Performance


AFLW and netball star Ash Brazill on finding a ‘safe spot’ in sport.

16 December 2021

A fierce competitor and champion for inclusion, the cross-code athlete is making an impact both on and off the sporting field.

Performance


AFLW and netball star Ash Brazill on finding a ‘safe spot’ in sport.

16 December 2021

A fierce competitor and champion for inclusion, the cross-code athlete is making an impact both on and off the sporting field.

Ash Brazill playing AFLW for the Collingwood Magpies

Ash Brazill (left, pictured with team mate Sharni Norder) was the first Australian athlete to play two national sporting codes for one club – AFLW and netball for the Collingwood Magpies. Image credit: Kelly Defina/Getty Images.

If playing two sports at the highest level sounds like an incredible feat, that’s because it is. But for professional netballer and AFL Women’s (AFLW) player Ash Brazill, sport is simply in her DNA.

“My brother and I were lucky enough to be blessed with sporting genes. My mum and dad played mixed netball together, so we grew up on the sideline of the netball court watching them play,” says Ash, who hails from Bargo, New South Wales.

The 31-year-old now lives in Melbourne and currently plays for Collingwood’s netball and AFLW teams. She also plays netball at a national level with the Australian Diamonds.

“When you grow up in the country, all you do is play sport,” she recalls. “Whatever sport got me a day off school, I joined. Running, soccer, footy, netball – it didn’t matter,” she says.

Cross-code competition


Up until the AFLW was established, there wasn’t much of a pathway to follow for footy-loving girls like Ash.

“I played footy as much as I could until girls weren’t allowed to play with the boys anymore,” Ash says. “So, in a way, netball chose me.”

She was selected to join the NSW Institute of Sport, and made her professional debut on court with the New South Wales Swifts in 2010, before crossing the Nullarbor to join the West Coast Fever in 2012. After four seasons with the Fever – two as captain – she moved to Victoria and joined the Collingwood Magpies in 2017.

AFLW launched the same year, and Ash wanted to be a part of it without giving up netball. She says that playing two sports for the same club helps her to juggle the demands of cross-code competitions, however while most elite athletes have an off-season, Ash has very little downtime to rest and recuperate.

“It’s tough, but I do it because I love it,” she says. “I like the challenge it gives my body. I feel extremely grateful that I have the opportunity to play two sports that I love at the highest level.”

Coming back from the brink

Her gratitude has only grown since she was forced to sit out most of the 2020 AFLW and Super Netball seasons due to a devastating anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury. During this challenging time, her trademark tenacity came to the fore. Unable to attend physio sessions due to COVID-19 restrictions, she completed much of her rehab at home by herself.

Ash Brazill playing netball for the Collingwood Magpies

Ash spent the 2020 season on the sidelines recovering from a devastating anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury. Image: Quinn Rooney/Getty Images.

“It’s one of the hardest injuries to come back from, so it was one of the most challenging years of my life. My son was only six weeks old at the time, so my wife had two babies to look after,” she says.

She says the support of wife Brooke has made all the difference to her sporting career. The couple married in a civil union in 2016, a year before same-sex marriage was legalised in Australia, and welcomed their second child, daughter Frankie, in November.

“I wouldn’t have been able to do it without my wife. The best thing I did in my life was become a mum. I’m living my best life and I’m thankful I have Brooke beside me for it,” she says.

Returning to footy post-injury in March 2021 was a huge moment for Ash who relished being back on the field as a key defender. A few months later, she was named on the Australian Diamonds netball squad, the national team she first joined in 2015.

“When you have the opportunity to represent your country, you take it any day of the week,” she says.

Representation is important to Ash in other ways too. Playing in the Super Netball’s inaugural Pride Match in July was monumental for Ash who was the only openly gay player on the court.

“We got so much feedback after that match,” she says. “I had so many people privately message me telling me their story. Hearing all those different stories was a massive eye-opener.”

A safe space

She hopes that initiatives like the Pride Match will effect change at a grassroots level, so that the LGBTQI+ community can feel at home on any sporting field.

“When I was struggling to figure out who I was, netball was my safe spot. I wasn’t judged on my sexuality, but my ability to play the game. I hope that netball and footy can be safe spaces for any athlete coming through,” she says.

With the AFLW’s profile on the rise – the competition achieved record club membership sales in 2021 as well as strong crowd attendance and broadcast figures – Ash hopes that the pay gap between the men’s and women’s leagues will narrow.

“Getting eyes on the TV screens and bums on seats is important,” she says. “The more people who see it and support it, the better.

“We’re realists – the gender pay gap will be there for a while, but we’re heading in the right direction.”

While she never intended to become a role model, it’s only natural that people will admire a self-assured, successful team player like Ash who leads by example both on and off the field.

As someone who lives and breathes sport, Ash hopes her natural leadership skills will transfer into off-field roles once the curtain falls on her playing career.

“I love sport so much that I’d hate to leave it. I’d love to coach netball. Maybe commentating? Fingers crossed!”

By Jo Stewart