Just over two years after helping the Great Britain Swans reach an unprecedented third-place at the AFL International Cup in Melbourne, captain Charlotte-Ellen Eales says she still gets a buzz thinking about what the side achieved.
“No one expected us to do so well!” Eales told AFL England. “It was such a fantastic experience and such brilliant exposure to all different levels of football. Being able to attend the after-party knowing we had achieved what we had achieved still fills me with such a buzz.”
Eales has been named captain ahead of the European Championships, and her first task as captain is retaining the European title.
“It’s an incredibly special and unique opportunity,” said Eales. “I have always had such an enormous sense of pride playing for GB, but this really just amplifies that and pushes me more to perform at my best.”
With former captain Laura Turner-Ramadan sitting out this year’s European Championship following the birth of her daughter, Eales says she is ready for the challenge.
“I have had amazing support from Laura, who is such an inspirational role model to me, so I can’t wait for game day.”
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Alongside Eales in the leadership team is Chloe Hall, Jayne Meadows, Sophie Morris and Louise Darby, the latter of which is set to become the most-capped Swans player in history when they take on Ireland in the first match of the tournament.
“Louise is a brilliant player and friend, who I have known for years now. I have played alongside her in the London league, as well as for England and Great Britain. She is a natural athlete and competitor, and a reliable and committed player. She brings a lot of experience and excellent knowledge of the game and I am very lucky to have her alongside me for EC.”
Eales started out in the ruck when she first played in Australia, but has made a name for herself at centre, which she says gives her greater visibility of the game and the ability to make sure the side keeps a good structure on the pitch.
“I have developed so much as a player, but also on a more personal level it’s improved my self-confidence as well as my emotional resilience which are both so important for sport.”
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Now a veteran for her national side, Eales is one of just five players who travelled to Melbourne for the 2017 AFL International Cup, a tournament that Eales says was a “roller-coaster of emotions.”
“The excitement of playing in a high-pressure environment and the fun we have off the pitch, is balanced by the pressure on bodies, coping with jet lag, and having to deal with the immediate consequences of tough wins and losses throughout the tournament. It’s a very testing environment and I think it’s important to acknowledge that.”
After every major tournament, there is always an element of rebuilding, but Eales says that in the Swans’ case it’s been more of a gradual change than anything dramatic.
“I have high hopes for all the new players, to be honest and I can’t wait to see what they can do. Of course, I have to mention fellow midfielders Martha Williams and Jo Lumb, but also Raffi Jones and Sophie Todd are going to be worth watching.”
Among the new faces are several players from the NUL-winning University of Birmingham side, a team that Eales set up while studying there.
“To know that I have played a part in their success is very fulfilling. Big shout out to Phoebe Meyrick, who has been instrumental in keeping the team running since I left, but I know there are so many others who continue to run the club, and I am extremely grateful for their hard work.
“There have been so many strong additions to the squad, who bring such a positive energy to the group, and who have settled in incredibly well. They have brought new strengths to the team so it’s going to be exciting to see how we utilise them moving forward.”