Utri picks up sticks after footy flag

Embed from Getty Images

Aisling Utri of the Western Bulldogs tackles Erin Phillips of the Adelaide Crows.

By NELL OSHEA CARRE

With the AFL Women’s season over, premiership player Aisling Utri has swapped her footy boots for hockey sticks, one of many players who are elite competitors in other sports. 

More than half a dozen players in the Western Bulldogs’ 2018 premiership team have been successful in other sports, including cycling, netball, volleyball and ice-skating.

Utri, who played seven matches in her debut season with the Bulldogs, went back to training for the hockey season with the Essendon Hockey Club.

The Australian junior hockey squad player, who is also on a Victorian Institute of Sport hockey scholarship, said her passion for both sports had grown this year.

“I genuinely love both sports. With hockey I’ve put in a lot of hard work and hard hours, and I absolutely adore it, I love it as a sport and football is the exact same,” she said.

“I guess if you think about it, if I wasn’t playing one I could put more hours into the other sport, but I think for my mental state it’s actually done me a lot of good, I’ve never been more excited.”

Utri said coming from a hockey background had benefited her football positioning and “game plan”.

“I still have mountains and mountains to learn, but there are some little things that people were quite impressed with because I do it naturally and physically I’ve got the speed and strength, especially through my legs, from hockey.

“Coming back into hockey, I’m definitely a lot tougher having come from a full contact sport. If someone touches me, I’m not really flying or anything.”

Embed from Getty Images

Aisling Utri in the first match of the AFLW season.

Both her football and hockey coaches backed Utri’s decision to continue playing both sports.

“Over the past season both coaches were so supportive, always checking in on me, making sure I was going all right, seeing how I was coping, so that was really, really helpful for me because I knew that I had the support from both sides,” Utri said.

Essendon Hockey Club coach Trudy Hairs said the club “jumped on the [AFLW] bandwagon”.

“For her first AFLW game we went as a club to support her, and made banners and pompoms,” Hairs said.

However, Utri missed the hockey preseason, and Hairs said her game had been compromised as a result.

“She’s a bit rusty, because she hasn’t had a stick in her hand for a while. So her ball control is not where she would want it to be,” Hairs said.

“She’s an asset to us regardless, but she’s certainly not playing at the level she’d want to be playing at this stage of the year. And that’s purely because her preparation has been kicking a football, not with balls and sticks,” she said.

“Hockey’s her No.1 sport, and football has just come about through an opportunity.

“She is important to us because she’s a very good hockey player who will ultimately go to the Olympics unless something happens.”