Natalie Wood has never forgotten where she has come from and who has shaped her along her path both in life and football.
Some of her favourite times in football so far have been at the Panmure Recreation Reserve as a child in the winter kicking the ball around after the games where her dad Peter played and coached.
Now, as she sits in her office at The Hangar at the Essendon Football Club as the inaugural AFLW senior coach, she often wonders what her late father, a 'staunch' Collingwood fan would have been thinking.
But her dad - a much-loved south-west sporting figure who suddenly passed away in 2017 on the Friday night before her very first assistant coaching role - had been integral in shaping the new Bombers coach into both the person and leader she already was and wants to become in the future.
"Seeing first hand, Dad was a very invested community football person, and seeing that level of investment and the joy he got from that, it's something that's stuck with me," she told The Standard.
"When I did randomly play football when I started uni, it was this uncovering of this amazing opportunity and I guess one of Dad's legacies was putting your best foot forward, being persistent and maybe even stubborn at times.
"It ends up being that opportunities present and you just have to take each one as it comes."
Born and raised in Warrnambool, she understands better than most from her dad's long and successful journey with both the Panmure and Allansford football clubs the importance of connecting with people on a personal level.
While she would have loved to share her coaching experiences with her dad, in spirit those lessons have stuck with her wherever she goes.
"It's only five years ago really to this day since he passed so it's escalated pretty quickly in coaching and I guess it's been by having that same level of passion and commitment for the game," she said.
"We saw as kids when Dad was helping launch Panmure into the Western District league the amount of time and effort he put in with people.
"Being an ear to those, I've learnt you need footballers obviously, but you need good people, and whilst he equally admired sitting down and watching them play football he enjoyed sitting down and having a beer and talking with them more.
"I see a lot of similarities between that and building an inaugural team and starting from scratch.
"I sent my sisters and brother a message a month ago for advice on how to get players to say yes, and they'd say 'do what Dad would do, turn up, have a beer and talk until it's empty'."
An iconic figure in the female game after a storied career with Darebin and Melbourne University before venturing into coaching with Geelong as AFLW midfield coach, VFLW head coach and most recently the Western Bulldogs, she has first hand witnessed the evolution of female football across not only the south-west but Victoria.
"As a human being and having grown up in Warrnambool and being ostracised for wanting to play footy with the boys to seeing my brother in laws associated with Old Collegians and seeing that they had teams for the first time it is terrific," she said.
"South Warrnambool were one of the first teams to get up and running, so it's terrific to see what's happening down there, albeit it's been a long time coming.
"Other parts of Victoria sort of started developing leagues a lot quicker but it's great that the development is happening - we all know country people love their sport, both boys and girls, there's a lot of talent in the south-west district.
"There's been a few from the region that have already made it in AFLW, and as it all keeps building and it's more accepted, from facilities in the club rooms and ground availability the talent will thrive.
"More important than talent thriving is just opportunities for young girls the same as for young boys."
A secondary teacher by trade with over a decade of experience in education, Wood is now well entrenched in the rigours of full-time coaching - eager to educate, inspire and bring to life her vision at the Bombers.
She said she was excited by the possibilities of building her first AFLW list after being appointed in March.
"The club's really ready for this, and it's been a great introduction into how Essendon goes about things and its vision of the future," she said.
"It's been something I discussed with Essendon through the appointment process, without going into specifics, they'd done a fair bit of groundwork prior so I was keen to ensure the vision and work they were doing aligned with my coaching philosophies as well.
"It was reassuring to see that alignment - there's a lot of research, conversations and things to consider.
"We're all really ready and everything is underway - it ebbs and flows between being incredibly exciting and incredibly daunting building a list from zero to 30."
The Bombers have already signed Stephanie Cain, Caitlin Sargent, premiership forward Boonie Toogood, as well as stars Madison Prespakis and Georgia Gee from Carlton.
"We've now secured six signings in total with four current AFLW players who are well credentialed, and we feel they'll be really good role models for us, and we've landed two open age signings, one out of the NAB League and another out of our VFLW team," Wood said.
"That'll be the balance of the list, it'll be great to have representation out of those groups."
She said she wants to create an inclusive environment for her team which embodies the spirit of the club and the history behind the famous colours
"We're one of five football teams within Essendon - a lot of things that drew me to the club was that one-club mantra," she said.
"With the different teams, it'll have its own individuality within that, but if you think about Essendon, you think about hard-working, reliable, dependable and consistent.
"They are things we're looking forward to in our list development and our staff build as well - we want people that are willing to put in the hard work but people who have high expectations of self and of others so we can drive some success."
With the new AFLW season presumably just a matter of months away in August and for the first time all 18 clubs to be represented, the hard-working coach was hoping for more clarity around preseason and season starting dates.
"There's no clarity for the start dates, and same with pre-season dates and trade and sign dates so it makes it incredibly difficult," she said.
"We're planning for an August start date but as each day goes by I'm just thinking about the athletes and being a part-time program and things they have to shift around and coordinate.
"To not have clarity at the moment but working to those dates, it'll put a lot of stress on part-time athletes and they're already stressed.
"Hopefully in the best interests of all the players and clubs, the AFL will provide some clarity on the season start soon."
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