2023 Queensland Football Hall of Fame – Aasta O’Connor

Aasta O’Connor doesn’t like words like pioneer and trailblazer, but it’s an escapable fact that she was both. A monumental figure in the growth of women’s football in Queensland, and a great in the women’s game across the country.

Born in Brisbane and raised on the Sunshine Coast in a Mt. Isa rugby union family, she fell in love with the Australian game kicking a footy in the streets. After her mum, Vickie, and neighbours Brett and Jackie Inmon, formed the North Shore Jets, based at Mudjimba, she began a long and glorious journey in the game.

She played mixed football with the Jets in Under 10s and Under 12s as often the only girl. When she was too old to play with the boys, Aasta played at Glasshouse before moving to Brisbane at 18 to follow her football dream. She first joined Kedron and then the Logan Cobras while doing an AFL Sportsready traineeship at the Brisbane Lions in her first taste of professional sport.

She was a member of the first Queensland women’s side that played in Darwin in 2003, immediately becoming a state team regular while ‘doing a lot of learning’ and won the QAFLW flag with the Cobras in 2006-07-08-09 while earning an All-Australian selection in 2006-07-09.

Seeking new challenges, she moved to Melbourne in 2010 to play in the Victorian competition with the Darebin Falcons – and specifically to play under trailblazing coach Peta Searle. A 181cm ruck/key position player, she won a flag with the Falcons in 2010-13-14-17, claiming the coveted Lisa Hardman Medal as best afield in the 2010 Grand Final, was named All-Australian in 2011-13, and represented Victoria three times.

In 2011, Aasta was a part of football history when she was one of seven girls to attend the boys’ AFL/AIS Draft Camp in Canberra in a forerunner to what became a full player pathway and development program equivalent to that of the boys.

She played in the famous women’s Exhibition Game between Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs, which was a forerunner to the formation of the AFLW competition. Having joined the Dogs as pick #4 in a special draft, she captained her side in the first leg of a double-header with a Demons-Dogs AFL game at the MCG on Saturday 29 June 2013.

It wasn’t until she started working at the AFL in 2015, initially in membership and later game development, that she fully appreciated the massive work being done in the women’s game to build what quickly became a full national competition.

In 2016, coming off almost two years out of the game after a knee reconstruction, she was part of the first AFLW Draft, going to the Bulldogs again via pick #12 as the eight-team competition was born. She played in the club’s first AFLW game against Fremantle at Whitten Oval on a Saturday. “There were 10,000 people there and it was so loud. My first kick went out-of-bounds on the full, but it was just so special. A day I’ll never forget,” she recalled.

Aasta was a member of the Bulldogs’ first AFLW flag, when they beat the Brisbane Lions 4-3 (27) to 3-3 (21) in wet and blustery conditions at Carlton’s then Ikon Park on 24 March 2018 in a game televised nationally by Channel Seven.

It would have been the perfect end to an extraordinary career, but after running the first AFL Academy program in 2017 and the first full AFLW Combine in 2018 and playing a key role in the growth of the talent pathway, she was tempted by an offer to be part of the Geelong expansion team in 2019. For three seasons, she played a key leadership role before finally hanging up the boots after playing her last game against the Gold Coast SUNS at Carrara in front of family and friends.

“It’s been an incredible journey and I consider myself so fortunate and so lucky to have been part of it. What football has done for me is extraordinary, and I just hope I’ve held up my end of the bargain in return,” she said.

“To me the people who did all the hard work before me to get women’s football off the ground are the real trailblazers. The game has come so far in such a short space of time, and now that it’s a full 18-team competition it’s only going to get bigger and better.”

Now working full-time in the disability sector and as a part-time development coach in the Carlton women’s program, she is enjoying a new stage of her life after she and partner Kate Tyndall, a fellow AFLW player, welcomed their first child Lily on 3 May 2023.

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