The feeling of playing grassroots footy is something that will stick with many Australians for the rest of their lives.
The feeling of the blistering sun on a Sunday afternoon standing at full-back, or contrastingly, training under the pelting rain on those piercingly cold winter nights.
Mum and Dad watching from the sidelines, the smell of sausage sizzles in the air, and the too-big mouth guard sticking out of the sock at half-time, covered in grass.
For many men, they’ve grown up playing the sport, starting from a young boy watching David Wirrpanda launch a massive torpedo from a kick-in, to meeting their mates at Auskick after school.
Then, these boys have continued to evolve through the sport, playing at the club on the weekend, moving into the WAFL level with AFL scouts in the distance, and soon enough playing in front of a packed Optus Stadium.
But for many women, their journey is cut short, playing with the boys in regional towns during their youth, then being told at 12 they’re unable to continue their footballing journey and left to consider other options, many taking to basketball and netball.
Today, new Eagle Aimee Schmidt is giving back to women’s grassroots football on her own terms, to ensure the competition continues to grow for those young girls who want to lace up the boots.
The women’s Gascoyne league has just started up, and while there are currently only two teams – Exmouth and Carnarvon – who play each just three times a year, this is still a massive jump from what once was.
“It’s pretty cool that it’s expanded so much over the past five years, it’s definitely something to look forward to in coming years, when clubs all have a girls team, not just a men’s team,” Schmidt said.
“I think up here, this is the first time they’ve even considered having a girls’ team, so it’s been good to go back to the beginning and help develop the girls.
"There’s so many girls interested in footy up here, there’s some girls that are really talented as well, so it’s a shame they didn’t have that connection that you do in Perth.
“But hopefully if they keep pushing they might be able to get another couple of teams and close that gap between just having a juniors team and a pathway that they can actually follow and might lead to something more.”
The women at training may have varying abilities – some having never kicked a football – but the communal feel and ethos behind the game has been a driving factor for many in joining the Exmouth Eagles.
“They just wanted to meet new people, and make new friends,” Schmidt explained.
“We have 15 girls regularly at training and they just love it, they love the atmosphere and the culture footy brings.
“Everyone’s really supportive and just there to have fun, and learning new skills is just a bonus.”
Schmidt has been at the club – surrounded by red dirt and scrubland – several times a week, and said it’s been amazing to see football stripped back to its basics.
Although the Exmouth team were initially unaware the midfielder actually played AFLW, they soon caught on, particularly with the addition of visitors and West Coast players, Belinda Smith and Maddy Collier.
“I didn’t really say anything to begin with, I just said I’ll come down and train and a few of them caught on and realised I was actually an AFLW player,” Schmidt said.
“They’re always asking questions, wanting to learn, they’re very eager to learn and it’s been nice to try and hand over some of the knowledge I have and help them become better people and better footy players.
“It’s a big, diverse mix and everyone’s from different backgrounds, it’s really cool.
“It’s so rewarding, it’s nice to be able to come to training and see the improvement every week, from going to not being able to kick a footy, to becoming absolute jets.
“It’s the little things that are amazing to see.”