One week ago, Toni Hamilton was “absolutely devastated” when she found out that she didn’t make the Western Bulldogs’ squad for the 2018 VFLW season after enduring a physically and emotionally draining eight-week talent search program.
The old cliché, “a week is a long time in footy”, rang true for the 27-year-old when she received a text message from Debbie Lee, women’s footy pioneer and Bulldogs VFLW coach, who confirmed she had been called back and would make her debut this Sunday against Carlton.
Overjoyed and still in disbelief over the turn of events, Hamilton told The AJN, “Dreams do come true”.
The club sighted Hamilton’s speed and fitness as outstanding strengths and have penciled her in to play on the wing.
The former AJAX star was one of 100 girls who entered the talent search at the Dogs, and after a long period of intense training, education sessions and commitment to the strict program, only four players were selected, leaving Hamilton “quite down about it”.
“I gave it my best shot and I know I need to try and bounce back and take the positive out of it and improve on areas of my footy that I need to,” she said earlier this week.
Instead of wallowing in the disappointment, Hamilton quickly linked up with Victorian Amateur Football Association (VAFA) Premier Women’s club Caulfield Grammarians, who play one level below the VFLW.
At the time, Hamilton said “I will try and stand out and make it next year”, little did she know that a week later she’d be running out with the Western Bulldogs as a fully fledged VFLW player.
The Caulfield native holds a masters in nutrition and is currently a personal trainer at Gelbart’s Gym. She has previously worked for the Sandringham Dragons and with AFL Victoria as a game development officer.
Hamilton has also been asked to assist the Bulldogs with their nutrition this season.
In preparation for her VFLW debut, she paid AFL premiership coach Mark “Choco” Williams a visit to get some last minute tips. The current AJAX coach and Maccabi Victoria Director of Coaching and Player Development told The AJN, “Toni is a girl who has come through our system and progressed to VFLW standard which is wonderful, and great for her teammates and coach’s who helped her in the past.
“When it comes to sport there has to be a pathway to the top, and AJAX has been one of her stepping stones … it’s a significant day for Jewish sport in Melbourne.”
Growing up, Hamilton played a wide range of sports but focused predominantly on basketball and hockey. She represented Australia at the 2009 Maccabiah Games in the latter.
Hamilton’s passion for footy stemmed from playing in the backyard with her father and brothers throughout her youth and since then she’s had a burning desire to play at the highest level.
“I’m drawn to the game due to the competitiveness, camaraderie and team spirit required to succeed,” she said.
The King David School graduate jumped at the opportunity to play footy when AJAX announced they’d be fielding a women’s team in 2015.
From there, her natural instincts and rare ability shone through and by the end of her first season of footy she was named Maccabi sportswoman of the year. She also claimed the VWFL East Division best and fairest and the Jackettes’ inaugural award. Her dazzling debut season turned heads leading to her acceptance into the AFL Victoria academy program.
Hamilton will become just the second Jew to play in the VFLW following Amy Silver’s debut last weekend for the Southern Saints, while Collingwood’s Ally Bild is on the cusp of selection.
Hamilton’s Bulldogs take on Carlton at Rams Arena, Craigieburn this Sunday at 12pm.