Tomorrow afternoon Fremantle AFLW captain Hayley Miller will become the first West Australian to play 50 games in the league, achieving the milestone in a preliminary final against the Adelaide Crows at the Adelaide Oval. Miller has taken her football to a new stratosphere during the 2022 season, setting new career-highs in a range of categories including disposals and goals per game.
Miller started playing Australian Rules Football in year 10 and quickly progressed to representative level. At the 2014 AFL Under 18 Youth Girls National Championships Miller won the tournament Most Valuable Player (MVP) Award for Pool A and Western Australia won the National Championship with Miller winning the medal for best afield in WA’s final victory.
During the AFLW exhibition series Miller played several games for Melbourne from 2014 to 2016 and also represented West Coast in the first ever AFLW Western Derby exhibition game in April 2016.
At the inaugural AFLW draft on 12 October 2016 Miller was Fremantle’s first ever draft selection, being selected at 20 years of age with the fourth pick overall. Miller has been a fixture in Fremantle’s AFLW team since her debut season in 2017 and has played 49 of Fremantle’s 50 games in the league.
In the West Australian Football League Women’s (WAFLW) Miller has achieved both individual and team success. As a teenager Miller was a member of the Coastal Titans team that won the 2015 seniors premiership. At 21 years of age Miller was appointed captained of the Coastal Titans in 2017.
The Coastal Titans were rebranded the Subiaco Lions in 2018, Miller continued as captain and won back to back Dhara Kerr Medals as the league best and fairest in 2018 and 2019.
Fremantle made AFLW finals for the first time in 2019. Miller was elevated into Fremantle’s leadership group for the 2020 season and finished fifth in the Dockers 2021 best and fairest playing predominantly as a midfielder.
Early in December 2021 Miller was appointed as Fremantle’s AFLW captain for the 2022 season. In her first season as captain 171 centimetre tall midfielder Miller has taken her game to another stratosphere, to average 18.0 disposals and 0.9 goals game and rank in the top five of the AFLW for metres gained, inside 50’s, kicks and AFL Fantasy points per game.
Hayley Miller having one of her equal game-high 16 kicks for Fremantle in a qualifying final victory against North Melbourne at Arden Street on 19 March 2022
Throughout the 2022 season Miller has impressed with her ball-winning ability, running speed to break away from the contest, leadership and ability to kick goals and provide assists for teammates. Miller’s phenomenal 2022 AFLW season has been rewarded with a top 10 finish in the Coaches Association 2022 AFLW Champion Player of the Year Award as well as selection in the 40 player AFLW All-Australian squad. Miller’s ability to win the ball and make an impact on the scoreboard is highlighted by being one of only two players in the AFLW along with North Melbourne’s Jasmine Garner that has averaged at least 0.8 goals and 13.0 disposals per game in 2022.
During The Outer Sanctum podcast 5th Quarter / Hayley Miller published on 11 February 2022 Lucy Race asked “You have really stepped up, it is great to see you in this role as captain. There has been some talk about you changed your approach a little bit with fitness, how is it all going for you?” Miller responded “I think I just worked really hard in the off-season. I was probably disappointed with my season last season, like it wasn’t bad and the season before that was never bad but it just wasn’t at the expectation that I hold myself too. I have got Turbo there as a role model, I have watched what she does and half the reason why she is as good as she is because I don’t think she actually ever gets tired, she never looks tired, she is just that fit that she can get to every contest and impact it because she is fitter than everyone else. So I took a leaf out of her book and trained really hard to improve my fitness, improve my 2 km time, all that kind of thing and then the other stuff sort of falls into place a little bit. A lot of people said you became captain and then you got better but I think regardless of that, it gives you an extra responsibility and maybe a little bit more of ‘I’ve got to perform here to help everyone else’ but I would like to think that it would have happened anyway with the work that I put in in the off-season.”
Hayley Miller’s football journey from representing Western Australia at under age level, playing for Coastal Titans/Subiaco in the WAFLW and creating history at Fremantle in the AFLW by being the club’s first ever draft choice, captaining the club and now reaching 50 games is covered in more detail below.
Early life and junior football career
During a Player Profile: Hayley Miller video published by AFL Women’s on 5 February 2020 Miller commented on Australian Rules Football in Western Australia “It’s a massive part of our state and our culture. Most people grow up supporting a footy team, my brother and my dad used to go to the games all the time. My brother and I used to kick the footy out the front, where I learnt to kick. I didn’t start playing till I was in high school. Yeah it wasn’t until later that I really fell in love with the game as a player as well.”
In a Meet the team:Hayley Miller post whilst working as a Physio for Nextmove in August 2021 Hayley wrote about her junior sporting career “I first started playing footy when I was in year 10 after playing netball, soccer, doing athletics and competing in surf life saving for most of my childhood as well as a bunch of other sports in between.”1
Miller quickly progressed through the ranks to play Australian Rules Football at representative level. Playing for Western Australia at the 2013 and 2014 AFL Under 18 Youth Girls National Championships Miller excelled to be named in the Under 18 All-Australian Team in both years.
In 2014 Western Australia defeated Vic Country by 25 points in the final to win the Under 18 National Championship, becoming the first non-Victorian team to hold the title. Miller was the stand-out player of the tournament, winning win the tournament Most Valuable Player (MVP) Award for Pool A as well as the medal for best on ground in the final against Vic Country.
AFLW Exhibition games from 2014 to 2016
At 17 years of age Miller represented Melbourne in an exhibition AFL Women’s game at Marvel Stadium on 29 June 2014, Miller also played exhibition games for Melbourne in 2015 and 2016.
During 2016 the AFL Women’s exhibition series was expanded and in addition to the exhibition games between Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs in Victoria exhibition games were also played in South Australia, Western Australia and Queensland between representative teams from these states.
In the first ever AFLW Western Deby exhibition game Miller played for the West Coast Eagles against the Fremantle Dockers on 9 April 2016 at Subiaco Oval. Despite fracturing her fibula early in the first quarter Miller continued playing. Due to being restricted by her broken leg Miller was moved to the forward line and was still able to make an impact despite her injury, kicking two goals in the last quarter.
Reflecting on playing in AFLW Exhibition games for Melbourne Miller told Docker TV in the Pre-season show / Episode 13 with Hayley Miller published on 7 March 2020 “I was really young back then so coming into that it was an absolute whirlwind experience and yeah playing with girls like Daisy Pearce and those big name players in the comp all played in that, Paxy (Karen Paxman) and all those elite midfielders and to try and slot into that I played a bit more in the back line through that and a little bit on the wing like they were trying to figure out where to fit me in but it was an awesome experience. Ended up playing a majority (of the games), I just missed the first one (in 2013) being too young so I managed to play the rest of the ones that were available there and that experience probably set me up to be a little bit more confident coming into the actual season.”
Playing in the West Australian Women’s Football League (WAFLW) with Coastal Titans and Subiaco Lions
Miller joined the Coastal Titans in the West Australian Women’s Football League (WAWFL) as a teenager, played in the seniors and was a member of the Coastal Titans team that was undefeated throughout the 2015 home and away season to win the minor premiership and then defeat Swan Districts by 24 points in the Grand Final to win the premiership. Miller’s Coastal Titans teammate and fellow midfielder Kiara Bowers won the medal for best afield in the 2015 Grand Final and won the Dhara Kerr medal as league best and fairest in both 2015 and 2016, being a joint winner in 2016 along with Coastal Titans teammate Emma King.
In 2017 Miller at 21 years of age captained the Coastal Titans and was runner-up in the league best and fairest, polling 24 votes to finish two votes behind Coastal Titans teammate Jodie White.
The Coastal Titans were founded in 2004, were affiliated with the Subiaco Lions and were a powerhouse of the league, winning seven premierships in 14 seasons. In 2018 the Coastal Titans were rebranded the Subiaco Lions, Miller continued in her role as club captain.
Injuries suffered by Miller in Fremantle’s last game of the 2018 AFLW season including a collapsed lung forced her to miss the start of the 2018 WAWFL season in 2018 and she didn’t play her first game until Round 5. Miller polled 24 votes from 12 games to win the Dhara Kerr Medal as league best and fairest, finishing one vote ahead of Swan Districts forward Gemma Houghton who is an AFLW teammate of Miller’s at Fremantle. After winning the 2018 Dhara Kerr Medal Miller commented “Winning this award, it’s something I always had in the back of my mind. I’d seen Kiara Bowers win a few of them and she’s a real good mate, and I always wondered would I ever get there, and it’s a little bit surreal that I’ve done it.”2
AFL Women’s 2017 season with Fremantle
Eight clubs were granted licenses to join the AFL Women’s league for its inaugural season in 2017 – Adelaide, Brisbane, Carlton, Collingwood, Fremantle, GWS, Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs. In July 2016 each team selected their two marquee players with Fremantle selecting Kiara ‘Turbo’ Bowers and Kara ‘Juddy’ Antonio (nee Donnellan) who were both 24 year old midfielders.
At the inaugural AFLW draft on 12 October 2016 at the NAB Building in Docklands, Melbourne, Fremantle made 18 selections. Miller was Fremantle’s first ever draft selection, being selected with the fourth pick overall. Miller attended the draft and like the other first round picks went up on stage after being selected. In the first eight rounds Fremantle selected three of Millers’ Coastal Titans teammate – Lara Filocamo (pick 29), Tiah Toth [nee Haynes] (pick 36) and Amy Lovell (pick 61). Fremantle marquee player Bowers was also a teammate of Miller’s at Coastal Titans. At the time of being drafted by Fremantle Miller was completing a Physiotherapy degree at Curtin University.
Michelle Cowan was appointed Fremantle’s AFLW coach and marquee player Kara Antonio (nee Donnellan) was voted in by her teammates as club captain. The Dockers had a five player Leadership Group which also included co vice-captains Kiara Bowers and Kirby Bentley along with leadership group members Dana Hooker and Amy Lavell. Miller was one of three players in the Emerging Leaders Group along with Ebony Antonio and Tiah Toth (nee Haynes).
On 30 January 2022 Miller reflected on being Fremantle’s first ever AFLW draft pick and told Fox Footy “Being the first pick for Freo, I think I probably wont understand the magnitude of that till I finish playing, whilst you are still in it and involved it is no less important or exciting but once I’ve finished and I can tell my kids and my grandkids about it I think it will be a pretty special moment in my life and pretty pivotal part of my life and what’s obviously led me to the last 5, 6 years of AFLW.”
On the day of the inaugural AFLW draft an article titled Meet Freo’s newest recruits was published on fremantlefc.com.au, the profile for Hayley said “Miller is a hard running midfielder/defender who represented Melbourne in the 2016 exhibition match. Has great ability and also possesses massive upside with the potential to grow into one of the elite players in the competition.”3
In mid-November 2016 Miller commented to Docker TV on girls and women playing Australian Rules football “I remember back when I was in high school (people) were less accepting of it (thinking) it is a boy’s sport, but now every time I have spoken about it in the last couple of years everyone’s really excited about it and they just want to know more about it because it is this new and exciting thing for everyone. There is always going to be people that think that girls shouldn’t be playing and I suppose the hardest thing will be to try and prove to them that we deserve this opportunity and prove to them that we can play and I am sure if they do watch a game they will see we do have something to offer.”
On 4 February 2017, the day after her 21st birthday Miller made her AFLW debut for the Fremantle Dockers against the Western Bulldogs at Whitten Oval. During her debut AFLW season Miller played all seven games for Fremantle in 2017, averaging 8.3 disposals and 2.1 tackles per game with a season high 11 disposals against Collingwood in Round 5.
2018 AFLW season with Fremantle
In the 14th AFLW game of her career at the end of the 2018 home and away season Miller achieved two milestones but also suffered a serious injury. With five minutes and 30 seconds remaining in the third quarter of the Round 7, 2018 game against Carlton at Fremantle Oval on 17 March Miller courageously ran back with the flight of the ball. From the opposite direction Carlton key forward Tayla Harris jumped to take a chest mark and collided with Miller 55 metres out from Carlton’s goal. Miller, Harris and Harris’ opponent Tayla Bresland were all lying on the ground after the collision. Whilst Miller’s courage prevented Harris from taking the mark it came at a physical cost. During channel 7 News on 20 March 2018 Miller said “I have never felt anything that painful in my life before to be honest, I just couldn’t breathe for a couple of minutes.” Miller revealed the extent of her injuries, saying “I actually have a collapsed lung. It feels like I am winded all the time, pretty much, pretty painful but that’s all right, it is manageable.” Reflecting on the marking contest Miller told channel 7 news “To run back with the flight is just what you do in footy and yeah, I didn’t think twice about it.”
At the time of the collision Fremantle trailed Carlton by two points, 34 points to 36. Despite her injuries Miller continued playing with a collapsed lung and remarkably earnt the three votes in the league best and fairest for being best afield, having 10 kicks, three handballs, five marks, laid four tackles and kicked one goal – the first of her AFLW career in Fremantle’s 11 point victory 59 to 48. It was the first time that the umpires adjudged Miller best afield in an AFLW game.
During 2018 Miller averaged 12.9 disposals – a 55.4% increase on 2017 and 3.7 tackles per game – a 76.2% increase on 2017. In 2018 Miller ranked equal fifth in the AFLW for inside 50’s per game, 14th for clearances and 16th for metres gained.
After two seasons as the Fremantle Dockers AFLW head coach Michelle Cowan stepped down from the role in April 2018. Fremantle finished seventh out of eight clubs in both 2017 and 2018 and had an aggregate record of four wins, one draw and nine losses from a total of 14 games during their first two seasons.
2019 AFLW season with Fremantle
Trent Cooper was appointed as Fremantle’s AFLW head coach in June 2018. After playing in the WAFL for Swan Districts and Peel Thunder Cooper had experience as a coach with several different teams. At Swan Districts Cooper was an assistant coach for the league team and coached the Colts team to a premiership in 2014. Cooper coached the Western Australia under-18 women’s team in 2017 and 2018.
The AFLW expanded to 10 clubs in 2019 with expansion teams North Melbourne and Geelong joining the league. Based on 2018 ladder positions the league was split up into two conferences which each had five teams.
After missing the entire 2017 and 2018 AFLW seasons due to knee injuries marquee player Kiara Bowers made her club debut for Fremantle in Round 1, 2019. Midfielder Bowers made a significant impact with her tackling ability and endurance running to quickly stamp herself as one of the best players in the AFLW.
With Cooper and Bowers performing pivotal roles 2019 proved to be a turning point in the history of Fremantle’s AFLW team who commenced a sequence of finals appearances. The transformation commenced in Round 1 with Fremantle defeating Melbourne by four points at Casey Fields. It was the first time the Dockers had won a game outside Western Australia and the first time that the club had recorded a victory in Round 1.
The Coaches Association AFLW Champion Player of the Year Award was introduced in 2018. Miller polled AFLW Coaches votes for the first time in Round 3, 2019 against Collingwood, polling four votes. Miller polled coaches votes in three of her last four home and away games including a season-high six votes against Geelong in Round 6, ranked third behind teammates Bowers (10 votes) and Hooker (7 votes). Against Geelong Miller had 13 kicks, two handballs, laid eight tackles and kicked a goal.
Miller in kicking motion during the 2019 preliminary final against Carlton at Ikon Park on 23 March 2019
For rough conduct against Collingwood defender Ash Brazill in a marking contest during the Round 3 game Miller was suspended for one game which resulting in her missing Round 4 against Adelaide at Marrara Stadium.
During the 2019 home and away season Fremantle had six wins, one loss and a percentage of 141.9% to finish second in Conference A, having the same win-loss record as the first placed Adelaide Crows, but an inferior percentage to Adelaide’s 212.9%. North Melbourne finished third in Conference A with five wins and a percentage of 123.1%.
Conference A’s top placed team Adelaide hosted Conference B’s second placed team – Geelong in one Preliminary Final whilst a first placed finish in Conference B by Carlton enabled them to host Conference A’s second ranked team Fremantle in a preliminary final despite recording two less wins during the home and away season than the Dockers.
In the second quarter of their preliminary final at Ikon Park Fremantle were outscored by Carlton four goals to nil. Fremantle trailed by 29 points at half-time and were defeated by 36 points which ended the Dockers season.
Miller played seven of Fremantle’s eight games in 2019, during 2019 Miller averaged 8.3 kicks, 3.1 handballs, 0.7 marks and 3.6 tackles per game. Hayley ranked equal sixth in the AFLW for inside 50’s per game.
Playing in West Australian Football League Women’s (WAFLW) with Subiaco
During the off-season between the 2018 and 2019 seasons the West Australian Women’s Football League (WAWFL) which was established in 1987 and played an inaugural season in 1988 was rebranded as the West Australian Football League Women’s (WAFLW).
Subiaco won eight of their 11 home and away games to win the 2019 minor premiership but missed out on a Grand Final berth after being losing the second semi final to East Fremantle and being defeated in the preliminary final by Swan Districts.
During the 2019 WAFLW season Subiaco captain Miller polled 13 votes in the league best and fairest to be a joint-winner of the Dhara Kerr Medal along with Subiaco vice-captain, ruck Danika Pisconeri. Miller polled votes in seven of her nine games during the home and away season.
Miller played six WAFLW games for Subiaco in each of the 2020 and 2021 seasons. In 2020 Subiaco won the minor premiership and lost the Grand Final to Peel Thunder by 15 points. During 2021 Subiaco finished the home and away season in fourth place and won a thrilling semi final against Claremont by three points before Swan Districts defeated Subiaco by 38 points in the preliminary final.
Miller elevated into Fremantle’s leadership group for the 2020 AFLW season
The AFLW expanded from 10 clubs to 14 clubs in 2020 with West Coast, Richmond, St Kilda and Gold Coast all joining the league. Several players left Fremantle to join Western Australian rivals, the West Coast Eagles with the most notable departure being 2017 Dockers best and fairest winner Dana Hooker.
Miller, a West Coast Eagles supporter when she was growing up was offered a contract to join the Eagles for their inaugural 2020 AFLW season. On the decision to remain at Fremantle Miller told AFL Women’s during a Player Profile: Hayley Miller video published on 5 February 2020 “Our results that first couple of years we probably didn’t have the success we were touted to potentially have, we expected to do better than what we did. From the first year (2017) to the third year (2019) it was completely different to having a hugely successful season. West Coast being the team I grew up supporting and they’re offering you this contract but then you have got this club that you have now played three years of football with and you have got connections with. It is not just your playing group and the management but it is the whole club in general. At the end of the day the decision was made for me, everything that I wanted and wanted to be a part of and what I had already worked so hard for was at Fremantle so that was where I was going to stay. People have left, that’s fine, good for them, we wish them all the best. There is going to be a real rivalry, there is going to be a lot of banter going on, especially that hype the week before (the western derby).”
In December 2019 Miller was voted into Fremantle’s five player leadership group by the Fremantle players. Kara Antonio continued as Fremantle’s AFLW captain for the fourth consecutive season and 2019 leadership group members Ebony Antonio, Kiara Bowers and Gabby O’Sullivan continued in their leadership roles for the 2020 season.
On being voted in to Fremantle’s leadership group Miller told fremantlefc.com.au “I’m obviously really excited, it’s probably something I’ve been working towards for the last couple of years. Although I don’t feel like I need the title as such to show my leadership skills, to be voted in by your peers is something I hold in very high regard. I’m really excited, and the responses from the girls and the staff so far have been really positive.”4
On her leadership style Miller commented “If there is a teaching opportunity, I’ll definitely try to use that and voice my opinion when needed. I try to knuckle down and work really hard and if girls see you doing that it often drives others. I definitely do try and come forward and offer my expertise and experience when it’s needed but the rest of the time I try to lead by example and do the best that I can.”5
Throughout the 2020 AFLW season Miller was a co-host along with Sez (Sarah Garstone) of the Fremantle Dockers AFLW podcast Kickin’ Back which featured a guest from the Dockers AFLW club each episode, usually a player.
During Round 1 2020 against Geelong at Fremantle Oval Miller had 17 disposals comprised of 13 kicks and four handballs to set a new career-high for disposals in a game, Hayley also took four marks, laid five tackles and polled five Coaches votes in Fremantle’s 16 point victory.
In the first ever AFLW Western Derby in Round 2 Fremantle defeated West Coast by 45 points in front of 35,130 people at Perth Stadium. Due to injury Miller spent considerable time on the bench and finished the game with four disposals.
Miller was able to recover and play for the Dockers against Collingwood in Round 3 at Fremantle Oval. In a thrilling Fremantle three point victory Miller had a team-high 13 disposals comprised of 11 kicks and two handballs, Hayley also laid five tackles and polled two votes in the league best and fairest. Apart from the injury effected Round 2 game Miller had between 13 and 17 disposals in each home and away game in 2020.
As a result of the coronavirus and the impact it was having on society including restrictions on inter-state travel the last two rounds of the 2020 AFLW home and away season were abandoned, shortening the home and away season from eight rounds to six rounds. The finals structure was modified which increased the number of teams qualifying for finals in each conference from three to four.
Fremantle finished on top of conference B, winning all six matches and had a percentage of 154.7% to finish ahead of Carlton – five wins and a percentage of 151.8%, with Melbourne and Collingwood finishing third and fourth respectively on four wins each. North Melbourne finished on top of Conference A with five wins, one loss and a percentage of 227.2%, ahead of GWS Giants (four wins), Brisbane (three wins and one draw) and Gold Coast (two wins and one draw).
In a semi final the Fremantle Dockers hosted Gold Coast who had finished fourth in Conference A. The Dockers in their first ever home final at Fremantle Oval on Saturday 21 March outscored Gold Coast two goals to one in the first quarter. The Dockers dominated, kicking 10 goals to none after quarter time to win by 70 points. Miller had a new career-high 20 disposals comprised of 17 kicks and three handballs and also took seven marks. Hayley ranked second in the semi final for kicks behind Bowers and second for marks behind Ebony Antonio.
With the number of COVID cases escalating and the Australian Government announcing that restrictions would be placed on travel AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan announced on Sunday 22 March, 2020 “Today’s AFLW semi-final between Carlton and Brisbane Lions will be the last NAB AFL Women’s match to be played with the 2020 season ending today. Given the twin conference structure and that the finals series was not completed, the AFL Commission has determined no premiership will be awarded for this season, following a recommendation from the AFL Executive.”6
The two AFLW preliminary finals that were unable to be played on the weekend of 28 and 29 March were Fremantle vs Melbourne and North Melbourne vs Carlton, resulting in the seasons of these four clubs coming to a sudden halt.
During the 25 March 2020 episode of the Kickin’ Back podcast Miller spoke about how she found out the 2020 AFLW season was cancelled, saying “I was actually at the shop practising social distancing of course just doing some grocery shopping and it came through on my phone and obviously we hadn’t heard anything from the club so it was a real shock, I was like just chill, it is all good. As I started reading things started to come through from the girls and I was like oh my god, it is actually legit. I was like, I need to get home right now before I ball my eyes out in the shops and as soon as I got home I just sat on the couch. I just sat there and absolutely balled my eyes out. Just because it just felt like the carpet had absolutely been ripped out from underneath you. You did kind of expect it to happen at some point but then when it actually happened, you just felt this is actually legit now and the way that it was brought about, they can’t give a premiership to anyone because of the way it was handled unfortunately so you are left in limbo.”
Reflecting on Fremantle’s 2020 AFLW season Miller told the Kickin’ Back podcast “We did go undefeated which is what makes it even more disappointing for all of us, what could have been. There’s been so much talk about ‘But you didn’t play this person (team) and you didn’t play this person (team)” but at the end of the day we still went undefeated and every other team lost at least once and if you actually look at who those teams lost to, bar North Melbourne they are the only one that didn’t lose to someone who we had actually played and beaten so really it should have been a North Melbourne – Freo Grand Final last weekend. We did have a very good game against the Gold Coast Suns, it was such a high after that it was so much fun.”
Miller played all seven games for Fremantle in 2020 and averaged 10.1 kicks, 3.7 handballs, 2.9 marks and 4.1 tackles per game. Hayley ranked equal sixth in the AFL for inside 50’s per game, equal 12th for clearances and 15th for metres gained.
2021 AFLW season with Fremantle
For the 2021 AFLW season the league reverted back to having a single ladder rather than two conferences. Each team was scheduled to play nine games during the home and away season. The top six teams qualified for the finals with the top two teams having a bye in the first week of the finals and then hosting a home preliminary final in the second week of the finals.
During 2021 Hayley was joined by Emma O’Driscoll as a co-host on Fremantle’s AFLW podcast Kickin’ Back with Hayley and Drisco.”
In a nine point victory against West Coast in Round 2 at Fremantle Oval Miller had 10 kicks, five handballs, laid six tackles, polled on vote in the league best and fairest and six coaches votes.
Fremantle defeated Gold Coast in Round 4 at Fremantle Oval by 49 points with Miller voted best afield by the umpires. Miller had an equal game-high (along with Kiara Bowers) 17 disposals comprised of 12 kicks and five handballs, laid six tackles, kicked one goal and polled six coaches votes.
Hayley Miller kicking the ball for Fremantle in Round 7, 2021 against Carlton at Ikon Park on 14 March
After Round 7 Fremantle were on top of the ladder with six wins and one loss with the sole defeat being to Brisbane in Round 5 by 11 points at Fremantle Oval. A five point loss to Melbourne at Fremantle Oval in Round 8 led to the Dockers losing a spot in the top two. Entering their final home away match in Round 9 against North Melbourne at Arden Street Fremantle had qualified for the finals and could finish in the top two if they had a sizeable win and other results went their way. Fremantle led by five points at three quarter time but conceded the only goal of the last quarter and were defeated by one point.
Fremantle had six wins, three losses and a percentage of 185.1% to finish fifth on the AFLW ladder at the end of the 2021 home and away season, percentage ahead of sixth placed North Melbourne. The top four teams all had seven wins, two losses and could only be separated by percentage. Adelaide (percentage of 208.4%) and Brisbane (195.0%) finished first and second to earn a week off and then hosted preliminary finals whilst Collingwood (190.5%) and Melbourne (130.4%) finished third and fourth respectively and hosted semi finals.
In the first week of the finals Fremantle played away against Melbourne at Casey Fields. In very windy conditionsFremantle were kept goalless in the first half and trailed Melbourne by 19 points at half-time. Fremantle kicked three goals with the wind in the third quarter to reduce the margin to four points at three quarter time. Melbourne kicked the only two goals of the last quarter to defeat Fremantle by 17 points, ending the Dockers 2021 season.
At Fremantle’s 2021 best and fairest Miller polled 111 votes to finish fifth, just five votes behind Janelle Cuthbertson in third place. 2021 joint league best and fairest winner Bowers was a run-away winner of the Dockers best and fairest on 180 votes ahead of runner-up Steph Cain on 140 votes.
Miller appointed Fremantle captain for the 2022 AFLW season
Throughout the 2022 AFLW season Miller has written several articles for womens.afl and in an article published on 16 February wrote “I’ve never been satisfied with my individual performance, so at the end of the 2021 AFLW season I returned to the WAFLW to play for Subiaco, where I worked on my contested game and a little bit of forward craft. In the process, I built my confidence as a player again.”
“I found a balance between enjoying life and the downtime from AFLW and working really hard on my fitness, which has proved the difference between making an impact on games or running out of steam.”7
In mid-November 2021 Kara Antonio stepped down as Fremantle’s AFLW captain. Kara commented “It’s a tough decision, but one that I can reflect on and be proud of everything that has been achieved over the past five years. I’m just really proud of where we’ve been able to take the group and I’m excited to focus on my game this coming season with a different role up forward. It’s amazing to see the way the group has transformed over the past three seasons with Trent Cooper coming in and (high performance manager) Kate Starre pushing us to be one of the fittest teams in the competition.”8 Antonio captained Fremantle in their first five AFLW seasons from 2017 to 2021.
Miller was voted in as Fremantle’s captain for the 2022 season. Bowers and Ange Stannett are co vice-captains and the five player leadership group is completed by Gabby O’Sullivan and Steph Cain. After Kara Antonio announced to the Fremantle playing group that Miller was Fremantle’s new captain Miller said “I am incredibly proud to stand here in front of all you girls and obviously I have got some massive shoes to fill of yours Juddy but I am not going to be Juddy, I am my own person. You have all put your faith in me and thank you so much for that. I am just incredibly proud to be a part of this club and a part of this team.”
Fremantle AFLW head coach Trent Cooper commented to the Fremantle playing group “It is really exciting to have a captain that has been here from the start all the way through about to embark on the second half of her career, probably even more years left to come and it is really great that Hayley can do that with the support of Juddy still there, that will be someone to lean on to give her a lot of advice along the way so that’s fantastic for Hayley.”
Miller told fremantlefc.com.au “Juddy has been a massive support for me through the last six years in general, not just leadership but on-field, off-field, a bit of everything, just a bit of a mentor. I would be lying if there wasn’t some apprehension about that, I am my own leader and that is what I plan to do but I will definitely be leaning on Juddy a fair bit.”
Later in Journey to the captaincy / Hayley Miller video published on fremantlefc.com.au on 3 December 2021 Miller said “I remember having a conversation with our previous coach early on that a goal of mine was to captain an AFLW club and obviously this one (Fremantle) being the number one that I’d hoped that that would happen and for that to have happened today is pretty incredible. There’s only one thing that we want and that is to play finals and go all the way so that’s our number one focus and that’s what we want to bring this year.”
At a press conference on 4 January 2022 Miller was asked “That feeling that Trent talked about last year, coming off the disappointment from 2020, did you feel that in the group that there was still a bit of maybe resentment and entitlement that you might have deserved that opportunity you didn’t get, did you feel that?” Miller responded “You are never gifted anything in footy and we certainly learnt that the hard way. It certainly was a difficult time back then but we have tried to move on from that now because as you said it doesn’t matter and you can’t go back to that season. We had a great season and that’s all it is. Lat year probably didn’t have too much to do with that, we started the season pretty well and then just fell off towards the back end.”
Due to the Western Australia border closure Fremantle faced 23 days on the road in Victoria and Tasmania after their Round 1, 2022 Western Derby against the West Coast Eagles. Later in the press conference on 4 January 2022 Miller spoke about the opportunity this presented for Fremantle, saying “I am super excited and I know a lot of the girls are really excited to actually go away and we don’t get the opportunity to be full-time athletes and never have before. We were supposed to go away last year for between two and four weeks and we ended up going for three days. We have never really had that opportunity so I think a lot of the girls are relishing that opportunity of being a full-time athlete and just being footy focused. A lot of the girls will work while they are over there but there is a real excitement about it and I guess there will become the challenges of that and you know going into states that have COVID that we really haven’t had to deal with and we will just take it as it comes and basically be guided by the AFL and the protocols that the State Government bring in.”
In her first game as Fremantle’s captain Miller kicked an AFLW career-high two goals – ranked second for the game behind teammate Ebony Antonio with three goals, had 13 kicks, three handballs and laid nine tackles in Fremantle’s 28 point Round 1 victory against West Coast at Fremantle Oval. Miller polled four votes in the AFL Coaches Association AFLW Champion Player of the Year Award, Ebony Antonio polled the maximum 10 votes.
Fremantle commenced their extended east-coast road trip in Round 2 against the GWS Giants at Victoria University Whitten Oval. After receiving a handball from Ann McMahon in the second quarter Miller kicked a skilful goal on the run from 40 metres out. Miller finished the 32 point victory with a team-high 19 disposals comprised of 16 kicks and three handballs, Hayley also took six marks, laid seven tackles and polled a perfect 10 coaches votes. Achieving this feat for the first time in her career, Miller’s previous best was polling six votes in a game three times.
Against Richmond at Punt Road Oval in Round 3 Miller had 14 disposals – ranked equal second for Fremantle behind Bowers, kicked a goal and polled seven coaches votes in a 30 point victory. In her first three games as Fremantle’s AFLW captain Miller kicked a total of four goals which equalled the four goals she kicked in total during 38 games across her first five seasons from 2017 to 2021.
In a Round 4 game at Victoria Park against Collingwood on Thursday 27 January Miller was outstanding, having 13 kicks and six handballs to again rank second at the Dockers for disposals behind Bowers, Hayley also laid five tackles and kicked a game-high two goals to poll a game-high nine coaches votes in the 31 point victory. In the post-game press-conference Fremantle head coach Trent Cooper commented “She was phenomenal. We’ve gone from having one genuine A-grade midfielder to having two now. It releases some of the pressure on Kiara. She (Miller) is spending a bit of time forward as well which is helping us be less predictable.”
Fellow midfielder Bowers was suspended for two games for engaging in rough conduct against Western Bulldogs midfielder Kirsty Lamb in the fourth quarter of the Dockers second Round 4 game.
With Bowers out there was even more responsibility on Dockers captain Miller, in the two games Bowers missed with suspension Miller polled 16 coaches votes comprised of seven votes against North Melbourne in Round 5 and nine votes against Carlton in Round 6. In a 10 point loss to North Melbourne in at North Hobart Oval Miller had 20 disposals, took four marks, and laid nine tackles. After the game against North Melbourne the Fremantle players and staff were able to return to Western Australia.
After trailing Carlton by two points in Round 6 at Fremantle Oval on 12 February the Dockers kicked six goals to none after quarter time to win by 42 points and improve their record to six wins and one loss. Miller had a team-high 24 disposals comprised of a game-high 20 kicks and four handballs, took five marks and laid six tackles. Hayley’s 24 disposals against Carlton was a new career high, surpassing her previous personal best of 20 disposals which had been set in Fremantle’s 2020 qualifying final victory against Gold Coast and equalled in Round 5, 2022 against North Melbourne.
In four AFLW seasons from 2018 to 2021 Miller polled a total of 34 votes in the AFL Coaches Association AFLW Champion Player of the Year Award with a career-high of six votes in a game seven times. In 2022 Miller polled coaches votes in Fremantle’s first seven games of the season including five games where she polled more than six votes, the only exceptions were polling four votes against West Coast in Round 1and three votes against the Western Bulldogs in Round 4.
During the Outer Sanctum 5th Quarter | Hayley Miller podcast published on 11 February 2022 Miller commented on her leadership approach, saying “In terms of what kind of leader I want to be, I guess my thing has always been leading by example and I think, yeah, if I can’t do that on the field that my leadership style is not working too well so I guess my performance helps the leader that I want to be at the moment and leading by example. A lot of people have said to me don’t change too much because you were voted in because of what you have done up to this point. So I tried to keep it pretty consistent and not try and be the hero all the time and just go about my business and bring girls along with me.”
Fremantle captain Hayley Miller and GWS captain Alicia Eva just before the coin toss at VU Whitten Oval, Round 2, 2022 on 16 January
Miller commented to The Outer Sanctum on Fremantle head AFLW head coach Cooper “He is just a big softie to be honest, I don’t know if that comes across much. He speaks really well and he says all the right things but he is definitely a big softie and a very emotionally intelligent man. With 30 girls in a team I think you have to be and it probably sets him apart from a lot of coaches. Trent has a really great connection with everyone and it may be in different ways and he is good at tailoring his interaction with people to that person. I have a really great relationship with Trent and I feel comfortable talking to him about literally anything and I think that sets him apart from most coaches that I have had previously, if not all, he is probably the best one I have had in terms of just being able to connect with people. Coaching football and knowing what you are talking about in terms of football is one thing but being able to get girls or anyone to play for you and getting them to do what you want them to do is another thing and I think that is what he does really, really well.”
The Dockers had the bye in Round 7 and after serving her two game suspension Bowers missed another two games due to a knee injury. Adelaide defeated Fremantle by 9 points at Fremantle Oval in Round 8. Due to health and safety protocols in relation to COVID five Fremantle players were ruled out of their Round 9 game against Melbourne at Optus Stadium – Gabby O’Sullivan and Amy Franklin along with a trio of players just an hour before the opening bounce – Kara and Ebony Antonio and Emma O’Driscoll. A full-strength Demons side defeated the undermanned Dockers by 88 points 107 to 19 with Melbourne becoming the first AFLW team to reach 100 points in a game. Miller was Fremantle’s best player with a team-high 22 disposals, a game-high 17 kicks, five handballs, two marks, nine tackles, one goal and polled one coaches vote.
Fremantle had seven wins, three losses and a percentage of 134.9% during the 2022 home and season to finish fifth on the AFLW ladder, percentage behind fourth placed North Melbourne. Adelaide and Melbourne finished first and second with nine wins each followed by Brisbane in third place with eight wins. It was the fourth consecutive season that Fremantle with Cooper as the head coach have made the finals. Fremantle’s finals record from 2019 to 2021 was one win and two losses.
Fremantle travelled to Victoria to play North Melbourne in a qualifying final at Arden Street on Saturday 19 March. Late in the second quarter Miller leaning backwards took a skilful overhead mark and kicked a set-shot goal from 20 metres out to extend Fremantle’s lead to nine points with 23 seconds left in the second quarter. Fremantle controlled the second half to kick six goals to North Melbourne’s one and record a 38 point victory. In a best afield performance Miller had 21 disposals to set an equal team-high along with Bowers, had 16 kicks, five handballs, took four marks, laid six tackles, had five clearances and kicked one goal. Brisbane defeated Collingwood by 50 points in a qualifying final at the Gabba. Miller was one of three players nominated for the AFLPA MVP of the week from the qualifying finals along with Brisbane Lions duo Emily Bates and Orla O’Dwyer.
Then using her leg speed to break away from the contest and gain more territory for Fremantle
With the victory against North Melbourne the Dockers registered a finals win outside Western Australia for the first time and have progressed to a preliminary final against minor premiers Adelaide at Adelaide Oval on Saturday 2 April. In the other preliminary final Melbourne host 2021 premiers Brisbane at the MCG.
In the preliminary final against Adelaide on Saturday Miller will create more Fremantle AFLW history, becoming the first Docker to play 50 games in the league. Miller will join a select group of players that have reached 50 AFLW games, with players in this category being Brisbane Lions trio Alexandra Anderson, Emily Bates and Breanna Koenen along with Ebony Marinoff, Libby Birch, Alison Downie and Tahlia Randall. Miller is one of four players that are likely to play their 50th AFLW game in a preliminary final tomorrow along with Adelaide Crows Sarah Allan and Stevie-Lee Thompson along with Melbourne midfielder Karen Paxman.
As Fremantle’s fifth place finish at the end of the home and away season is the lowest of the four preliminary finalists they will be on the road again if they defeat Adelaide and make an AFLW Grand Final for the first time. Ebony Antonio and Gabby O’Sullivan have both played 48 games so it is possible for them to both reach 50 games this season if the Dockers make the Grand Final.
After the qualifying final Miller has played all 11 games for Fremantle in the 2022 AFLW season and has averaged 14.5 kicks, 3.5 handballs, 3.3 marks, 0.9 goals, 6.2 tackles, 381.0 metres gained, 3.5 clearances, 4.3 inside 50’s, 3.9 score involvements and 90.7 AFL Fantasy points per game. Miller has set new career-highs in several categories including disposals, goals and AFL Fantasy points. In 2022 Miller has averaged 18.0 disposals per game, a 29.5% improvement on her previous best of 13.9 disposals per game in 2020. Miller has had at least 14 disposals in 10 of her 11 games to date in 2022. The rise in AFL Fantasy points from a previous best of 65.3 AFL Fantasy points per game in 2020 to 90.7 points in 2022 represents an increase of 38.9%. The only players that rank ahead of Miller for AFL Fantasy points per game are teammate Bowers with a league leading 109.7 points per game followed by Ebony Marinoff (104.2), Anne Hatchard (102.6) and Ashleigh Riddell (99.6).
Hayley Miller playing for Fremantle against North Melbourne at Arden Street in the qualifying final on 19 March 2022
During the 2022 AFLW season Miller ranks second in the league for metres gained per game, third for inside 50’s, fifth for kicks and AFL Fantasy points per game, equal 12th for score involvements, equal 14th for tackles, equal 15th for contested possessions and equal 16th for goals per game. In five seasons from 2017 to 2021 Miller never kicked more than one goal in a season. In 2022 Miller has kicked 10 goals, and twice kicked two goals in a game.
In the 2022 AFL Coaches Association AFLW Champion Player of the Year Award Miller polled 50 votes to finish ninth overall and be the top ranked Docker. Brisbane midfielder Emily Bates won the award with 74 votes, six votes ahead of Anne Hatchard and Ashleigh Riddell. Miller was one of three Fremantle players along with Bowers and Ebony Antonio that were selected in the 2022 40 player All-Australian squad. The 22 player All-Australian team will be announced at the W Awards on Tuesday 5 April.
About her work as a Physiotherapist, Miller told The Outer Sanctum on 11 February “I finished up at a job late last year and haven’t picked up another one through this time. It has been really good for me to be honest. It was hard at the time, it wasn’t that I wanted to leave the job it was more the whole uncertainty around football wasn’t going to work for the business so we kind of came to an agreement that we will finish it there. So that was really hard because essentially I lost my job and that stability but not long after that, I think it was a couple of weeks I then became captain and then that has filled my time with plenty of different things so it has probably been a blessing in disguise I guess and then after the season I will pick something back up and whether that is part-time of full-time I don’t even know, I have kind of just parked that at the moment. So it has been awesome not working and I haven’t had that stress of trying to work whilst being away, not that I really could have anyway. I was basically managing the clinic that I was at before and I just wouldn’t have been able to do that remotely.”
On 16 March 2022 Miller wrote an opinion article for womens.afl titled ‘MILLER: Why 12-month AFLW contracts are a must’. In the article Miller wrote:
“The current situation, where we are signed to six-month, part-time contracts, is simply not sustainable if the competition is to continue to grow and develop.
I believe it’s time to introduce 12-month, part-time contracts, which would ensure greater financial security and transparency for both players and their daytime employers, along with better access to facilities and support, and would lead to players and staff being paid accordingly for the work we put towards each AFLW season.
In contrast, the current six-month arrangements create uncertainty for players and employers, they don’t recognise all the unpaid work we do in our long “off-season”, and our access to club facilities, support staff and coaches is significantly reduced in this time due to both the short contracts and other work commitments.”9
In relation to her personal situation and the impact not working as a physio during the 2022 AFLW season has had on her football Miller wrote:
“Although I’m sacrificing a lot of coin on a very healthy full-time salary and I’ve put my physio career on hold, I don’t have kids or a mortgage to pay, and I have enough savings to support this lifestyle for a few months. Meanwhile, most AFLW players simply can’t afford to take time off or reduce their work hours; and even if they did, they would need to have the flexibility in their work to do so.
My mental and physical health has never been better, and I believe it directly correlates with an increased output on the football field. I have had a taste of what full-time football would be like, and I love it. Imagine every AFLW player having the same opportunity.”10
From 2017 to the 2022 qualifying final victory against North Melbourne Miller has played 49 AFLW games and averages 10.0 kicks, 3.4 handballs, 2.2 marks, 4.4 tackles and 0.3 goals per game.
At under-age level Miller played a pivotal role in Western Australia winning 2014 AFL Under 18 Youth Girls National Championships and won the Most Valuable Player (MVP) Award at the tournament.
On 12 October 2016 Miller was the first player ever selected by the Fremantle Football Club at an AFLW draft. Miller made her AFLW debut in Round 1 2017 and has played 49 of a possible 50 games for the club. In three consecutive seasons from 2018 to 2020 Miller ranked in the league’s top 10 for inside 50’s per game.
At state league level in the WAFLW Miller gained experience as captain of Subiaco Lions (formerly Coastal Titans) and won consecutive Dhara Kerr Medals as the league best and fairest in 2018 and 2019.
For the 2020 AFLW season Miller was elevated into Fremantle’s leadership group. Miller finished fifth in the Dockers 2021 best and fairest. In 2022 Miller has relished the responsibility of being Fremantle’s AFLW captain, has done an exceptional job of leading by example and has without question played the best football of her career which has been deservingly recognised with selection in the 2022 AFLW All-Australian squad of 40 and a top 10 finish in the AFL Coaches Association AFLW Champion Player of the Year Award. It is a magnificent achievement by Hayley Miller to become the first West Australian to play 50 AFLW games, reaching this milestone in tomorrow afternoon’s qualifying final against Adelaide at Adelaide Oval.
Article and photographs by Dean Andrews
Twitter – @DeanAndrews7777
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 sportspeople have had during their career.
A link to Milestones and Misses homepage and the AFLW category is below: