Bella Clarke - Talent from the Top End
"If someone was going through a similar experience I would tell them to listen to their body and give themselves some time. Everything happens for a reason so this might be your body telling you to take a break or to make a change in your AFL routine. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself, take your time and eventually you’ll end up mentally and physically stronger than you were before."
The Northern Territory is home to a range of unique things, from there animals to there climate and of course, their footy is no exception.
“Territory footy is definitely unique. In the women’s it is fast paced, and the ball is on the ground a lot. There are some passages of play where it goes from kick- mark -kick - mark with the team keeping possession but definitely not as much as down south.” This is because it “is played in the wet season. So, we are always faced with an extra challenge during our games”.
While some may describe it as unique, something that everyone cannot argue against is that for decades, the Northern Territory has provided football with some truly amazing talent.
From David Kantilla’s pioneering journey during the 1960s to Danielle Ponter’s AFLW premiership campaign in 2019—there have been many talented Territorians to say the least. But what does the Territory have in store for us next?
One promising player that comes to mind is Bella Clarke from the Southern Districts Football Club who, despite once being heavily invested in another sport, has since found her stride in Aussie Rules.
“I was actually totally invested in soccer before I began AFL, and I wasn’t sure how much I would like it when I first started.”
“It was kind of an impulse decision with some school friends to go to an AFL training and I guess it kind of kicked off from there. Sure enough, it didn’t take me long to fall in love with the game.”
Fast-forward from that impulse decision to now, and she has been playing football for five years—all of which has been spent with the Crocs who she first joined when they entered an U15 girls’ side into the NTFL. Which makes her a next-generation pioneer of sorts.
“Southern Districts is honestly like home to me. I love the vibe and how chilled we are at club dinners but when it comes to training and games everyone knuckles down and gets the job done. Most players are from the rural area in Darwin, so we are very much the bogan club.”
“My time at SDFC has been so amazing and I honestly wouldn’t have gotten to experience representing the NT without the amazing coaches that believed in my ability at such an early age.
“I have such a great bond with all three of my coaches that have supported me over the years, and I couldn’t thank them and the club enough.”
While her passion towards the red, white, and black is worth mentioning, so is a remarkable feat that began around the same time she first donned their colours. This being the fact that she has played in every Northern Territory representative side since 2015, the first of which she was selected into as an underage player at just 13 years old.
“Pulling on the NT jumper is always such a proud moment. Having the opportunity to represent my state and where I am from is such a privilege. Let alone being chosen to co-lead the side which was an absolute honour.”
“Unfortunately, during my time as co-captain I was going through a burnout. I had lost all passion for the game because I was overworking myself.
“Working and training at the AFL started to have a major impact on my mental well-being as I felt like I didn’t have much of an escape and eventually I lost all motivation for training and games.
“This had a large impact on my game performance, but I did everything I could to make sure I was being the best leader for my team.”
She is certainly not the first or the only player that has gone through a low patch during their footballing journey. But as for how she overcame it, she “did counselling sessions with a sports therapist from the AFL, which was great”.
“But the biggest thing was just taking a month’s break from playing which was ultimately what I needed.”
“Thank god I am over the burnout now. I am back to loving AFL even more than ever.”
We can speak for most when we say that we are glad that Bella was able to bounce back from her burnout—but the fact that she was able to do so, shows the level of strength that her character has.
Besides performing at state level, Bella has also found success at local level—the first of which came in 2016 when she was awarded with Southern Districts’ U18s Best and Fairest.
However, 2019 has proven to be the best indication of what Bella is capable of achieving because, as mentioned before, she was the Co-Captain of the Northern Territory U18s side that year. From this, she then went on to play in the Central Allies side—keeping in mind that this was also during the time that she was going through a “burnout” period.
“… Being selected for the NT/SA combined team was definitely a highlight and the whole trip to the Gold Coast in general was just an unbelievable experience. Getting to play against football players that are now being drafted is just unreal.”
While these are impressive accolades, it was what happened towards the end of 2019 and early 2020 that sits at the very top of her favourite footballing moments. This moment being when Southern Districts claimed the 2019/20 NTFL Women’s Premier League Premiership.
“It was honestly one of the best experiences of my life. It was a long time coming and we definitely worked for it. We went from winning one or two games a season, and being super proud of those wins, to being the top side in the 2019/20 season.” “So I’m definitely a player that knows how to lose but having to work harder and harder each season just made winning that premiership so much greater.”
So, what is the next chapter for this talent from the Top End?
“Honestly at the moment I’m just seeing how it goes. We have an NT rep game in January against Glenelg so hopefully I perform well in that and we will see where it goes from there.”
“I would love to have the opportunity to play for Fremantle or West Cost Eagles in AFLW in the future, but I have a fair way to go yet.”
While her footballing is still considerably young, with five years of footballing experience under her belt—she has already proven that she has the dedication and the passion to not only play but also to excel at the game, and there is also evidence that shows she has the strength to cope when things get tough.
So, while most would say that footy in the Northern Territory is unique—if Bella Clarke continues to develop further, then we can also say that she will be one of the next talented Territorians that are ready for the next step.
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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.