admits. “Probably the first 6 to 8 weeks just trying to figure out what to do with a baby! But once we found our groove it’s been a really magical time”. Andrea says that “literally my whole life has changed. I have to be switched on and observant all the time because a little person’s life depends on the choices I make for him!” Lucy says that “the biggest changes in my life since becoming a mother have definitely been the shift in priorities. Now that I’m on maternity leave from my nursing career in emergency my priorities are – and will continue to be – very different. Another big change is that of being responsible for someone else and their welfare”.
It seems a long way off at the moment, but how would these new mums feel about their children one day following in their footsteps? Andrea laughs, “I can’t wait to see Mason play football in the future. He already has a footy rattle for his pram, and as soon as he is old enough I will be putting a ball in his hands!” Lucy says she would be surprised if her son did not at least give football a go, given her partner Zac coaches, plays, and works in footy. “I would love Reuben to play sport – especially footy. I think it is a great sport for boys, and now girls, to learn a lot about teamwork, communication, and resilience”. Jess says that she would “love it” if Autumn showed interest in playing footy or any other sport. “I know I had so much fun playing sport as a kid, and I hope she gets just as much enjoyment out of it. It probably would be tough to see her get tackled in a footy game, but if she’s having fun it will be worth it!”
Although women’s footy is new to the CY’s, these women do not necessarily consider themselves pioneers, but acknowledge the small role they have played in the bigger picture. Lucy talks of the pathway for girls in Williamstown which now exists from Auskick, through the Williamstown Juniors, to the CY’s: “there’s been plenty of women who came before us who paved the way for women’s footy across the country. What’s most pleasing for me is playing a small role in completing the pathway for young girls in Williamstown”. Jess says she “was glad I could be part of the team and part of the progress towards building the women’s team and competition”. Andrea acknowledges that today’s female players have more opportunities available to them than those of previous eras: “I’m definitely grateful to be playing at a time when there are so many opportunities for women in sport!”
At the club, we are in admiration of the efforts of each of our Seagals players and all that they have achieved in such a relatively short time. And the wider CY’s community awaits the wonderful and exciting day when daughters and sons of Seagals players take to the field to represent the club for which their mothers played.