By Beth Newman
Yeronga’s Emily Bates is living the dream of many young footballers, preparing to play a game of footy at the MCG.
And while there will be plenty of people watching her, her biggest motivator will be someone who can’t be.
“My dad got me started in footy and he was my coach from under-12 to u-15,” she says.
“When he passed away, that became my motivation to keep going and be the best footballer I can be.”
“He was my mentor, my coach and he taught me a lot,” she says.
“I always wish I could have his advice after every game and I know that he’d want me to play to the best of my abilities.”
There’s no doubt Bates’ dad would be incredibly proud of the rising star, who has been a superstar in Queensland’s youth girls sides in recent years.
Bates has captained youth side since 2011, and is heading into this Saturday’s exhibition match at the MCG off the back of her first senior nationals.
The 18 year-old says she loves the extra challenge of playing senior footy.
“Women’s footy is much faster, and there’s more skill, so it’s been a great challenge and I’ve really developed as a player,” she says.
“I think now I know the standard that it’s going to be played at and I can get up to that level.
“I know how the other girls play from each state and I know what to expect (on Saturday).”
The young gun was honoured to be picked for the first AFL-sanctioned women’s exhibition match at such a young age.
“Being so young, I was so surprised to be drafted. So, when I heard my name, I couldn’t believe it,” Bates says.
“It’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me.”
As part of the 2012 High Performance Academy, Bates had the opportunity to play AFL 9s on the MCG, but she says she can’t wait to get out on the hallowed turf again and play a full game.
“This experience will be completely different,” she said.
If Saturday’s match proves successful, Bates said she hopes that it could eventually lead to the establishment of a proper women’s league, with sides from all of the AFL clubs.
“All of the girls work so hard, they’re all really great athletes and we just deserve the recognition that we are professional athletes,” she said.
“We should have a league to recognise all our hard work.
“It would give girls something to look forward to and strive to in their careers.”
Bates will be one of three current Yeronga players lining up in the match this week, as well as former Devil, Kate Brennan, which should make the transition easier in the lead-up to the fame.
“We all know how we play and linking up is going to be a bit easier,” she says.
“My best friend, Katie Brennan, is playing in the same team as me so I‘m sure we can all work together better, considering we know each other.”
Bates is a talented athlete outside of footy, having been an under-18 Queensland cricket representative as well, however if pushed to choose Aussie Rules would be the winner hands down, she says.
“I would never choose cricket over footy,” she said.
“I just love the people who play it, the sport itself, the physicality, the skill set and I just love the passion that everyone who plays it has for footy.”
With so much success at such a young age, it’s hard not to think that Bates will be at the forefront of the rapid development of women’s AFL in the coming years.
But for now, Saturday is a major milestone for female footy and Bates is just glad to be a part of it.
“It’s a dream come true.”