Sitting on the opposite coasts of Australia, both Kara Antonio and I open our conversation by admitting we’re simultaneously watching the men’s Ashes series.

“We’re playing quite well. I think England have missed a few chances and opportunities, so I’m not complaining,” Antonio says as we muse over an overturned wicket keeping Australia firmly in control of the test. It’s good to know that although we’ve never spoken before, we’re on the same page.

Kara Antonio’s name carries a certain gravitas in the AFLW community. Inaugural captain of the Fremantle Dockers, selected in the 2017 All Australian team and holds the current record for playing in the most consecutive wins with 14 straight (round five, 2019 to round four, 2021). 

Despite making the choice to relinquish the captaincy ahead of her sixth season, Antonio’s leadership won’t disappear, rather she sees it as an opportunity to give more to the Club, just in a different way.

“I didn't think that I could play my role as best as I could if I still had that captaincy role. I really needed to focus on myself and my body and my mind to be able to give back to the Club that's given me so much.”

- Kara Antonio

Being an AFLW club captain is both a privilege and a huge challenge, Antonio tells me. But stepping down wasn’t an easy choice to make. Not at all. 

“The decision didn’t happen overnight, it was a pretty long process,” Antonio describes the thought and consultation that went into it, but she feels comfortable knowing she is passing the responsibility not only on to new captain Hayley Miller, but a host of strong leaders in the playing group.

To best serve the Club now, Antonio knows the focus needs to turn more inward. Her own body, recovery and her role on game day is now the priority to get the most out of the remainder of her career.

FEATURED PART ONE | With Ange Stannett
FEATURED PART TWO | With Roxy Roux
FEATURED PART THREE | With Janelle Cuthbertson

02:47 Mins
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'I have loved every second of leading this club' | Kara Antonio

Kara Antonio has announced that she will be stepping down as captain of the Fremantle Dockers AFLW team ahead of the upcoming 2022 season.

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“Whatever time I've got left, whether that be a year, two years, three years - I really want to enjoy my footy… and recovery is becoming very, very important to me.”

By taking that step back, Antonio is starting to see things from a different perspective, particularly her impact on young girls coming through the talent ranks, some of whom are now her teammates. We chuckle about Roxy Roux’s admission that she had posters of Antonio and other teammates on her bedroom wall when first getting drafted to the Club.

“It's quite funny actually, because I met Roxy years and years ago. I went up and did a clinic in Geraldton where she was living at the time and we were doing some football drill and I had the specky bag on me and she took an absolute hanger on me and I thought 'Oh God, this girl's gonna absolutely tear the future of women's footy up'” Antonio recounts with a sense of awe in her voice. “And years and years later she'd come down to Perth and started playing in the WAFLW competition and I was like, ‘Yep, I know exactly who that girl is.’ And here we are now as teammates.”

“You don’t really realise the impact of being a role model. You just don’t think you’re a role model or people look up to you, until you hear those little stories like Roxy’s. It’s very cute… I was just honoured that she had my poster up on the wall and not someone else’s,” Antonio adds with a laugh.

Roux wasn’t the only one, either. Antonio coached Mikayla Hyde through some of her junior footy journey, and had the honour of presenting Hyde with her first jumper before her debut game in round one, 2021. 

“To be able to hand over her jumper and watch someone that I've been able to coach live their childhood dream was pretty special.”

As we switch our attention back to the 2022 season that is edging ever-closer, I ask if Antonio has a particular personal goal for the year and she’s very quick to say “to get through and play every game” laughing, almost asking the question of herself.

“But no, in all seriousness, I think I'd love to be able to contribute as much as I can to the group and up forward especially, you know, with the young crop of players coming through…  and just keep a cool, calm, collected head when the pressure starts to arrive.”

That forward role is one we can expect to see Antonio remain in this coming season after the surprise move there from higher up the field this year, and it wasn’t only a surprise to onlookers, but to Antonio herself.

She was feeling fit in the preseason ahead of 2021, had run a PB in her 2km time trial and was training as a winger, but that wasn’t to be.

“About a week out, Trent [Cooper] came to me and said, 'Look, we're looking short down forward, just got a few injuries in a few players who won't be back in time. We want to roll you forward,'” and as someone who likes a challenge Antonio jumped at the chance, although admits she “really had no idea” what she was doing. 

This year, however, it’s a different situation altogether. Antonio has spent the whole preseason training with their new-look forward group.

“Obviously, losing Sabreena Duffy and Ashley Sharp, we've had to find another way and another avenue to goal, which we're really confident that we found that.”

And she is yet another player to mention the excitement and potential of adding Aine Tighe to that forward group.

“That's a story in itself. This is her third preseason that she's had with us, and unfortunately had a few knee injuries and niggles that hasn't allowed her to pull on the jumper yet, but the way she's been moving at training, she's been ticking all the boxes and yeah, she's an absolutely incredible athlete.” 

FEATURED PART FOUR | With Mim Strom
FEATURED PART FIVE | With Emma O'Driscoll
FEATURED PART SIX | With Bianca Webb
FEATURED PART SEVEN | With Steph Cain

I have to admit, with every mention of Tighe from various people at Fremantle, I get that little bit more excited to see her finally hit the park. And I certainly take Antonio’s word for it, as a self-proclaimed “student of the game”, the Freo Docker isn’t just making her footy intelligence known within the four walls of the Club, but on the microphone, too.

“I did a few commentary gigs with ABC Sport over here in Perth, I was fortunate enough to get the (men’s) grand final,” she says. “I love footy. I love any team that is playing and like to analyse and look into stats and things like that. So the role went hand in hand, which was really enjoyable, and I'm looking forward to hopefully being able to do more next season with the boys.”

If there’s anything we can feel certain about with Kara Antonio, it’s that she’ll be around footy for a long time to come. On field or off, captain or not, Antonio has plenty left to offer.

Gemma Bastiani is the co-founder of Siren Sport, a collective of Australian women’s sports advocates, content creators and fans providing coverage to women's sport across the country. To read more of Gemma Bastiani's work, head here.