Amber Clarke - the Standout Stingray
"I would probably say that there will be challenges you come across and have to face but it’s how you deal with it and bounce back from those that shows what you are really like. Train hard and strive to be the best you can be but have fun while you are doing it, that is one of the most important things."
Performance wise, most players would want to begin their season on the right-foot. Not only does this give the team an early boost, but it provides a bright outlook for the rest of that player’s season. However, in reality this is much easier said than done, especially when coming off of a year like 2020.
While putting on impressive displays so early on into the season is difficult, it certainly is not impossible—because there is currently one such player that is doing exactly this.
Amber Clarke has, from just three games for the Dandenong Stingrays, collected fifty-one disposals, eleven tackles and six goals.
“I think I have stayed pretty consistent with how I have played and looking forward I do have things to improve on still, so I will be working on those at training to get them better for games.”
Already looking to improve on an ideal start to the 2021 NAB League Girls season, she is still “not too sure” where this dream start has come from—especially considering the tough circumstances that Victorian footballers faced last year.
“… A lot of it would have just been from putting in the hard work during preseason and training at school.”
Yet Amber’s football journey is much longer than just the three games this year. In fact, looking back at her footballing path, it had all the makings of a breakout journey—long before 2021.
However, before playing football Amber was busy making headway in athletics, a sport that she would be mixed up in for eleven years, and a sport that would prove very beneficial during her later transfer to footy.
Growing up with athletics, she started when she was just five years old, and self-admittingly “fell in love with it”.
“My very first race was a hurdles race and from that race my mum knew I had a talent in it.”
“For the first roughly two years I did not take it to seriously as I was about five and six years old, but once I was old enough to go to more competitions that’s when I got into it seriously.
“I started training hard and found I had some good speed and was good at doing hurdles. Trained specifically for hurdles and sprints and went to numerous big competitions.”
Proving that hard work pays off, her athletics career saw her represent Victoria on numerous occasions and remarkably, she even holds four Victorian records and one Australian record.
“My first Victorian record was in under 11s. It was for the 60m hurdles. My next records were in under 13s and that was one Victorian and one Australian record for the 80m hurdles. Then in under 16s I had two more Victorian records for the 100m and 300m hurdles I believe it was.”
Having athletics experience is great for a midfielder, let alone having an impressive list of accolades to go with it. Yet the football world would have to wait, as hockey and basketball were the two sports that Amber would play before football.
“I played hockey for a couple of years and I played basketball for one year but decided to quit as I was really wanting to start footy and didn’t have enough time to do that many sports.”
“I saw footy on television and just really wanted to try it. From the moment I played my first game I fell in love with the sport.”
However, with the beginning of this new chapter another one had to close, and this saw Amber call time on her impressive athletics career. A difficult choice to make, but it was certainly understandable as spare time became a major issue.
“I stopped for one main reason and that was I had no spare time. I was always out either training for athletics, footy, working or something.”
“I didn’t even have time for schoolwork. I cut back on my work but even then did not help much. I was exhausted.
“I didn’t want to stop athletics, but I felt I had more of a future in that than athletics and I wanted to pursue footy.”
Even now, with school and football, she struggles to find spare time—but her passion for the game is too strong to stop.
“At times it can be tough trying to fit it all in and still just be able to sit down for a bit, but I manage. I don’t actually get that much time to myself but it’s okay because I’m doing something that I love.”
As mentioned earlier, the athletics background would prove very beneficial for Amber’s football. But despite this extra notch on her belt, she still had to learn the game. However, it turns out that she was quite the natural.
“Well, when I first decided to play footy mum signed me up and we actually went on a holiday to America.”
“Luckily, we got home before the footy season started but I didn’t actually have any training before playing.
“So, I went into my very first game with no training. I was extremely nervous especially to be doing it with boys, but I think I picked it up fairly quickly.”
As well as her own natural athleticism, she also had great support that helped her develop.
“Well, I have had many coaches throughout the years so can’t name them all, but I would like to thank my school coaches Darren Berwick and Mark Fisher as they have helped me get to where I am.
“I would also like to thank my Stingrays coaches; they have been a huge help and have been amazing to be around.
“Also, my parents as they are the ones who take me to and from training and games and make everything possible.”
Fast forward to now, and Amber has been playing football for nine years, five of which was spent playing alongside the boys. In a big sign of pride and loyalty, she has remained with the Narre North Foxes ever since she first begun playing.
After years of athletics, and having to juggle sport commitments and school, her football career finally began to take shape—and it did not take long to show promising signs.
In fact, it was during just the Under 11s that Amber first gave us a promising glimpse into what she is capable of achieving. This is because in a single season, she played in a Grand Final where she was named as the Best on Ground, and she also claimed her club’s Best and Fairest as well as the league Best and Fairest.
In total, she has received two league Best and Fairests, as well as finishing runner-up on a separate occasion. She has also played in two Grand Finals and has played Interleague for three straight years where she has also been named as the Best on Ground.
This talent was certainly recognised, as she became the first girl to be accepted into the AFL program at the Rowville Sports Academy.
Then in 2019, her football reached a new and exciting height as she represented the Victorian state team at the National Championships, which she says has been one of the favourite football moments so far.
“It was an incredible experience spending the week down in Tasmania. The girls I was playing with were amazing.”
2019 also saw Amber get selected as an U15 All Australian, which she was “blown away” by.
“… I didn’t expect it at all but was over the moon to hear my name get called out.”
As if that was not enough, 2019 was also the year that she got her first taste of football with the Stingrays as she played in the V-Line competition with them. However, her first official year in the NAB League was not until 2020.
“I also really enjoy just being at Stingrays. Everything about it. The girls are amazing and are the best to be around. We all get along so well and we are such a good team. It is a great feeling being surrounded by all of them and I’m so lucky to have the opportunity to play with some of the best.”
“I have enjoyed every single moment of it. The trainings, the games just everything. It is a great environment and everyone there is incredible. It is a special feeling being there and I’m so happy to have been selected to play for them.”
From athletics to basketball and hockey, and now football. It has been a long journey for Amber. A journey that brings us to the current day, and one which highlights her amazing start to the 2021 NAB League Girls season, during which she has averaged seventeen touches, four tackles and two goals a game.
What is the next chapter for this Standout Stingray?
“Well, this year I’m hoping to play Vic champs and to continue developing my game ready for next year as it will be my draft year and I’m hoping to get drafted.”
With nine years of football experience, and an impressive athletics career to match, it is unsurprising that Amber has had such a standout start to the 2021 NAB League Girls season.
But if she can continue down this extremely promising path, then it looks increasingly more likely that we will see Amber Clarke in the top tier of women’s football.
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None of these photographs are owned by MWM; all images have been supplied by the player and have been personally shot.