KATE Dixon (pictured) has been signed by Richmond Football Club and will play with the Tigers in their inaugural season in the 13-team VFLW competition.
Richmond will qualify for an AFLW licence in 2020 and the 30-year-old midfielder is determined to be part of the club’s history when its first side plays in the national competition.
It has been a meteoric rise for the reincarnated tennis player – 2017 was her first season of any form of football (“but I did have a lot of kick-to-kick in the backyard with dad”) when she joined Echuca Football Netball Club.
Where the writing was on the wall very early – she was named club captain and had a stellar debut season as a genuinely tough midfielder.
It might all seem like a dream run but behind the scenes Dixon, and the other 42 girls in the Richmond pre-season squad, are discovering there is a lot of hard work between signing and the season’s opening game against the Western Bulldogs on May 5.
And sacrifice – since January 1 Dixon has sworn off soft drink and alcohol to give her body every chance to be as good as it can.
“I got a call in December after Mick (Echuca women’s coach Mick McInnes) had recommended Jodie Lake and me for a trial with Richmond at Bendigo,” Dixon said.
“That was pretty tough, it was really hot and they really worked us hard,” she said.
“From there I got the chance to go to the trials in Melbourne and from there was offered the contract.”
What most people probably don’t know was Dixon blew a knee playing hockey three years ago and it took 12 months to recover from a full reconstruction – making her rise and rise as a footballer even more impressive.
Her sporting career began on the tennis court with local coach Andrew Crossman and reached an international ranking as an under 18 and a relocation to Spain for specialist training.
But Barcelona was a long way from the Murray and the homesick teenager came back.
Which led her to the hockey pitch and touch football (she runs to Jack Eddy Oval, plays and runs home), the knee reconstruction and the football field.
“The change between Vic Park and Punt Rd is incredible, the intensity is three or four times higher – and that’s just pre-season,” Dixon said.
“Richmond has its AFL team, VFL team and now the women’s VFL team and that means a lot of scheduling to make sure everything goes like clockwork,” she said.
“The facilities are amazing – even at training we have a team doctor, physios, assistant coaches, trainers – and a personal trainer. There is the gym, a pool, ice baths, everything you could imagine.
“As Richmond players we have access all areas passes. The club is very serious about this team and giving us every support. Our coach is Tom Hunter, who was a Collingwood player before a neck injury and assistant coach Shaun Smith spends a lot of time with us.”
And a lot of time is something that has taken on a new meaning for Dixon.
Working on a mixed farm outside Moama, she starts every day by 7am and is already needed in Melbourne twice a week so on practice days she is up by 6am and rarely home before midnight.
“I HAVE to be gone by 1.30pm on training days and I am lucky to have family and friends to support me with all the travelling,” she said.
On top of that the Tigers have the girls on strict and demanding schedules for the rest of the week.
“We have to keep food logs, sleep diaries and keep to a training schedule, much of which we have to video, and send to the club for assessment, and online training. Basically we are training five or six days a week at this stage,” Dixon said.
“We haven’t had anyone vomit on the track yet but a few came close the other day when it was pretty hot,” she said.
At just 167cm and 74kg Dixon said she was not the smallest player in the team but she was now training alongside some seriously tall girls.
Apart from the work at Punt Rd she is in the gym most days in a campaign to add to her muscle mass to back up her reputation as a tough, aggressive player.
The qualities she hopes will take her a long way in the game.
“The knee I did was my left one, and while I kick with both feet I am right footed, so that helps,” Dixon said.
“My range is about 40m but my strength is I can go all day and will do anything to get my hands on the ball,” she said.
“And I love the team environment. It’s such a radical change from tennis where you are the only one on your side of the net. At Echuca and now Richmond you know if you are hurting you are surrounded by people in the same state and you get through it together.”
The VFLW contract does not come with a big signing bonus or fat salary, that’s down the track for this fledgling unit.
But nothing could dampen Dixon’s elation as she signed her name to her first player contract at Punt Rd on Wednesday night.
“People knew I had been offered the position but now it’s very real and as soon as I signed I could not wait to start ringing people,” she added.
But even in her elation Dixon emphasised she owed a lot, and to a lot of people.
Starting with family and friends but also to the coaches and people she has spent so much time with.
“I was coached in tennis by Andrew Crossman for 15 years and he was fantastic in so many ways, but especially in helping me with my mental focus and strength – in tennis you can feel so alone but he was great with that,’’ Dixon said.
“Of course everyone at Echuca footy club. If they hadn’t started the women’s team none of this would have happened. Brett Stevens was behind a lot of that. And Mick for being such a good coach and for nominating me for the trials.
“And Evan Catlow, who I work with, has been so helpful with the time away from the job.
“There are a lot of people in country areas with the talent but if you don’t have the support network it just makes it so hard. I am just so lucky I have all the people around me I do.”