One final time: AFLW pioneer overcomes injury for farewell game


INAUGURAL Fremantle captain and AFLW trailblazer Kara Antonio will return from injury to play her final game on Saturday after announcing her retirement.

Antonio has not played this season after suffering a serious hamstring injury during the pre-season and undergoing surgery, but she has been cleared to play a farewell game in front of fans at Fremantle Oval.

Revered as a relentless competitor, the 30-year-old has been one of the most significant figures in the Dockers' AFLW evolution after joining the club as one of two marquee signings, alongside Kiara Bowers, ahead of the competition's first season.

Fremantle's Kara Antonio leads her team out onto the field ahead of the round six, 2021 match against West Coast. Picture: AFL Photos

She will play her 47th game when the Dockers take on Hawthorn on Saturday, having played a mix of midfield, wing and forward roles through her career, earning All-Australian selection in 2017.

Antonio, who has served as the Dockers' forwards coach this season, will also play one final game alongside wife Ebony, who returned last week from a serious knee injury and a heart scare.

Kara Antonio (left) and Ebony Antonio celebrate a Fremantle win over West Coast in round one, 2022. Picture: AFL Photos

She said she had never given up hope of returning this season.

"[It means] a hell of a lot … just to be able to push my body to get back for one last game is pretty special, especially here at Freo Oval," Antonio said on Tuesday. 

"The mind though I could go again, but the body is probably telling me another thing.

"I'm a teacher and I love my career (and) I want to start a family eventually, so looking after my body was the No.1 priority for me.

"Playing one last game in the purple was what I wanted to do."

Fremantle's Kara Antonio (left) and Hayley Miller celebrate a goal during round six, 2022. Picture: AFL Photos

Antonio will create a piece of AFLW history as a player-coach on Saturday, continuing the forward line assistant role she has held this season. 

The tenacious forward will be on managed minutes, maintaining a link to one of the Freo staffers in the coaches' box to relay feedback on the forward line when she comes from the ground. 

While the Dockers have not achieved an inaugural premiership during Antonio's time at the club, she said her role as the club's first AFLW captain was something she held dear.

Antonio puts boot to ball after the assist from Antonio

00:38 Mar 13. 2022. 6:06 PM

Fremantle's Ebony and Kara Antonio get the assist and goal in this play

A three-time All-Australian before the launch of the AFLW, she was appointed to lead the Dockers as a 24-year-old, promising to be a vocal leader who prided herself on hard work and being relentless at the contest.

She led the Dockers to their inaugural finals series in 2019 and subsequent campaigns in 2020 and 2021 before handing the reins to Hayley Miller after five seasons.

The Antonios put the anchor into Roos

00:51 Mar 19. 2022. 3:58 PM

Kara and Ebony Antonio put the icing on a fantastic finals victory

"Seven years ago we were out here at Freo Oval with one toilet, a spa as our ice bath and no changerooms," Antonio said. 

"A number of things have changed over that time, and I've been proud to play a little small part in that at our football club.

"It's growing so rapidly, and I've been able to stand back this year and watch from the side.

"It's only going to keep evolving and growing and I look forward to being able to sit back and watch from the stands and see what I've been a part of."