If the future of women’s footy revolves around people like Tarni White, then it is going to be one hell of a game.
Three minutes into talking to the 18-year-old from Brisbane and you can’t help but admire her fierce determination, modesty and self-awareness.
One of her senior teammates shared the story of how she landed in Melbourne on the Friday with resumés ready to go, secured a job on Saturday and was working a shift on the Sunday night.
But the more AFLW players and aspiring players I meet, I realise she is far from alone with her perspective on life at such a young age.
White knows all too well the opportunity she has in front of her, and isn’t about to waste it.
This, as I came to understand, was the plan she dreamt of as a nine-year-old and then chased down in the same way she hunts opponents on the footy field.
Plans for a national women’s competition were not even being discussed when the then Wynnum Vikings junior decided she would move to Melbourne to play footy at the earliest opportunity.
Another Brisbane local, Katie Brennan – now Richmond captain – was part of the original inspiration.
“A few years after I first started playing, Katie Brennan moved to Melbourne to play, and I thought if she can do it, then so can I,” White told saints.com.au.
“Melbourne is the home of footy and coming here was always my goal, and I never really considered anything else.
“I have so much support coming out of the NAB AFL Academy, Queensland and my local club Coorparoo, that I thought why not.”
But with AFLW flourishing, four new teams being added in 2020, and her own standout performances for Queensland as a 17-year-old, White was dealt a cruel blow when she tore her ACL.
The knee reconstruction saw her miss 16 months of footy, including the first half of her final season of underage footy in 2019.
“I was shattered I wouldn’t get to play too many games for Queensland and chase an All-Australian guernsey and really set myself up for the draft,” she said.
“But it made me work even harder and make sure I was ready to go when the time came.
Despite the pre-planned move, the young defender said leaving her close-knit family and friends was incredibly difficult when the day finally arrived.
“It’s the hardest thing I have ever done, but really if this is the hardest thing I have to do then I am pretty lucky in life,” she said.
“In the back of my mind, I know this is what I have wanted since I was nine, and so it drives me every day.”
And don’t expect the extended family to miss a second of the action when the Saints make an historic entry into the AFLW competition on February 9 at RSEA Park, Moorabbin.
“They have already booked flights for the first match,” White said.
“They said whether you play or not in Round 1, we want to be part of what will be a pretty historic occasion.”
Getting picked for Round 1 is now the aim for the talented defender.
Her kicking is one her biggest strengths but it’s her elite tackling that sets her apart – just ask some of her Saints’ teammates who have been on the receiving end at training.
“I’m very competitive, and I’m obviously pretty driven to be playing in Round 1, but if someone takes my spot, I’ll also be happy for them.”
“If they’re my teammate then they will be putting on that guernsey and representing it with pride, and I’ll be proud of them.”