• Jayden J Bartlett

Lauren Clifton - the Debutant

Updated: Nov 3, 2021


"I would say to not be afraid to give it a crack. If you’re a bit afraid, that’s totally normal! Just go out and have a go because it can lead anywhere. I never expected to be where I am today, so there’s no harm in trying!"

 

Round One 2020, marked the start of a SANFL Women’s season like no other. While the round is best described as the calm before the storm – since the league was postponed due to the pandemic just a month late – it also gave us a glimpse at an exciting Great Southern product.

Hailing from the Willunga Football Club and having spent time in South Adelaide’s Junior Pathway, Lauren Clifton gained an experience that most footballers dream for – a Round One debut.

“Making my debut was very nerve-racking. I felt extremely nervous the whole day leading up to it," Lauren said when asked how she felt during the build-up to her debut. "When we finally stepped onto the field I suddenly didn’t feel as nervous as before."


“Other than that, it was such a cool experience being able to play with the girls and know that they were so supportive.”


The match ended in a nail-biting 4-point win in favour of the Panthers. As for Lauren, she went on to become a regular part of the side for the remainder of the 2020 SANFLW season.


'The Great Southern Product' - this image was taken by MWM.

While Round One 2020 was Lauren’s first time on the field as a senior SANFLW player – it was by no means her first footy game, since she had already spent several years with the Demons in the GSFLW.


“I love Willunga. It is my home club, and I have played netball and started my football journey there,” she said when asked about her time with Willunga. “The people there are like my family, and I wouldn’t be where I am today without them.”


However, despite her strong connection to football – and the Willunga Football Club in particular – she isn’t quite sure as to why she began this exciting footy journey, to begin with.


“I can’t remember exactly why I got interested. I know that my PE teacher at the time said I should give it a go, so I guess that’s what got me started and I have loved it ever since,” she said when asked about what drove her to play footy.


“I think that I just love having the freedom to run around and be a part of a team. I reckon that the part I enjoy most is having a team that has your back when you go for a goal, or even when you are just running down a player.”


Unfortunately, since Lauren became such a regular part of the Panthers side during 2020, she ended up playing too many matches to qualify for the GSFLW finals – meaning she was ineligible to play in the Grand Final for the Demons.


However, while Willunga would suffer a Grand Final defeat in 2020 – they would return for redemption in the 2021 GSFLW Grand Final, this time with Lauren playing.


She made her presence felt by kicking the opening goal of the Grand Final. She continued to play a defining role right up until the final siren, which marked a hard-fought 9-point win for the Dees.


'Demons First Flag' - this image was taken by MWM.

However, while Lauren was busy impressing at the club level, she was also busy performing for South Adelaide’s junior sides. With 2019 marking her first season with the Panthers U17s and fittingly, she ended up playing in their Premiership that same year.


The 2021 GSFL Open Women’s Premiership was Lauren’s first premiership medallion from a senior football level. Yet, as well as time with the dominant Willunga juniors, she also played in the Panthers Under-17s side who, in just her first year in with them, took out the 2019 flag.


“It was so much fun. The group of girls were awesome and to play in any Grand Final is such a privilege,” she said when asked about her SANFLW Under-17s success. “The mood is so much different to any other game, and it was just so enjoyable.”

2019 was an impressive year all-around for Lauren. This is because she was selected into the South Australian Under-16s State Team – to make the experience even more “amazing”, the Croweaters went on to defeat Victoria for the first time.


“It was so much fun to be able to train with one group of girls and travel to Mt Gambier,” she replied when questioned about her time in the red, blue, and yellow.


“When we won against Victoria it was such an awesome feeling knowing that all our hard work paid off.”


'Searching for Glory' - this image was taken by MWM.

With a playing career like this, it wasn’t that much of a surprise that Lauren got brought up into South Adelaide’s Senior Women’s Squad for the 2020 SANFLW season – which, at the time, she was one of the youngest players on the Panthers squad.

However, despite being one of the youngest, her time with the Willunga Open Women’s side in the GSFLW made the transition into senior SANFLW football a little smoother.

“I didn’t find it too much different. Since I have played in the women’s team at Willunga for a couple of years I suppose I’m used to being around an older group. I have noticed that the knowledge of the seniors is much higher than the juniors though”.


Overall, the talented Demon says that her time with the Panthers’ senior squad “has been so cool”.

“I have found that it’s quite different to being in the development groups because it’s more challenging and at a higher level.”


“Other than that, I love the group of girls in the squad and the coaches always want you to get better.”


This love for the Panthers was on full display during her earlier mentioned SANFLW debut match. As one of the youngest players on the field, this exciting winger finished with 12 disposals, 6 marks and 3 tackles.


However, despite having several premierships to her name, a few state selections and a spot on a SANFLW side - Lauren has remained extremely humble, best shown by the fact that she still hasn’t forgotten about those who have helped her reach this point.


With a special mention going to “everyone that has helped me get where I am today. My family have always had a massive impact and all of the coaches I have had have made footy fun”.


'Lozzy Clifton' - this image was taken by MWM.

So what is the next chapter for this promising Panther?


“At the moment I’m just taking it day by day,” she said when questioned about her future in footy.


“Hopefully, I get to play a couple of games in the South Women’s team. That’s my main goal I suppose. It would be cool to play in the AFLW one day though.”


Still being young and full of potential, Lauren has already notched up some premiership success as well as having represented the South Australian Under-16s and Under-19s teams – meaning that she certainly has the capability to develop even further. And while Round One of the 2020 SANFLW season was probably one of the first times that most supporters had heard the name Lauren Clifton – time has proven that this was certainly not the last time either.



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