MILLER: How I've made the captaincy role my own

TAKING over the captaincy of an AFLW team is daunting enough, but taking over from someone as universally admired as Kara 'Juddy' Antonio was on another level.

Juddy is widely respected as an incredible leader, not just for the Fremantle Football Club but for the entire AFLW community.

She was the Dockers' captain in our first five years in the competition, helping to lift us from only one win in the inaugural 2017 season to an undefeated 2020, with multiple preliminary finals along the way.

Off the field, Juddy has also fought hard for the best conditions for us all, and she has helped build an impressive club culture based on professionalism, work ethic and a team-first attitude.

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

To say I had big shoes to fill would be an understatement.

However, it has been the support and encouragement I have received from Juddy, along with coach Trent Cooper, my leadership group, the rest of the girls and the club, that has made the captaincy transition as smooth as possible and given me the confidence to make the role my own.

Juddy is a fantastic mentor and friend of mine, and she has had the biggest influence on my development as a leader, particularly over the past five years.

I've been coached by her in the under-18 state program, played against her in WAFLW, and played alongside her for many years now.

Juddy has always set extremely high standards for herself both on and off the field, which I've attempted to shadow over the past few years.

Kara Antonio belts out the Fremantle song after a win over Carlton in R7, 2021. Picture: AFL Photos

She's also not afraid to be ruthless and to have the hard conversations – an area I'm continually working on to further develop in my role.

It's crazy to think that I’ve been captain for only three months, but I've learnt more about myself in that time than I had in the previous 26 years.

I couldn't have predicted what my first year as captain would entail. This season has been an absolute rollercoaster, and we're only halfway through!

From the outside it probably looks like the captaincy has elevated my individual performance and given me a new freedom on the field.

Although it might have played a part, I'd like to think my on-field impact would have been evident this season regardless of whether I was appointed captain or not.

I've never been satisfied with my individual performance, so at the end of the 2021 AFLW season I returned to the WAFLW to play for Subiaco, where I worked on my contested game and a little bit of forward craft. In the process, I built my confidence as a player again.

I found a balance between enjoying life and the downtime from AFLW and working really hard on my fitness, which has proved the difference between making an impact on games or running out of steam.

COACHES' VOTES R6 Welcome back Tyla, new clubhouse leader

I pride myself on leading by example, so if I'm performing well, I'm leading the way I want to lead.

I recently provided an insight into our hub life in Melbourne and the amount of fun we had, but it's also important to recognise the parts of this season, and our situation in particular, that haven't been much fun.

The tears, disappointment, uncertainty, homesickness and difficult conversations. Everyone is missing someone or something: work, weddings, funerals, birthdays, etc.

The biggest and most challenging concept I'm learning through all of this is that no matter how hard you try, you can't fix everything, you can’t please everyone, and you can't always keep it together.

Fremantle's Kiara Bowers (left) and Hayley Miller fist bump ahead of a game against Collingwood in round four, 2022. Picture: AFL Photos

As a new captain I've really tried to focus on encouraging vulnerability and ensuring everyone has a safe space and the opportunity to share their emotions, thoughts and feelings.

I'm a highly emotional person myself and, starting out in the role, I was afraid it might be seen as a weakness in my leadership.

After all, Juddy always had a strong front for the group and rarely, if ever, faltered.

She was always incredibly mentally strong and resilient. Nothing appeared to faze her.

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

Towards the end of her reign as captain, though, she began to open up a little and share the emotional load, especially to the four of us in the leadership group at the time.

I've made a conscious effort to continue this trend and encourage open and honest conversations within the group, and we've had some amazing storytelling and sharing sessions this season in particular, which has brought us closer and made us stronger, both as individuals and as a team.

2022 FIXTURE Every match, every round

There have been many challenges but just as many triumphs.

I'm a very loyal, passionate and proud person, and the feeling of winning the Derby against West Coast in round one is hard to describe.

Fremantle's Hayley Miller reacts on the siren after a win against West Coast during round one, 2022. Picture: AFL Photos

The next day I told Bob Murphy, our head of football operations and performance, that I’d never felt such an overwhelming sense of pride for a group of people as I did that night.

And I feel it all over again whenever one of my teammates makes their debut, kicks their first goal, or we win against adversity.

Although I still look at Juddy every time I make a game-day speech to seek her little nod of approval, I feel so well supported to continue to learn and grow in the role I've been privileged to inherit from her.

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