In the sport she’s settled on, the body she’s crafted to play it at the highest level, and most of all the blue and white hoops she wears with pride, Richelle Cranston feels like she’s finally at home. Not that she’s in danger of becoming complacent.
“I don’t want to just go into our first AFLW season and think being competitive will be good enough,” the former Demon says. “I want to push for the premiership. The way the current VFLW season is going, we’re so professional. The girls who’ll get drafted to Geelong are ready to do amazing things.”
There’s no pretension in this vow, only the steely conviction of a 29-year-old who grew up with a football in her hands on a Maryborough farm where in her mind every tree was an opponent to be bettered. “My little brother wasn’t into sport, he was inside playing video games. I was out there baulking trees, getting into trouble for knocking all the apples off.”
Her first proper game didn’t come until a Year 12 equal opportunity day, and from there she followed football’s scent to Ballarat and onward to Geelong. Along the way teammates introduced her to gridiron; she didn’t understand it at first but liked that there was no holding the ball (“just fend off, fend off”), and the relative freedom afforded the tackler.
A broken foot suffered between AFLW’s inaugural and second seasons forced a choice. “I can’t afford to have those big gaps of not doing anything. I love footy more anyway.”
Rewinding a little further, Cranston was playing locally for Geelong Magpies and weighing in at 106kg when the buzz ahead of AFLW began to swirl. A footy mate told her, “If you were fit you could probably play at the highest level.” Her ambition crystallised, and for more than six months she ate nothing but chicken and vegetables and went to the gym every day.
She lost 30kg, gained a liking for shopping for new clothes, and isn’t done yet. “I still want to get my skinfolds down a bit more, but in a footy sense it’s done heaps – I’m so much fitter, so much more powerful, I can jump higher.
“I’ve loosened up a bit now – I have treats every now and then. But once it became habit I can’t not do it. Preparation, recovery, pilates – I don’t have many rest days. I was 25 when I decided to change. If it wasn’t for football I doubt I would have done anything.”
Through two seasons of toil she struggled to break into Melbourne’s stellar midfield, and lists leading Geelong from football’s engine room as a major personal goal. “I hope I can make more of an impact on the game,” she says, not satisfied with a vastly improved second season with the Demons. “Maybe being an inside mid I’ll get a chance to do that. I want to try and be a leader.”
With no more car-pooling to Melbourne training or getting to bed after midnight, she looks forward to more time for coffee dates with teammates who enjoy her bubbly, upbeat way. Her Maori grandmother and Mum wouldn’t miss her games, and the local support for Geelong’s women even at VFLW level has Cranston buzzing about the next step.
“The VFL team already has a little cheer squad, they come to the games and wave flags, they know everyone’s name and cheer your name if you kick a goal,” she says. “I think Geelong people don’t care who’s out there, if you’re wearing a Geelong jumper they’ll go crazy for you. It’s going to be huge.”