Cleo Guilfoyle - the Rising Demon
It takes plenty of hard work, and sometimes guts, to play football in an age group higher than your own. These qualities are something that Cleo Guilfoyle has become accustomed to during her 4 years of football.
Donning the colours of the Willunga Demons in the Great Southern Football League Women’s (GSFLW) competition, she has routinely faced off against much older opponents.
However, regardless of if she is in under-13s playing under-16s or under-17s playing in the open’s, 1 thing stays the same and that is Cleo’s impressively high work rate.
Throughout her 4 years of football there is perhaps a no better example of her hard work and dedication than on GSFLW Grand Final Day 2021 when, after missing 6 rounds throughout the season due to a back injury, she played in Willunga’s under-17s and open women’s premierships.
“The best feeling,” Cleo said when asked about that special day. “Couldn’t keep a smile off my face and I was so proud of my teammates.”
“Then again I was also aching, despite my back injury I still played but it was all so worth it.”
These feelings of pride and joy were a far cry from where her mind was during the season, with the young gun having to cope with watching her side play from the sidelines for nearly half of the year.
“I was really sad and although I wasn’t I felt left out because I couldn’t train or play, and I felt distant from footy and my team,” she said when asked how she felt missing 6 rounds of footy.
“It started to get better after 4 weeks so I played a game but only lasted 2 minutes before it stuffed up again.”
“It also affected me because I knew I was going to be behind in footy once I got back to playing and it would take a while to get back to the level I was at. I felt like I wasn’t good at footy anymore.”
This time spent on the sidelines only made her eventual return to footy, and the 2 flags that came with it, that extra bit special.
“It was so good and the fact I made it through both games was a great feeling. I felt a part of the team more than ever.”
Long before that historic day for the Demons, Cleo’s sporting journey was a little more mixed. She spent a year playing touch football with her mum, 5 years spent playing soccer with the boys and 3 years spent playing summer netball.
This unorthodox sporting background also included tag rugby, a sport that she continues to play alongside football because “the more running the better”.
“I feel like since playing different sports growing up it teaches me different kinds of skills and keeps my fitness up,” she replied when asked if these sports benefited her switch to football.
As well as having years of sporting experience before she strapped on the football boots, Cleo is also very appreciative for the support she has had behind her throughout this time.
“My parents, my coaches and my teammates because I would be nowhere without them,” she said when asked if there was anyone she would like to thank for impacting her football.
This support and experience proved crucial in Cleo’s early development, which has since seen her grow into one of the Great Southern’s most exciting prospects.
For instance, Cleo has represented the Great Southern Association side on 2 occasions, 2019 and 2021, which she says was “so good”.
“… I got to play with different girls in a different environment and a whole new team. Playing with them was fun and we won which was even better.”
“I got some different coaching too and at the end, I got good feedback. Overall, it was a great experience.”
As well as representative football, Cleo’s time at the club level with Willunga has also been great – and she has loved every minute of it.
“Being a part of the Demons is the best, it’s like a big family and there’s never a boring time.”
“My time there has been amazing it’s such a great environment. Some of my best memories have been made there and nothings better when we win flags.”
From her first year of football, it was clear that Cleo was cut out for the sport, with her 2018 efforts seeing her finish runner-up to Willunga’s Best and Fairest. Then she went a step further in 2019 by claiming their under-13s Best and Fairest.
During 2019, despite being eligible for under-13s, Cleo played under-16s and her side went on to win that year’s premiership. However, she was overseas at the time the Demons claimed the Grand Final win.
Impressively, she is not fazed in the slightest when having to line up against older opponents. Since 2019 was just her second year of football yet she played in all 3 age brackets (under-13s, under-16s and opens).
“I don’t think of it like it’s no different from playing under-17’s, the competition is a bit harder but overall, I play the same and I just focus on the game.”
Choosing to focus on the game resulted in 2019 becoming her breakout year in football as she also took part in South Adelaide’s Junior Development Pathway – a spot she would gain again in 2021.
Continuing with her impressive footy, 2020 saw Cleo claim Willunga’s Coaches Award before then taking part in the historic 2 flags in 1 day moment during 2021.
These impressive years of football have set her up for a new chapter in 2022, with Cleo set to don the colours of South Adelaide in the South Australian National Football League Women’s (SANFLW) competition.
Having already spent two years in the Panthers development side, this young centre half-forward is enjoying her time with the senior side and she’s excited to see where her footy goes in 2022.
“So far it’s been a really good experience and the skill level is very different from the club and I feel like I have improved in a lot of ways.”
“The girls are so supportive, and the coaches spend their time helping us players be the best we can and push us to reach our limits. I enjoy it.”
At just 15 years of age, the youngest you can be on a SANFLW list, Cleo has many years of football ahead of her – plenty of time to develop even further.
“I hope to improve and continue playing in the SANFLW, get a premiership maybe. I want to get to a high level with my football but can’t wait to see where I go with footy,” she said when asked about her goals for 2022 and beyond.
At the end of the day, South Adelaide are no stranger to producing local AFLW talent and, with plenty of young talent at their disposal, there’s no real reason why Cleo Guilfoyle cannot be a part of the Panthers next bunch of exciting prospects.
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Willunga image was kindly supplied by the Willunga Football Club, South Adelaide images were taken by MWM.