Erin Hoare has found the perfect job to combine her professional and personal passions: mental health and sports.

An inaugural Cats Women’s player, Hoare is now the Mental Health and Wellbeing Research Lead at the AFL, a part-time role she balances with motherhood and completing her training to become a psychologist.

It is a role she took up in recent months, having been on the AFL’s mental health steering committee prior.

Hoare has a PhD in public health and, during her 2019 season with the Cats, worked as a senior research fellow at Deakin University.

Erin Hoare flies for the ball against Fremantle in Round 6, 2019.

But her football career was put on hold after that season as she took up a post-doc fellowship overseas.

“My last season with the Cats was in 2019, and at the end of that season, I left Australia to go to the United Kingdom for my post-doc fellowship,” Hoare said.

“Post-doc is the period after you finish your PhD, so it’s basically an independent research that you do.

“So I was at Deakin University and went over to the University of Cambridge for about a year and a half, which was really amazing, but really sad to not be able to compete with football.”

Erin Hoare at training during the Cats' first AFLW pre-season in late 2018.

But Hoare’s links to Aussie Rules were not entirely severed while in the UK – she and partner Chris joined the Cambridge University Football Club, which has been operating for over 100 years.

The time in the UK brought another wonderful life change for the couple, who welcomed baby Edith into the world on New Year’s Day last year.

“That was really exciting, and I guess all the changes that brings,” Hoare said.

“She’s just an absolute delight. Life has changed in many ways. I finished my stint over in Cambridge mid-last year, so we came back during the pandemic.

“I was meant to have some time in the US as well, but had that postponed, given what was going on in the world.

“We came back and had hotel quarantine with a little baby. That was an experience, for sure. (Now) I’ve had another few career changes.”

Erin Hoare played for Melbourne in the 2018 AFLW season, before joining Geelong's AFLW team in 2019.

Hoare finished her fellowship with Deakin University in recent months, wanting to pursue training to become a child/adolescent psychologist.

“I made the decision to pursue my training as a psychologist, which is quite intense and quite difficult to manage alongside a research career at the university, so I made the decision and subsequently the opportunity came up with the AFL to work in a part-time capacity there,” Hoare said.

“I’ve been really fortunate with the opportunities I have and it’s just wonderful to be back in the football space.

“The AFL has developed and launched a mental health strategy – so I was involved with the steering committee for a little while (prior to my current role).”

While Hoare is excited to cheer the Cats Women’s team on from the stands this season, she is also excited about the work she is doing with the league.

“It’s really good that there’s increased community awareness (about mental health) and also in the sporting space that we also see champions of mental health, and conversations being had,” she said.

“My interest area is how we create systems and environments that are really nurturing for mental health. So, how do we go above and beyond conversations to bring about change and support that will last for a really long time.

“I think it’s just terrific that we have this awareness and language around mental health, to be able to communicate in ways that we just wouldn’t have done 10 years ago.

“It’s certainly an exciting time to be in the field.”

Erin Hoare ahead of her first AFLW season with the Cats.

Between work, training and parenthood, Hoare says her life is “a bit wild”, but she is grateful for the wonderful support she receives from Chris, which she says is an immense help.

“We work as a real team,” Hoare said.

“It’s all been a bit wild, but it’s really nice to share the experiences with other people who have become parents during this pandemic.

“It’s all so unknown for everyone regardless of whether you’re a parent or not, isn’t it?

“Working from home, reduced changes to go out and socialise … I guess navigating this new period for me is at a time when everyone else is also navigating changes in their lives.”