Alana Woodward’s move from Punt Road to Linton Street is one that never would have happened had it not been for one life-changing decision almost five years ago.
The mercury was well over 40 degrees that day – a genuine scorcher by any standard – and then there was the issue of a multiple-hour drive from rural NSW to Bendigo, but Woodward, with some encouragement from her friend who also came along for the journey, ended up jumping in the car to try out for Richmond’s VFL Women’s side.
It was ultimately a successful audition, with the tenacious mid becoming a member of the Tigers’ inaugural VFLW and AFLW sides and a key figure in building the culture and camaraderie in both from the ground up.
The payoff for heading down the Loddon Valley Highway that fateful afternoon was huge, as was the sacrifice to pursue a career in the recently formed competition.
An established career in the Australia-wide family business, Woodward Foods, as a Human Resources Manager was left behind, as too the country life she’d spent the past 25 years riding horses and working on cattle farms. The relationship with her family side was also put under strain.
“It was a big responsibility in the gig I was in,” Woodward told saints.com.au.
“It was a really hard decision (to leave) and it caused a bit of controversy with my dad who was the CEO of the business. I wanted to follow the pathway and to him it was ‘why do you want to go and play second-grade women’s football and leave your post in the family business?’.
“That didn’t go down too well initially but I just knew that I’d regret it if I didn’t, so I went with it and it led me eventually into the AFLW system.
“Dad didn’t talk to me for about six months, I guess because he couldn’t fathom it. In a way, now I see that he just didn’t want to lose me.
“He would never tell me, but he tells other people that he’s really proud.”
Woodward’s time at Tigerland across four seasons yielded a total of 28 matches (23 VFLW, five AFLW), with the season just gone marred by two separate calf tears.
The first came the week before Round 1, before the second some weeks later put a line through her 2021 campaign.
Woodward was ultimately delisted in June after the Tigers decided to move forward with its younger list heading into Season 2022, with the “amicable split… the easiest way to possibly depart a club”.
Although offered the possibility of staying on in a non-playing capacity – she had worked with Richmond’s VFLW affiliate, Port Melbourne, alongside new St Kilda assistant coach Lachlan Harris and draftee Ash Richards in 2021 – there was still a desire to play on at the highest level.
With Richmond looking to fast-track its fledgling crop and St Kilda in the market to add experience around its own young contingent – 15 out of the club’s 30 players are aged 22 or under – Woodward was brought in as one of two inclusions during this year’s Sign & Trade Period.
When signed as a delisted free agent in June, the ex-Tiger was likened by former Head of Women’s Football Jamie Cox as “another Hannah Priest”: a tough and uncompromising player with leadership skills, but one with great heart who could forge genuine relationships with every player.
“I’m very humbled to hear that because she’s a jet, she’s a champion human being,” Woodward said.
“I guess that’s probably one of the factors why I was recruited, a bit more maturity and a bit more experience. I just love people, I love learning about each individual player and what makes them tick and how I can be a better teammate for that person.
“It’s really cliché, but if we all gel together and understand each other a bit better we’re definitely going to play better.”
By the time Round 1 rolls around in January 2022, it will almost be two years since Woodward took to the park at AFLW level.
While there’s still a way to go before that opening match, injury niggles to overcome and an entire pre-season ahead, the 29-year-old is excited to belong to St Kilda’s up-and-coming brigade.
“From the outside prior to joining, you could see the potential, you could see the talent and the flair and it’s pretty comforting when you come inside the four walls,” she said.
“I just feel so much hunger. I see these girls that have so much desire to be great, they don’t just want to be good individual players or just be known as being on a list: they really do want to be successful.
“They know the history and they know what it means and they know how many years the men have been working at it and been striving.
“They want to be a part of that and now I want to be a part of that as well.”