Midfielder Alyce Parker won the 2021 Gabrielle Trainor Medal for being the GWS Giants AFLW best and fairest in convincing fashion, polling 94 votes to finish ahead of fellow midfielder Rebecca Beeson on 64 votes and Irish forward Cora Staunton on 57 votes. At 20 years of age Parker became the first player to win the Gabrielle Trainor Medal multiple times, having previously won the best and fairest in 2020. Parker has finished in the top five of the GWS best and fairest in all three AFLW seasons, having finished fifth in her debut 2019 season.
Growing up in country New South Wales Parker had displayed her talent in a wide variety of sports, reaching state level in seven different sports as a junior. A critical factor in Parker deciding to focus on Australian Rules Football over other sports was the Aussie Rules pathway provided at state level by New South Wales / Australian Capital Territory and the loyalty and support provided by the GWS Giants in the latter stages of her junior career.
After receiving the 2021 Gabrielle Trainor Medal on Thursday 29 April Parker commented in her acceptance speech “It is an absolute honour to be involved in this club and I have only been here for three years, three years isn’t a very long time but every year I am here I constantly am reminded of how incredible it is to be involved in not just a club but a family and so many people. Most of them are in this room tonight make me feel a part of this family and it’s the exact reason as to why I am learning to enjoy Sydney as a home, but I am able to play good football purely because I enjoy it and the people in this room and everyone that has contributed to my journey is the answer to that so thank you.”
Early life and junior career
Alyce Parker was born on 15 August 2000 and grew up on a cropping and sheep farm in Holbrook, a small town in the southern New South Wales Riverina region with a population of 1,715 people (as per the 2016 census) and located approximately 65 kilometres north-east of Albury. Alyce’s parents are Donna and Fraser and she has two older sisters.
Growing up Parker played and excelled at a wide variety of sports and in June 2020 told the ‘Becoming GIANT’ podcast “In all my sports it wasn’t just something that I was doing with my mates it was something that I wanted to go as far as I could in every sport that I could and at one stage I had reached state level in seven sports which is exciting as a young kid that is just enjoying everything but I don’t think anyone has ever gone to the Olympics in more than two sports.” The seven sports that Parker reached state level in were swimming, netball, Australian Rules football, cricket, basketball, tennis and athletics.
Swimming was the first sport that Parker’s competitive prowess and talent came to the fore, winning sprint freestyle races at eight years of age. Parker told womens.afl in October 2018 “Coming from a swimming background has definitely helped my football, not only my body composition, but also aerobic fitness and resilience. It’s been one of the biggest parts of my journey.”1
In ‘Pocket Profile: Alyce Parker’ published on gwsgiants.com.au on 11 December 2018 Parker was asked “How did you get into football and where, and when was your first game?” Parker responded “When I was 12, I played a lot with the boys on the oval at school and my Phys-Ed teacher noticed I could kick quite well, so I was asked if I wanted to play in the boys Paul Kelly Cup side, which I did, playing my first game on the Holbrook Football Oval.”2
On the ‘Becoming GIANT’ Parker podcast where Parker was the special guest in June 2020 she spoke about her football pathway saying ”For me I was in the perfect wave to be honest, coming through. The age I hit where we were no longer able to play under 14 boys in the Hume League around here but I had both the schoolgirls opportunity and the Rams and two years later they established their first league in Albury and Wagga as well so I was very lucky, there was actually no point where I had to stop playing AFL.”
Parker played club football for the Thurgoona Bulldogs in the Tallangatta and District Football League (TDFL). Playing in the midfield for the NSW/ACT Rams Parker excelled at the AFLW Under 18 National Championships in 2017 and 2018 to be selected as the ruck rover in the AFLW Under 18 All-Australian team in both years and was named captain in the latter year. At the 2018 NAB AFLW Under-18 Championships Parker played five games for NSW/ACT, averaging 20.2 kicks, 4.0 handballs, 2.8 marks, 14.8 contested possessions, 4.4 tackles, 4.4 inside 50’s and 3.0 score involvements per game.
The profile for Parker in AFLW Prospectus 2019 said “Alyce Parker’s performance at the NAB AFLW Under-18 Championships was outstanding. She was by far the best player throughout, averaging 206 Champion Data ranking points per game. The ball magnet averaged 24 disposals per game, the most of any player. She was exceptional at the coal face, ranking No. 1 across the Championships for contested possessions and clearances.”3 At junior level Parker used the ‘don’t argue’ very effectively to break tackles.
In 2018 playing for the NSW/ACT Rams Parker was coached by two of her current GWS teammates with current GWS captain Alicia Eva being the head coach and Nicola Barr being an assistant coach. In May 2020 Parker commented to womens.afl on the impact Eva had on the Australian Rules football pathway in NSW/ACT, saying “Our first meeting with her, we all walked away wowed by her. We knew straight away that she was an incredible coach and she was going to have a huge impact, not just for us as individuals, but the whole pathway in New South Wales. I knew that the fact I wanted to play AFLW was purely based on if I was going to keep meeting people like her, that was a huge attraction for me.”4
On the ‘Becoming GIANT’ podcast host Emma Quayle asked “How did AFL end up the focus for you because even in your draft year it wasn’t all you were doing?” Parker responded “I was involved in the Rams pathway for three years and the first two years they were obviously branching us with the idea of playing AFLW and that was the ultimate focus as young girls coming through the pathway but for me I was the absolute opposite, I deterred from that idea. Not one inch of me wanted to play AFLW as a career because I was still playing my other sports. To be honest being so new to the sport I knew that it was still at its developing stages and I wasn’t sure if it was something for me. I guess it goes to show how well the pathway of New South Wales/ACT is, it accommodates for absolutely anyone, someone who wants to do AFLW as a career and that’s all they want or is someone who just loves kicking a football with their friends.”
“In my final year, being my draft year I had definitely cut down my sports and it was basically just netball and football and in the end I was actually training more netball than I was football and it was way to much of a load and that was the year Alicia Eva came on board. Even probably the first few months of being in the program I knew that AFLW was an opportunity and she was opening up I guess the elite-ness to me. It was pretty soon that she convinced me and I couldn’t base it 100% on her but to say that someone had actually been such a part of the reason why you chose to do AFL as a career, that is pretty incredible and it is something I will never forget. Because with someone like her she coaches you as a footballer but she coaches you as a person as well. My experience with football leading up to that was just a bit of fun with my friends but as soon as she came on board I knew this is something I want to do, there is so much opportunity and if I am going to meet people like Alicia Eva in the next few years by playing football then that is 100% my decision, so it was about six months out from the draft. All I wanted to do at that point was play football and do everything I could to get drafted and that is what I worked towards for the next six months.”
Being drafted by the GWS Giants and debut 2019 AFLW season
Due to the part-time nature of the league the AFLW has a region based draft where players are able to nominate which region (usually a state) they want to play in. Parker’s nominated region was New South Wales which meant that the GWS Giants were the only club eligible to select her.
On nominating the New South Wales region for the draft and wanting to play for the Giants Parker commented to gwsgiants.com.au “Being from Holbrook, which is actually closer to Melbourne, it would in a way be geographically easier if I played for a Melbourne club. But to say no to a club like (GWS), I couldn’t fathom it. They treated me so well from such a young age, and I guess from such a long way out from the draft, which in the end made it easier for me. I knew quite some time before the draft that I wanted to be a GIANT, and that I wanted to play for the GIANTS and play alongside Amanda Farrugia and Alicia Eva. You’ve always got (offers coming from elsewhere) if you’re at the top of that talent pathway, but I think they all pretty much knew how much I wanted to be a GIANT. I was very loyal to them but nowhere near as much as the GIANTS were to me.”5
The 2018 NAB AFLW draft was held at Marvel Stadium on Tuesday 23 October at 12.00pm. Geelong selected Nina Morrison with pick 1 and Sophie Van De Huevel with pick 2. The first player from the Victoria Metro region chosen was Madison Prespakis by Carlton with pick 3.
The GWS Giants selected Parker with their first pick at the 2018 NAB AFLW Draft, pick 12 overall, the final pick of the first round. At the time of being drafted Parker was 18 years old and 164 centimetres tall. In an open draft like with the AFL Parker would have been selected much higher, it is likely that she would have been one of the top three selections along with Morrison and Prespakis. Parker attended the draft at Marvel Stadium and had her close family along with Rams coach and now Giants team-mate Eva with her. Parker did some media for about 25 minutes after being drafted but then had to leave for another commitment, telling giants.com.au “Post getting drafted, I had a quick exit from the draft over to Melbourne High School to sit my HSC exam (for Agriculture) for the next 3 hours only an hour after having my name called out.”6
Growing up Parker’s football idol was Brett Deledio who wore number 3 for Richmond and late in his career he joined the GWS Giants. Parker was given the GWS Giants number 3 jumper for the 2019 AFLW season and also got to be locker buddies with Giants vice-captain Eva who wears number 2. Amanda Farrugia was again voted in as the GWS Giants AFLW captain for the 2019 season, having held the role from the club’s inaugural season in 2017. Likewise inaugural Giants AFLW head coach Alan McConnell continued in the role in 2019.
In October 2018 Eva commented to womens.afl on Parker “She covers the ground really well aerobically, but her ability to break out of traffic, drive her legs through into space and then get the ball moving long is her hallmark trait at the moment. She’s got really solid hands, so she can go forward and take a grab as well. She’s very switched on, but she can be very quiet. She’s a ripping kid, works really hard and ticks all the boxes in terms of recovery and preparation. She’s all ready to go in terms of being the ultimate professional.”7
On Sky Sports Radio’s Big Sports Breakfast on 23 March 2021 Parker was asked by Michael Clarke “How hard is that transition from under-age going into grown women, again that competitiveness?” Parker responded “It definitely depends on the pathway you come out of. For me I weas lucky enough to come into AFLW quite prepared. That was off the back of coming out of the AFL NSW/ACT pathway for three years and then when I was 15 they started up the National Academy for the women which was a huge step in the development of young girls to come into AFLW as 18 year olds but came in quite prepared, so for me to have that exposure to incredible people that I guess opened my eyes up to what AFLW was becoming, yeah it allowed me to come in quite prepared but ready to take on the challenge. In saying that it is always a huge step up coming from an under 18 competition in any sport and playing against full-grown women that have been playing for a very long time.”
In Round 1, 2019 Parker made her AFLW debut for the GWS Giants against Brisbane at Moreton Bay Complex. At 18 years and 172 days of age Parker was the youngest Giants player for the game and one of only two teenagers along with Haneen Zreika (19 years and 294 days old). On debut Parker had six kicks, an equal game-high 12 handballs, four marks and laid three tackles to receive a Rising Star nomination.
During 2019 Parker played all seven games for the GWS Giants and averaged 9.6 kicks, 6.7 handballs, 1.9 marks, 4.1 tackles per game. Parker had at least 12 disposals in every game and had more than 17 disposals in three games. Throughout the 2019 AFLW season Parker was consistent and was still able to use the ‘don’t argue’ effectively playing against grown women, however due to playing in a higher level league she had less time and space which resulted in her kick to handball ratio being significantly lower than it had been at the 2017 and 2018 Under 18 National Championships. Over these two Championships Parker’s combined ratio was 4.22 kicks for every handball. During the 2019 AFLW season Parker’s ratio was 1.43 kicks for every handball.
In the 2019 home and away season the Giants had two wins and five losses to finish third out of five teams in Conference B, the top two team in each conference hosted a preliminary final against the second ranked team from the other conference.
The profile for Parker in AFLW Prospectus 2020 said “After dominating women’s junior football for years, Parker debuted last season for the Giants and quickly established herself as a premium inside midfielder – ranking No. 1 at the club for Champion Data ranking points, contested possessions, and groundball-gets, while ranking second for disposals and clearances and third for tackles.”8
Parker finished fifth in the GWS Giants 2019 best and fairest with 50 votes behind Rebecca Beeson (54), Alicia Eva (52), Cora Staunton (52), and Ellie Brush (51). In the AFLW’s Rising Star Award Parker was runner-up, polling 39 votes to finish 10 votes behind Madison Prespakis.
2020 AFLW season with the GWS Giants
GWS Giants inaugural AFLW captain Amanda Farrugia announced her retirement as an AFLW player in November 2019 having played and been the club’s captain in all 21 games across the first three AFLW seasons from 2017 to 2019. Eva was appointed the Giants captain for 2020.
In a Round 1 home game at Blacktown in the rain Parker polled votes in the AFLW league best and fairest for the first time, receiving the maximum three votes for a brilliant performance in which she had a game-high 22 disposals comprised of 17 kicks and five handballs whilst also laying five tackles and taking two marks. Parker’s mentor Eva in her first game as GWS captain had 17 disposals – ranked second for the game and polled two votes in the league best and fairest.
After having a gap-year in 2019Parker started studying Agricultural/Business Management part-time through Charles Sturt University in Wagga during 2020.
In Round 5 the GWS Giants played Richmond at Robertson Oval in Wagga Wagga which is 80 kilometres from Parker’s hometown of Holbrook. Due to the much shorter trip than a typical Giants home game Parker had many friends and family at the game cheering her on. Parker had a game-high 24 disposals in the Giants 45 point victory.
Due to COVID-19 the scheduled AFLW home and away season didn’t get completed, with the last two rounds being cancelled, shortening the season from eight rounds to six rounds. The GWS Giants had four wins and two losses to finish second out of five teams in Conference A and hosted a final at Giants Stadium against Melbourne who had finished third in Conference B with four wins and two losses.
In the club’s first ever AFLW final the GWS Giants led Melbourne by 14 points at three quarter-time but were overrun with Melbourne kicking the only three goals of the last quarter to win by three points and end the Giants season. Parker had a game-high 23 disposals comprised of 16 kicks and seven handballs and also took four marks.
During the 2020 AFLW season opposition clubs regularly opted to tag Parker but had little success. In five of her seven games during 2020 Parker had at least 22 disposals including a season-high 30 disposals in the Round 6 victory against Adelaide. Parker averaged 21.1 disposals, 11.7 contested possessions, 376.7 metres gained, 4.1 intercept possessions, 2.9 tackles and 4.0 clearances per game in 2020. Although still a teenager Parker led the AFLW for metres gained per game and ranked second for contested possessions in 2020.
Parker was selected as the centre in the 2020 AFLW 22under22 team and polled six votes in the league best and fairest, polling votes in the first three rounds. Parker polled 61 votes to win the GWS Giants 2020 AFLW best and fairest award ahead of Elle Bennetts (55 votes) and Brit Tully (49). Parker also received the member’s choice award. In the 2020 AFLW All-Australian team Parker was selected on the interchange and was the only Giants player in the team.
Towards the end of the ‘Becoming GIANT’ podcast in June 2020 Emma Quayle asked Parker “Tell me about your dreams for AFLW. Like you have come in at a young age just when it is getting going. What are your dreams for the competition and what you could achieve in it as the years go by?” Parker responded “Well I think the ultimate dream and I am just fortunate enough being so young and I am not at the stage where I am heading towards my retirement years, like I am just starting so the ultimate dream is for me and I could bet any AFLW player is to have this sport as full-time. We understand that is not going to happen initially and it might take some time, it might be at the absolute back-end of my career or I might not even experience it, but to play a sport that you love, not just as something part-time or something that you probably put behind your job based on the amount of money you are being paid, just to have that as your number one priority. Just to have the opportunity to dedicate everything towards it, that would be my dream.”
2021 AFLW season with the GWS Giants
The GWS Giants had a challenging off-season between the 2020 and 2021 AFL seasons. Inaugural Giants player Jacinda Barclay passed away at 29 years of age in October 2020.
On the 1st of January, 2021 the Giants relocated to Albury due to the number of COVID-19 cases in Sydney which resulted in border restrictions. After spending more than 14 days out of Greater Sydney the Giants relocated to Adelaide.
On the 2 February, 2021 ‘Credit to the Girls’ episode co-host Lucy Watkin asked “What has it been like having to live in such close quarters with your team-mates, has it been an advantage and what has it been like?” Parker replied “I think for everyone it has been different, obviously everyone has different commitments and responsibilities. Across the board everyone has had to make some sacrifice and some more than others, but yeah I think going into it no-one knew what to expect and no-one knew if we would get a week in and get sick of each other and couldn’t deal with it anymore, but definitely not for us. We’re incredibly lucky with the group that we have, an amazing group of girls and our support staff and coaches, we’re just good people up here and we have an amazing club that we are a part of which makes living 24 7 together for I think it was nearly six weeks quite easy in the end. Obviously it did come with its challenges like I said before but for me personally it was good for me to see a different side of the group that I guess potentially you wouldn’t see just in the normal sort of AFLW program when its only part-time. I think it is an experience that we will never forget but as long as we remember the positives which there were absolutely plenty I think by the end of it. Actually now that we are all back in Sydney I reckon we have all got a bit of separation anxiety and we are all missing each other every day.”
On ‘Credit to the Girls’ Sarah Black asked “As you mentioned the family farm is just up the road (from Albury) and you did manage to host the girls and give them a bit of an insight into what your life is like on the farm. That must have been a real special experience for you.” Parker responded “Yeah, I couldn’t quite find the word for I guess a few days afterwards but talking to my sister and she said it perfectly. It was without doubt a milestone in my life to be able to I guess have my two families collide and meet, my family in Sydney, all the girls and the whole club to be able to see I guess the side to my life that not many had and I guess put the two sides together and realise why I have this great love for home and why I like to come home during the off-season as much as I can. It was such a special night, particularly that night when they all came out for dinner, there was also a couple of days where I could take a couple out for a bit of a farm day which like I said is something I will never forget and I think all the girls absolutely loved it.”
After playing Fremantle at Fremantle Oval in Round 1 the Giants were able to return to Sydney and played a home game at Blacktown International Sportspark in Round 2 on 7 February against Adelaide.
Entering the 2021 season Parker had only had more than 23 disposals in an AFLW game twice, 24 disposals against Richmond in Round 6, 2020 and 30 disposals against Adelaide the following week. In each of the first four games of 2021 Parker had at least 24 disposals. In Round 2, 2021 against Adelaide Parker kicked the first goal of her career after taking a contested mark in a pack 20 metres out from goal and then receiving a 50 metre penalty for the ball being knocked away.
With rain falling for most of the Giants Round 3 game against Gold Coast at Blacktown International Sportspark Parker excelled with her hard two-way running and ball winning to have a game-high 24 disposals, comprised of 12 kicks and 12 handballs, laid five tackles, had six clearances and six intercept possessions in the 10 point victory to earn three votes in the league best and fairest.
In heavy rain at RSEA Park against St Kilda in Round 7 Parker had an equal career-high 21 kicks and also had seven handballs, six marks and laid four tackles and was awarded the three league best and fairest votes in the 20 point victory.
Parker polled the maximum three votes in the AFLF best and fairest in each of the Giants final three games of the season. Parker had a game-high 19 kicks, six handballs, five marks and laid four tackles in the Giants penultimate game of the home and away season, a seven point victory against Geelong in an away game at GMHBA Stadium.
Against Carlton at Blacktown International Sportspark in Round 9 the Giants trailed by 13 points at half-time and finished the game strongly but fell just short, being defeated by a point. Parker had a game-high 18 kicks, eight handballs and laid a team-high six tackles.
The GWS Giants had four wins and five losses during the 2021 home and away season to finish in ninth position, two games and percentage behind North Melbourne who finished sixth to secure the last finals position.
Parker finished runner-up in the AFL Coaches Association 2021 AFLW Champion Player of the Year Award, polling 59 votes to finish three votes behind Fremantle’s Kiara Bowers and two votes ahead of North Melbourne’s Jasmine Garner. Parker was selected as the rover in the 2021 All-Australian team, becoming the first Giants player to be selected in the All-Australian team twice. Parker was also selected in the 22under22 team for the second year in a row, being named the rover in 2021.
During the 2021 home and away season Parker had more than 23 disposals in seven of her nine games with the only exceptions being 16 disposals against both the Western Bulldogs in Round 5 and the Brisbane Lions in Round 6. In 2021 Parker played all nine games for the GWS Giants and averaged 15.7 kicks, 8.2 handballs, 3.0 marks, 5.1 tackles, 14.9 contested possessions, 385.8 metres gained and 4.5 clearances per game. Parker was the equal leader in the AFLW for disposals per game along with St Kilda’s Georgia Patrikios, led the league for contested possessions, ranked second for clearances, third for metres gained and inside 50’s, equal third for kicks and equal seventh for rebound 50’s. Parker was the only player in the league to rank in the top 10 for both inside 50’s and rebound 50’s, highlighting her hard and effective two-way running.
After Round 6 of the AFLW best and fairest Parker had polled five votes and was out of overall contention, being 10 votes behind the leader – Collingwood midfielder Bri Davey. Up until Round 6, 2021 Parker had polled the maximum three votes in the league best and fairest twice in her career, she surpassed this mark in the final third of the 2021 home and away season, receiving the three votes in all three games to move swiftly up the leaderboard and finish with a tally of 14 votes in equal third place with Western Bulldogs captain Ellie Blackburn, one vote behind joint winners Kiara Bowers and Collingwood’s Bri Davey.
Appearing on the ‘One Eyed GIANTS’ podcast on 23 April 2021 Parker was asked “What does the next few months look like for you, do you have a set number of games that you are aiming to play (for the East Coast Eagles) because I imagine you don’t want to be putting your body through playing 12 months of the year?” Parker responded “Yeah definitely, hoping to play enough to qualify for finals come late August so that’s the plan but between now and then I will be moving back home. Need to get my farming fix each year, so back to the farm, I’ll keep the training up and studying but yeah looking forward to going back into my element of the country lifestyle.” The East Coast Eagles play in the Sydney AFL competition.
At the 2021 GWS best and fairest on Thursday 29 April Parker won her second consecutive Gabrielle Trainor Medal as the club’s AFLW best and fairest. Parker led the count from start to finish and polled 94 votes to be a convincing winner ahead of fellow midfielder Rebecca Beeson on 65 votes and forward Cora Staunton on 55 votes. Parker also received the Members Choice Award for the second year in a row. Parker became the first player to be a multiple winner of the Gabrielle Trainor Medal for being the GWS AFLW best and fairest with previous winners being Jessica Dal Pos (2017), Alicia Eva (2018) and Rebecca Beeson (2019).
On Parker’s GWS best and fairest win head coach Alan McConnell commented “This is just another well-deserved award for Alyce. She’d had an outstanding start to her short career but the best thing is that she also has the drive and determination to want to continue to improve every single season. Alyce has taken her game on the field to another level this season but she’s also continued to improve as a leader of our football club off the field and we expect that to only continue in the years to come.”9
Towards the end of her acceptance speech for winning the GWS Giants 2021 best and fairest Parker thanked her family, saying “I am very lucky to have mum and dad with me at every game, I will be forever in debt to you for the sacrifices you have made, not just whilst I have been playing footy, for my whole childhood and playing sport you have sacrificed an incredible lot for me and allowed me to pave the pathway that I have so thank you for being here.”
Alyce Parker’s strengths during her AFLW career have been her ball-winning ability, hard-running, clearance work and consistency whilst impressing with her maturity and leadership skills. Parker is definitely achieving her childhood aim of going as far as she can in a sport and at just 20 years of age has already set club records, becoming the first GWS Giants player to be selected in the All-Australian team twice and win the club’s best and fairest multiple times. Having improved her game in each of her three AFLW seasons Parker, a proud product of the New South Wales / Australian Capital Territory Australian Rules football pathway is a great example to young players currently going through the pathway of what heights can be reached at the elite level.
Article and photographs by Dean Andrews
Twitter – @DeanAndrews7777
3 Champion Data, AFLW Prospectus – the essential number-cruncher for season 2019, 2nd Edition, page 91
8 Champion Data, AFLW Prospectus – the essential number-cruncher for season 2020, 3rd Edition, page 106
Milestones and Misses
Milestones and Misses publishes articles to celebrate the achievements of sportspeople, mainly in Australian Rules Football (AFL and AFLW) and the Women’s National Basketball League (WNBL). In sport as with life in general it is common that milestones are only achieved after overcoming adversity, so whilst the articles on the Milestones and Misses website celebrate sportspeople achieving milestones they also cover the misses along the journey, such as a player having minimal game-time or spending a prolonged period on the sidelines due to injury. The aim of the articles is to enable readers to gain a greater appreciation of the journey the sportspeople have had during their career.