A Longtime Coming: the Flanagan-Sjoberg Sisters Footy Crossover
Sunday, 23 May 2021. The rich nose-numbing smell of deep heat fills the crisp South Coast morning air. It is game day, Round Ten of the Great Southern Football League Women’s (GSFLW) competition, McLaren versus Mt Compass in a possible Grand Final preview at Encounter Bay. The long drive down south was pleasant but much like football, it is the destination that truly matters.
After the usual pregame routine, it is time to run out. Nothing special for most, but for two sisters in particular it was the moment they had been dreaming of for years. The moment that was four years in the making. The moment that Sophia Flanagan-Sjoberg and Ruby Flanagan-Sjoberg, finally got to run out side-by-side.
“Feel very proud of her (Ruby), the kind of person she is,” Sophia Flanagan-Sjoberg said when asked how it felt to line up alongside her younger sister. “Grateful that everything aligned to allow it to happen.”
“I am so grateful that I get to share the field with my sister Sophia, being able to learn firsthand from someone I really admire and have a bond with is special to me” Ruby Flanagan-Sjoberg said when asked the same question about her older sister.
Two players at different stages of their footballing journeys. Sophia started playing football in 2017 with the Aldinga Football Club and has since become a consistent player for South Adelaide in the South Australian National Football League Women’s (SANFLW) competition.
On the other hand, Ruby begun her sporting life with soccer where she played alongside Ella, her other older sister, at McLaren District. Then at age 7 she switched sports and became quite a gifted netball player, winning several awards throughout her time on the court. She then switched to football and joined Willunga for the 2019 GSFLW season after being persuaded by her friend and Sophia’s South Adelaide teammate, Lauren Clifton.
However, even “before I ever started playing I used to train and run water with Soph’s opens team at Aldinga” Ruby said.
“… I was keen as anything to have her on board. It was definitely the right call for her to go to Willunga in 2019 and develop her own footy for a while but I have been wanting to have a game with her since we trained together in 2018,” Sophia said.
At this stage, Sophia was still developing herself and made the decision not to bombard Ruby with advice. “I was still figuring out how to kick the ball,” Sophia said. “Now I do every now and then, but she is her own player and needs to develop in her own way.”
Being left to develop her own game, Sophia’s decision worked as Ruby quickly found what suited for playstyle her. “Because I had gone out to quite a few Aldinga trainings and gotten a feel for it by going out and kicking a footy with my Dad I found the transition enjoyable,” Ruby said.
“However, I had gotten comfortable in netball, so it was tricky to learn a new set of rules and positions. I remember my first game of footy feeling pretty lost on the field but loved it because of my coach Burnsy and the girls in my team.”
After her debut match, Ruby certainly did end up developing in her own way; and she celebrated her first season of football with an U16s Premiership with Willunga.
Despite the two sisters playing in different leagues, Ruby still made sure to watch how her older sister was travelling. “After my early morning games, me and my parents would go to Aldinga and watch her play,” Ruby said.
And Ruby watched as her sister reached the next level of football. “It felt pretty great to see Soph get picked by South”, Ruby said. “She was the one who got me into footy by bringing me along to trainings at Aldinga. I knew how hard she had worked to get there so it was pretty special to see.”
“Seeing Soph get picked by South after only 3 years of local footy definitely inspired me,” Ruby said. “She has become so talented so quickly and I’m super keen to see if I can get to SANFLW level.”
“It is lovely for her to say that, but she would absolutely do that regardless of me. She is always striving to get the best out of herself,” Sophia said about being Ruby’s inspiration. “She is a strong-willed person so that makes me feel like she’ll reach SANFL level.”
However, with the SANFLW commitments came even less of a chance for Sophia to get to see her younger sister play. “That was the biggest part about wanting to be in the same side, because I could never watch her play otherwise,” Sophia said. “Between South and Aldinga’s games I think I only ever got to see one or two of hers.”
Then, three years after Sophia first put on the boots and two years after Ruby first did; they finally decided to pursue their beloved dream of playing alongside each other.
“It was very difficult making the decision to leave Willunga. I loved that club and the coaching I had. Especially Burnsy and Radz in my first season with Julie making a huge impact on my footy life”, Ruby said when asked about the decision to join McLaren.
“Ultimately I chose to move to McLaren because my family is involved with the club. And having the opportunity to play with Soph was really important to me. I respect Willunga and they will always have a special place in my heart.”
With Ruby leaving Willunga for McLaren and Sophia making the trip down the highway from Aldinga to McLaren; the time finally came that the two were wearing the same colours.
“Soph and I being at the same club this season has been really nice. It has meant that we get to share this game that we love while meeting all the beautiful people that are at McLaren,” Ruby said. “McLaren has really welcomed my whole family. It is a real community feel, and we have easily felt at home there.”
This love towards the club is a feeling that Sophia has felt as well. It is “really welcoming, love the vibe, love the women. My Mum and Dad have been more involved around the club which has been amazing. My Mum’s the team manager which I love,” Sophia said.
Yet it would be some time before we would get to see the Flanagan-Sjoberg sisters in action together, as SANFLW commitments meant that Sophia was busy training and playing with the Panthers. However, four years in the making, that day would finally come during Round Ten.
That moment when, after four seasons, finally getting to run out alongside Ruby has been “my favourite moment,” Sophia said. “She’s someone I love so deeply. It’s so special watching someone do something they are passionate about, watching them learn, make mistakes, reflect and come back and improve.”
For Ruby, “Sunday’s game was pretty special for me because I’ve watched Soph play heaps of games so to play alongside her was really fulfilling. Her courage on the field makes me want to be a better footballer because has no fear and goes in hard.”
“I would say my favourite thing about playing with Soph is that I get to learn from her. Being able to watch her in action is very inspiring,” Ruby said.
Four years in the making, their first game together was topped off perfectly with a win.
“I mean, would have been nice for it to happen earlier,” Sophia said. “But I’m grateful that it’s worked out at all. Feel very proud of her, the kind of person she is. Grateful that everything aligned to allow it to happen.”
As McLaren looks to be heading for another finals berth, these two will no doubt continue to be valuable players for the Eagles. As McLaren look to defend their premiership title, the Flanagan-Sjoberg sisters will be there, together.
“Soph and I are developing as footballers together at McLaren and I am really excited to see where the season takes us,” Ruby said.
“And it’s amazing to train with Ruby again. Just love to see how she is tracking, what little things to work on and just so exciting that she is only 17 and has so far to go in her footy career,” Sophia said.
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Special Thanks to Sophia and Ruby Flanagan-Sjoberg.
MWM doesn't own the photos, they were provided by the players and all were personally captured.