Teens play role in AFLW debut

 Melissa Sambrooks and Bella Ayre pictured in 2013 after attending national schoolboys and schoolgirls football championships.

Melissa Sambrooks and Bella Ayre pictured in 2013 after attending national schoolboys and schoolgirls football championships.

FOOTBALL history occurred on Friday night in Melbourne, which two former Kerang teenagers were in the thick of the action. 

Footballer, Bella Ayre and boundary umpire, Melissa Sambrooks featured in the inaugural AFL Women's match at Princes Park, played in front of a capacity crowd of 24,500 people.

Named as Carlton's centre half-forward, Ayre recorded one kick and one handball in the Blues' 35-point win against Collingwood.

The 18-year-old, who is also the youngest player on Carlton's list, provided support for fellow forward, Darcy Vescio, who kicked four goals in the win. 

Meanwhile, Sambrooks' selection for the match added to a growing resume of achievements.

The former Northern District Football Umpires Association member officiated three Golden Rivers Football League senior grand finals between 2012 and 2015, before securing a spot on the Victorian Football League boundary umpires panel last year. 

"Friday night was such a great game. From when we walked out on the ground, to the roar of the crowd after the national anthem, every goal and to the final siren, it was all so surreal," Sambrooks said. 

"It simply amazing to think I was a part of the first ever AFLW game. It's still turning over in my head that I was a part of history, and it's never going to change! 

"The game felt so easy as I ran along on adrenaline and it only felt easier after they announced the lock-out after the first quarter. From there it took everything up to the next level, including the players' intensity."

Ayre and Sambrooks' footballing careers have intertwined during the past five years, with the pair playing or officiating at numerous national Secondary School Football and AFL Youth Girls championships.

During the past 12 months Ayre went from playing AFL Youth Girls with Woorinen to becoming a key player for Victorian Premier League side, Bendigo Thunder - a role which led to her being drafted to the Blues. 

Meanwhile, Sambrooks will juggle her AFLW appointments with tryouts for the 2017 VFL squad. 

"To keep my position on the squad I need to perform well in the four-kilometre time trial, as the position on the squad is never safe," she said.

"We've recently got back into training with the squad twice a week and most other days as individuals. 

"This may become one of the longest football season from AFLW and then VFL starting straight after, but it's definitely all worth it."

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