Bloodline runs true for new Firebird
CALL it a silver lining for the newest girl in purple.
The coronavirus lockdown was a chance for Queensland Firebirds recruit Lara Dunkley to get back home to Melbourne and reconnect with her younger brothers.
The 25-year-old was able to keep her fitness levels up while living and training with fellow elite athletes Josh, 23, and Kyle, 19.
There was also the occasional kick of the footy at the local park.
Dunkley, after all, has Aussie rules football running through her veins.
Dad Andrew was a champion for the Sydney Swans - playing 217 games - Bulldog Josh is one of the rising stars of the AFL and Kyle a promising rookie at the Demons.
"We were kicking the footy after a running session," Dunkley recalled this week, "and some guy on the field yells out to one of my brothers, 'Oh, she can kick better than her old man!'
"We had no idea who he was."
Andrew was renowned for his ungainly kicking action but lauded as one of the best fullbacks of the modern era for his dour defensive skills as he took on greats of the game such as Gary Ablett Sr, Wayne Carey, Jason Dunstall and Tony Lockett - before he became a teammate.
"I love hearing that stuff," Dunkley said of her dad's exploits, which included contesting the 1996 grand final - a year after Dunkley was born.
Andrew's determination and competitiveness flows through his children.
"We were born with it in our blood, that competitiveness," Dunkley said. "Whatever we did growing up, whether it was a playing a ball game in the backyard or playing a card game, someone almost always ended up in tears because it would be so competitive.
"That was just who we were. It came from our parents, especially our dad. We were pretty much born with a ball in our hands. It's been amazing. We were really lucky that we had each other as well … it bonded us, we're very close."
The siblings also took time out during the lockdown to collaborate on their own Instagram account and website, JKLD, an insight into the lives of professional sportspeople.
"Showing what we do," Dunkley said. "That kept us busy."
Dunkley was at the MCG on AFL grand final day in 2016 when Josh, in just his first season, became a Bulldogs premiership player - an exclusive club. It was just the second flag in the club's history.
"I've never seen my dad so emotional," recalled Dunkley, who would love to create her own sporting history with the Firebirds.
A ballerina who also played a bit of footy with the boys early in life, Dunkley turned to netball at age 13.
She hasn't looked back, even if there have been approaches from the AFLW.
"I've had a few clubs approach me," she said, "but netball is too close to the heart at the moment."
Andrew and mum Lisa backed her in early, driving her to and from the family farm in Yarram, Gippsland several times a week for training and games in Melbourne - a six-hour round trip, totalling about 2000km per week.
"It's been so much hard work and sacrifice … not for myself, but my parents," Dunkley said.
After carving out a successful career in the second-tier Australian Netball League with the Victorian Fury, Dunkley made her Super Netball debut with the Melbourne Vixens last year on the Sunshine Coast.
"That was incredible," the skilful midcourter said.
The reality though was she "sat on the bench a lot last year behind Lizzy Watson and Kate Maloney, and (the since retired) Renae (Ingles), three Australian players".
"And I feel like they (Watson and Maloney) have still got so much ahead of them," she said.
Dunkley was happy when the Firebirds called late last year with an offer too good to refuse.
"It was just an opportunity to get up here, start something new," she said. "Everyone here is just so welcoming."
Ironically, Dunkley will look to fill the void left by the retirement of another Victorian, two-time title winner Caitlyn Nevins, who also moved north to the Firebirds.
"I used to play in the same state league club as Caity when I was about 16. I remember her as Caitlyn Strachan," Dunkley said.
"It's pretty cool to see how well she's done up here, how much she's enjoyed the lifestyle.
"I've seen her around … it's been nice to catch up with her."
While Dunkley cherished the time spent with Josh and Kyle - and a few weekends back on the family's 320ha farm - she was keen to get back into the swings of things at her new home in Queensland, where she also has been registered to teach.
"Knowing they (her brothers) were close (to an AFL restart), I was hoping we would be too," she said
"We got the call and straight away I was booking my flight to Brisbane."
Upon her return, teammates, including housemates Kim Jenner and Rudi Ellis, surprised her with a birthday picnic.
Ahead of an August 1 start to the competition, the Firebirds returned to training last week with the first two sessions outdoors at Indooroopilly, and then the third finally back at their base at the Nissan Arena.
"Everything is so different now … we have to make sure we're sanitising our hands, have temperature checks as soon as we walk in, answer surveys and things like that," Dunkley said.
"It's full on, but we're just excited to be back."