Giants' Monahan brings army mentality to AFLW

Australian Defence Force sapper Phoebe Monahan was on a three-week training camp in bushland behind Sydney's Holsworthy army barracks when the GWS Giants selected her in the 2017 AFLW draft.

With only a generator to power their construction work, Monahan and her fellow sappers (army engineers) go into these camps to keep their field skills sharp. Monahan had her phone with her and switched it on to see if she'd been drafted.

"It was good we were out there for the draft," says Monahan, who was unsure if she'd be selected. "As soon as I was selected [with pick No.39] I just kind of turned the phone off. I started getting a bunch of messages but I turned it off and got back to work and let it sink in."

A sapper is a private with engineering skills. "We make and we break," Monahan said. "We either build up obstacles or constructions and we also are in charge of demolition."

The Geelong local is finishing her carpentry apprenticeship with the army in Sydney under the guidance of the military's Royal Australian Engineers corps.

She joined the army four years ago and at the same time took a short break from football. Monahan started playing footy at age 15 for Clonard College Geelong, then at 18 played for three years with North Geelong in the VWFL.

She got back into footy in mid-2016 with the UNSW/ES Stingrays and won back-to-back premierships in 2016 and 2017 in the AFL Sydney Women's Premier Division.

Monahan came third in the 2017 Mostyn Medal for that competition's best and fairest behind GWS captain Amanda Farrugia and 2016's No.1 draft pick Nicola Barr.

Six years ago, at 18, Monahan said she would have loved to pursue AFLW as a career, but that wasn't an option. She enjoyed working her cafe job and playing VWFL but decided she needed "to start focusing on something more career-wise".

"My mum and stepdad who I lived with are both in the police force," Monahan said. "My uncle is in the army so it's kind of been in the family to join a government service role I guess.

"And it did appeal to me - it was a challenge, it was something different, it was going to help me get a good career but also I knew it would help me grow as a person because of all the army core values, they instil that in you, it seemed right and I am happy I did.

"There was never any doubt [as to whether the army was the right fit]. Some days are tougher than others but you're around good people and everyone is going through the same thing when you first join so that all made it easier."

While Monahan is primarily a sapper, it is possible for her to be called into combat if there is a war.

"We are trained on our weapons and keep all that up to date, hopefully we don't have to go and use them," she said.

"I don't think chippies are the first call up [to war] but it's definitely a possibility. But we get all the training so we are prepared ... as much as you can be I guess.

"I'm hoping that it's not that likely, it is a little bit daunting but you just trust in the fact that you've done all the preparation and have good people around you that you know you can rely on with the right processes there, so you know what you need to do."

Army life has helped in her budding AFLW career. She can take time off from her full-time army job whenever she likes, to meet the commitment of AFLW, so long as she makes the time up.

That's important because one of the biggest challenges in AFLW season one, and going forward, is how the players balance their punishing schedules of work and elite sport.

Even though the army is incredible flexible, Monahan still has to watch how much she works and how much she sleeps.

"I will leave for work at 6am, start at 7am and then head to training from work at 3pm and not get home until 9.30," she said. "They're long days ... but I wouldn't have it any other way."

Monahan said the "discipline, respect, bond and teamwork" of the army had held her football in good stead and that most of all, she loves working in the outdoors.

On the football field Monahan is renowned for her aggressive, hard running and athletic approach. She is a tough inside midfielder, full of grunt, but can also play a run with role and across half-back.

"I want to be able to take everything [coach] Alan [McConnel] is teaching us and then put it into practice on the field," she said. "In that same time I want to play well enough and play to my instinct and hopefully that is good enough to develop and play in the AFLW.

"I have learnt so much already I don't want it to come to a sudden halt. Obviously I am looking forward to round one and it's a shame it's so short for now."

The Giants finished bottom of the AFLW ladder in 2016, only getting one win and a draw in the inaugural season. Monahan said the club was determined to not let last year's poor season dog the team in 2018.

"There hasn't been any comparison to last year," she said. "This is a whole new year and almost half the team is new. The culture and environment around the team is a whole lot different I have heard so I think we are going to be a different GWS team coming out on the field."

This story Giants' Monahan brings army mentality to AFLW first appeared on The Age.