Originally published on womens.afl as part of the 'Unfinished Business' series.

PHOEBE McWilliams isn't done yet.

At 35, the Geelong spearhead is the fifth-oldest player in the AFLW in 2021, behind the evergreen Cora Staunton (39), Alison Downie (who at 36, is yet to miss a game for Carlton) and fellow 35-year-olds Tanya Hetherington and the one and only Erin Phillips.

Leah Kaslar and Lauren Spark are a few months younger than the Cat.

"I don't know how many more years I have left to me, whether it's one more year, I'm not sure. I know I can still get better," McWilliams told womens.afl.

"I think that's the thing that's really driving me is that that season I had at GWS, the 2018 season (kicking seven goals from seven games) is probably the best form I've had.

"The following year I broke my hand, and then last year the season was interrupted. And then I just think with this group we've got a lot to offer. Seeing the way they've come back this year, I just know this could be better for everyone."


In the initial plans for the AFLW, it was slated to begin in 2020, before being pushed through at the start of 2017.

The unimaginable disaster of launching a brand-new competition in the midst of a global pandemic aside, there was every chance McWilliams would have been considered too old to be drafted for the first season.

"I was playing (then-VWFL for St Kilda Sharks) in that period where there were all these talks about AFLW, and everyone was like, 'Phoebe, you're going to be too old to play, if it's 2020', and I was thinking, '35? Maybe'.

"And then when they changed it to 2017, I was like, 'well, I'm in with a chance here'. At the time, I wasn't sure if they were rushing it too quickly but seeing the success and seeing all these girls playing footy at a younger level, I'm really glad they did.

"I'm just really fortunate to still be playing and being able to compete at that level, coming into my fifth season. I mean, Erin Phillips is 35, she's doing pretty well," she said with a laugh.

Phoebe McWilliams during pre-season training.


McWilliams and teammate Jordi Ivey live in Melbourne, so given the differing metropolitan/regional restrictions, lockdown was a very different experience to her teammates based on the coast.

Restricted to one hour of exercise a day, and limited to grass (mostly around Elsternwick Park in Melbourne's inner south-east) as Ivey recuperated from a foot injury, the pair ran lap after lap after lap.  

In all, they clocked 497.6km from March 21 (a week after their final match) to the end of October. McWilliams lost five kilograms in the process.

"It put a lot of things in perspective. Being able to do things you enjoy again, see your friends and see your family, and come down to Geelong and train with your teammates, it makes you really value what we have when it's taken away for so long," she said.

"I just want to get back to my best. I can do that, and I'm really motivated to get my body right. I haven't had six months off in five years so there's one positive to come out of the lockdown.

"Having footy taken away does make you realise how much you love it; how much you enjoy just mucking around with your mates, taking marks and it's funny, even though you've had six months off, it comes straight back to you like riding a bike."


The AFL made the decision to ban fans from attending AFLW and AFL matches in mid-March, as the coronavirus started to hit home.

As Geelong were playing North Melbourne a few hours after the decision was made, fans were allowed to go to that one last game. It would turn out to be the final game of AFL/W in Victoria that fans attended.

The Cats got off to a flyer, kicking the first three goals of the match and leading the powerful North Melbourne by five points in the opening minutes of the third term.

But then star midfielder Nina Morrison's leg was caught in a tackle, re-rupturing her ACL, Ivey injured her foot, and the Roos piled on eight straight goals as the Cats collapsed.

It was the last game they would play, not qualifying for the expanded finals series.

"Everybody knows how we finished last year, and it hasn't sat well, because we know we can be better," McWilliams said.

"I think the first half of that North Melbourne game showed what we're capable of and then we fell away in that second half and I think everybody has let that simmer in themselves and it's a really big driver for us.

"We've had a few setbacks and it's motivating us more to want to get back in and show what we're capable of.

"Those girls that came in the first draft who are now in their third year (Olivia Purcell, Morrison, Becky Webster, Georgia Clarke, Sophie Van De Heuvel and Denby Taylor), they're going to hit the ground running and we'll just come along for the ride."