• Jayden J Bartlett

Mackenzie Eardley - a Dandenong Star

All-Australian: it is a term that represents the pinnacle of football talent. Think of when a player gets to represent their state – it is a huge honour – and such a selection leaves us saying that they are one of the best players in the state.

But an All-Australian, well they are the best in the country.

And to be a key position player within an All-Australian squad is, as Mackenzie Eardley puts it, “pretty surreal”.

“Probably hasn’t set in … it’s just something you don’t imagine happening and it’s just a really surreal feeling that I’ve been recognised for what I’ve done on field,” Mackenzie said about her All-Australian selection this year.

This achievement has been 7 years in the making for the Victorian prospect. A 7-year-old footballing journey that has accumulated into her being named at full-back in the 2022 All-Australian under-18s side.

However, where Mackenzie currently sits, with her name plastered alongside some of the other country's most exciting prospects, is a long way from where she was at with her football. Considering, that when she was younger, footy was more of a fun hobby to play with friends.

Growing up, Mackenzie always had netball as her primary sport. She started playing netball in her local league at around the age of 9 and, after enjoying stints on the Morning Peninsula and at Red Hill, she eventually found her way onto the Casey Demons under-19s Victoria Netball League (VNL) list.

Impressively, in her first year there and as one of the youngest there, Mackenzie came runner up to the 2021 Casey Demons’ VNL Best and Fairest – which left the young netballer in shock.

“… I just didn’t expect to be recognised with an award as it was such a group of amazing netballers that there were so many other girls who could have taken the honours of that award. I was privileged and over the moon, but I’d say shocked was a definite main feeling at the time,” Mackenzie said.

At the same time, her footballing career was beginning to shape into something extremely promising.

Despite a rough patch early on, juggling her football and netball commitments was never a major issue for Mackenzie – thanks, in part, due to the flexibility and patience of her coaches. 2021 did offer some trouble for this dual athlete, but those troubles were mainly external as COVID and glandular fever both caused their problems.

“… But with such a good support system I was able to make it through both seasons, getting the most out of both,” Mackenzie said.

But despite holding a special love for netball – football slowly began to take over as her main sport. Enjoying the competitiveness and socialness of football, her love for football grew to the point where she decided to take a step back from netball this year. However, she hasn’t quite let go of her love for netball completely.

I can for sure say netball has had the best influence on my life that a sport can. I’ve met so many great people through the sport and many great coaches, that have taught me many things not just netball related,” Mackenzie said.

State Pride - image kindly supplied by Mackenzie (pictured right).

During Mackenzie’s 7 years of playing football; she played for 5 years at the Beleura Junior Football Club, she also played interleague football for the MPJFL, and she played V-Line football for the Southern Stingrays.

And from these years, she came runner-up to the MPJFL Best and Fairest on 2 occasions and played in the 2019 premiership with Beleura where she was crowned as their Best on Ground.

While her time at the local level was great and it adds context to her promising football journey; however, what Mackenzie Eardley is best known for, apart from being an All-Australian, is being a Dandenong Stingray.

To be a Stingray is to be hardworking, determined, persistent and strong, not just physically but mentally,” Mackenzie said when asked what it meant to be a Stingray. Our Stingrays girls all bring their own individual touch to the game that makes them standout.”

“So, owning your own strength that makes you you is what makes a Stingray girl a Stingray.”

Mackenzie’s praises for her beloved club do not stop there:

“We do everything we can for each other and will put our bodies on the line for each other.. to be a part of such a strong and united club just immediately puts a smile on my face. A true honour.”

Mackenzie’s time spent donning the colours of the Dandenong Stingrays and playing in the NAB League Girls competition has certainly been eventful. Her first season at the club ended after only 3 games by the COVID pandemic. She has been coached by some amazing people, “especially Kelly Fallon and Coxy”, who helped show her the ropes. And last but not least, she was selected to co-Captain her beloved Stingrays.

Being trusted to lead the Stingrays is a huge honour – and it is an honour that caught the talented defender off-guard since she headed into the year with the intention of “just playing with the Rays and hoping to get a premiership”.

“It was a true honour to be named and have the support and knowledge that not only the coaching staff, but the players had faith in my leadership and not just me as a player, but as a person,” Mackenzie said.

For context, the 2022 Dandenong squad was, well, a special side. This was no ordinary line-up, the team that Mackenzie was chosen to lead was filled to the brim with talent. Their list bolstered the likes of Amber Clarke, a fellow All-Australian; Charley Ryan, a Vic Country representative; Emily Shepherd, a star prospect; Jaide Anthony, a now Sydney Swans AFLW draftee; and her fellow co-Captain, Felicity Crank.

“It’s the team that makes the job easy as their hard work and determination makes leading them a piece of cake,” Mackenzie said.

“And I couldn’t ask for a better person to captain alongside. Flick brings out the toughness that a captain needs whereas I can tend to be quiet, so we balance each other out quite well.”

A reserved leader, Mackenzie is the type of person that one would want to represent their football club. She is loyal, respectful, humble and – above all else – talented. Unfortunately, after enjoying an amazing season, the Stingrays fell just short of tasting the ultimate success during the 2022 NAB League Girls Grand Final.

But despite the Grand Final heartache, Mackenzie wouldn’t swap her colours for another.

“The girls have been great as they are such a strong determined team it only helps in creating that same determination and competitiveness in me,” Mackenzie said about her time at the club. “There is so much support at that club and I can say I am so honoured to have experienced my NAB League experience there.”

The Mighty Rays - image kindly supplied by Mackenzie (pictured left).

This year has been this humble Stingray’s breakout season – but she also offered a glimpse of her potential last year. Impressing at the NAB League level saw her receive the 2021 Dandenong Coaches Award and a spot on the Victoria Country under-19s side. Similarly, her impressive season spent leading the Stingrays from the back this year led her to don the big V once again.

“Whether I did it last year or not, it was a privilege to represent alongside such a great group of girls,” Mackenzie said.

“It’s such an exciting time to bring together the best players across the nation, and to be able to play against some top names you really can push yourself to a new level you didn’t know you could reach. I firmly believe we showed the grit and determination that comes with the Vic Country title.”

And from her time with Victoria Country, she was selected into the 2022 All-Australian under-18s squad. But after 2 amazing years of football – what is next for Mackenzie?

Mackenzie Eardley: she is an athletic and powerful defender who has represented Victoria Country twice and helped lead an extraordinary team. This makes her one extremely exciting prospect.

Nonetheless, this humble and reserved Victorian prospect has, by being named as an All-Australian, become one of the best defenders in the country.

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Article #232

Minutes with Moose would like to thank all of our ambassadors.

All of these images have been kindly supplied by Mackenzie.

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