Three unique football journeys will start on Sunday at Great Barrier Reef Arena in Mackay when Bríd Stack, Ally Morphett and Ally Dallaway make their AFLW debuts.
But their paths to even get to this point are as inspiring as their stories.
Irish sports star Bríd Stack followed fellow countrywoman Cora Staunton to the GIANTS ahead of the 2021 AFLW season.
An 11-time All-Ireland winner for Cork, who was named the 2016 Ladies Footballer of the Year and has a long history of high-level success in the Gaelic game, Stack landed on Australian shores with her husband and one-year-old child ready to show the AFLW competition what she could do.
But just weeks after arriving, and in her first competitive hit-out in a practice match, Stack bent down to pick up the football when a Crows player hit her head on, leaving her lying on a football field in Adelaide with a serious neck injury.
Fortunately, Stack was diagnosed with a stable fracture of the C7 vertebra which ruled her out of the 2021 season, but didn’t leave any lasting damage.
Stack didn’t know if she’d come back. Eventually she and her husband, and now two-year-old son, packed up their lives again to head back to Australia.
Just before Christmas this year, Stack was getting ready to return to Adelaide to again face the Crows in a practice match, mentally preparing to re-start her AFLW career in a game that then had to be cancelled due to COVID impacts.
A year - and countless setbacks - on, with a full pre-season under her belt, there were tears (of joy this time) when coach Alan McConnell announced Stack will take on the Suns on Sunday.
“I’m probably just going to start crying like I’ve been crying since Alan gave me the nod,” Stack told GIANTS TV following the announcement.
“I’m just so, so excited, it’s probably a massive relief. There were obviously a lot of logistics to work out at home first before I could commit to this season but there’s definitely been a burning desire in me and I definitely want to give it a go.
"I want to repay this team for the love and support they showed my family last year and hopefully I can do that on the playing field.”
Stack is quick, and skilful, and is expected to add another dimension to the GIANTS’ backline.
Earlier that day, McConnell met with the youngest group of GIANTS - recent draftees Jess Doyle, Brodee Mowbray, Georgie Fowler, Ally Morphett and the injured Isadora McLeay.
The group are close - in age and friendship.
They supported McLeay when, just weeks after she was named as a replacement player for the pregnant Emily Goodsir, she ruptured her ACL, ruling her out for the season.
While McConnell had to disappoint some in the room by telling them they wouldn’t be selected this week, he shocked Riverina ruck Ally Morphett by confirming the 18-year-old will play her first game against the Suns.
And the other girls couldn’t have been happier for their teammate.
"It’s a dream come true,” Morphett said.
“I was a bit nervous when we got told we were having a meeting. I was kind of expecting not to be picked, kind of expecting the worst so you won’t be as disappointed.
“I’m very excited, I was a bit surprised.”
Morphett hails from Wagga Wagga and was drafted from the Belconnen Magpies in Canberra. At the club’s jumper presentation night before Christmas, she became emotional talking to the crowd about the lengths – and distance – she, and her family, went to for her to even be drafted to her home club.
The club’s first pick in the most recent draft, she’s a skilful player with coach McConnell telling fans to watch out for her ‘wow factor’.
The full team meeting later that same day was the place Stack learned of her debut. With input (as usual) from Staunton and in front of her teammates.
Just moments earlier, a third debutant was revealed with Ally Dallaway’s name put up on the team-list in a presentation to the whole group.
“I was obviously super excited and super shocked to find out,” Dallaway said.
“I kind of didn’t really have any idea so it was awesome to have it that way.
“I’m really humbled as well, obviously being last on the list, it took a lot of hard work so I’m super excited.”
The injury to Isadora McLeay - herself a replacement player - opened the door for local Sydneysider Dallaway to become a GIANT.
A member of the club’s winter program for the past two years, it was only last October when the 22-year-old joined the full-time program.
Hailing from the East Coast Eagles, Dallaway plays predominately in the midfield and is known for her work ethic and athletic ability.
Three footballers’ lives changed this week as they found out they’d get their chance to become AFLW players. Different stories of sacrifice, heartbreak and hard work, but all three will realise their dreams together when they run out as GIANTS on Sunday.
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