By Matt Fotia
Gabriella De Angelis’ 2019 league best and fairest medal is just another addition to an ever-growing list of achievements. But it’s her love for the game – not the next challenge – that continues to drive the Whitehorse Suns star.
De Angelis first found herself on an EFNL football field in 2010 playing for the Donvale under 10 side, sporting a helmet – which was a requirement of her mother’s – and a ponytail slipping out the back.
De Angelis had found her happy place.
The lifetime Collingwood – and Alan Didak – fan had fallen in love with football at a young age with black and white face paint and trips to the MCG some of her best childhood memories, along with chilly Saturday mornings with her twin sister.
“Footy has always been a big part of our lives,”
“We started doing Auskick on cold Saturday mornings as kids and I just loved it, so I kept playing through with the boys until Under 12s.”
Being just one of two girls in her side – and possibly the competition – was never a deterrent for De Angelis, with her love for the game overriding any possible thought that she wasn’t meant to be playing our great game.
“It was always something I loved doing, so I didn’t care what other people thought,”
“It helped that there was another girl in my team as well and the team itself were really supportive,”
“I just loved playing – it was always this place where I could go and just forget about everything else – it was this great outlet.”
Her time with Donvale ended when De Angelis moved across to Whitehorse in YJFL, to play in her first female side, after Basketball teammates alerted her to its existence.
The move to an all girls side not only highlighted her talent, but laid the groundwork for some of her stronger relationships in life.
“I think playing with just girls gave me the realisation that I was good and I fell in love with the game even more,”
“I’ve also made such good friends out of it and there’s been so many great coaches along the journey who have helped me improve and I’ve always loved that feeling of getting better.”
De Angelis’s career went from strength to strength over the next few years at Whitehorse and she was snapped up by the Sandringham Dragons Women’s academy in 2016, the closest female academy at the time.
In 2017 Eastern Ranges’ arrival in women’s football saw her move into their squad for the upcoming NAB League Girls season.
Naturally a reserved person, De Angelis found coming out of her shell the biggest hurdle in the new environment but overcoming that challenge has had a positive impact on her life as a whole.
“I was a little bit overwhelmed, because I’ve never been a super outgoing person, and you obviously have to be very vocal at football, so that was a challenge for me, trying to force myself to speak more both on and off field,”
“But that challenge has really helped me become more confident each and every day, forcing myself to talk, introducing myself and even calling for the ball.”
Whether she called for the ball or not, De Angelis must’ve impressed someone in her time at Eastern Ranges.
Following four games in 2017, De Angelis went on to feature nine times for Ranges in 2018 and earned herself a spot in the Victorian Metro side for the 2018 Championships along with seven appearances for VFLW side Southern Saints.
Representative honours has never been the main motivator for De Angelis, but that doesn’t make her any less proud to have accomplished such feats.
“I’d tried out for Vic Metro a couple of times before getting in, so when I finally got in the side it was a feeling of immense pride and reward for effort,”
“My biggest thing has always been, as long as I’m improving and I feel like I’m getting better at the game then I’m okay, all the other things – like being selected in teams – are just validating.”
In 2019 De Angelis became a Sun.
The Whitehorse Women’s side changed their name and appearance to the Whitehorse Suns as part of an affiliation with AFL side the Gold Coast Suns.
Along with these changes, De Angelis and her teammates were lucky enough to gain access to the Suns dressing rooms prior to one of the sides games in Melbourne last winter.
Unlike the rowdy atmosphere she usually experienced with her teammates pre-game, De Angelis found the Suns rooms strangely quiet before the first bounce, something she felt an affinity with.
“We changed (name etc) after we got an affiliation with the Gold Coast Suns and took their name, their jumper design and we got to go to one of the Gold Coast’s men’s games when they were in Victoria and see how they prepared pre-game and so on,”
“It was a lot quieter in the rooms than our rooms (pre-game) which I really liked, a lot of the time before our games the girls like to get really pumped up, whereas I like to be calm and have a laugh pregame.”
Whatever the Suns (the Whitehorse edition) did pre-game in 2019 seemed to work.
The girls in Red and Yellow finished second on the home and away ladder, before making their way to the Grand Final, where they were dismantled by a rampant Chirnside Park.
Whilst disappointed at not being able to pull off an unlikely premiership, De Angelis is delighted with all that they achieved in 2019 and believes the 11.8(74) – 0.8(8) Grand Final score line doesn’t give her side enough credit.
“It was such a great year with a great group of girls,”
“We worked so hard last year and even though we didn’t end up premiers, our goal was to just show how hard we had worked and how far we had come,”
“I think the scoreboard didn’t reflect how close the game actually was and yes we were certainly disappointed that we weren’t able to give them a run for it on the scoreboard, but I think we can’t be disappointed with how we actually played – it was a good tough game of footy, they definitely had to earn it.”
With NAB League, VFLW and Victorian Metro experience under her belt, as well as her 2019 Eastern Region Women’s Best and Fairest, all before reaching the age of 19, De Angelis could be forgiven for setting her sights on the big time.
But the Law and Criminology student refuses to get carried away with where she might end up. It’s all about playing for the love of the game and she’ll continue to play until that runs out.
“I’ve never really told myself that I wanted to play in the AFL or anything like that, I just always wanted to make sure that I was enjoying the game and that I’m always getting better,”
“I feel like if I focused too heavily on those things (AFLW etc) I would lose my love for the game,”
“And that’s the only reason I play it.”