Without the influence of Yvette Wooltorton, the Fremantle Football Club in 2022 would be a vastly different environment – there would be no backflips, no Kickin’ Back Podcast and no exhilarating snaps from what has already been dubbed ‘Drizzy’s Pocket’.
Known famously as ‘Mrs Woolly’ around the Avon region due to her extensive volunteering work in local sport, and as Nanna to grandchildren Emma and Nathan, Yvette was the driver behind the O’Driscolls’ love for football, and it’s safe to say they wouldn’t be forging AFL careers without her guidance.
It’s why Nathan made such a touching tribute to her after kicking the first of his two goals during his 20 disposal performance on Saturday night against GWS.
Two weeks earlier, Yvette was at Optus Stadium to see Nathan make his AFL debut, achieving something that from a medical standpoint seemed incredibly unlikely as she held on through a long battle with cancer.
“Nanna was meant to pass a while back and she wasn't meant to last as long as she did, we all knew that she wanted to hang on just to see me pull on the jumper,” Nathan said.
For that very reason, seeing her brother debut was more important to Emma than her Freo debut in 2020.
“Nathan’s debut was the best day of my life and I wasn't even able to be there,” Emma said.
“Nanna got to see my debut over in Melbourne, which funnily enough was against the Saints, but it was more special with Nathan because that was the final milestone Nanna was hanging out for.
“She's probably the most determined and stubborn person I know. Once she had it stuck in her head that she needed to see her grandson's debut, it was always going to happen.
“It's awesome to see how powerful our minds can be when we’re set to something. As much as her body didn’t want to do it, she ended up getting there.
“Seeing the photos from the moment, even though she had to sit 1.5 meters away and wear a mask, if she could, she would have been jumping for joy. I know she would have been so, so proud.”
Football was life to Yvette, especially when it came to her grandchildren. She was the voice of reason when Emma wanted to make the then controversial jump from netball to a ‘boys’ sport’, while she was clearly Nathan’s biggest supporter.
“I'm not even exaggerating, she did not miss a game and went to every single one of my colts games,” Nathan said.
“She's always been there, supporting my football and she’s a massive reason why I started playing footy because she had so much passion and joy for it.
“She was a massive influence on my journey and obviously for Emma transitioning over from netball. She was a massive supporter of that too.”
For Emma, it took her Nanna’s stubbornness to get permission to play footy.
“She's the one that showed me what it means to be a strong, independent woman. I think that's something that I always carry with me and I think she’s the only reason I was able to pursue footy,” Emma said.
“My Mum didn't agree with women playing footy, and the fact that my Nanna was able to say ‘no, I'm 100% backing you in this decision, I don't care if you're a girl or a boy, I think you should be able to have this opportunity and go for it’.
“To have that approval from her to begin with was awesome, I think that just sparked the passion for football in everyone.
“She was my biggest supporter. After I was drafted she bought 20 of my Emma O'Driscoll badges, she’d go to bingo every single Saturday night and show photos of me playing footy or at a jumper presentation. She was really proud.”
Emma only had to wait until round four in her debut season to play her first game but Nathan’s journey to his debut was far from easy – battling injury as a first year player and going through 2021 season without a Fremantle appearance.
While Yvette’s support was a big driver to Nathan, her dream to see him debut became a significant source of pressure and anxiety with such uncertainty around her illness.
“Knowing Nanna didn’t have long left definitely hit me hard at the end of the year,” Nathan said.
“I felt pretty bad, I wanted to play a game and obviously, Nanna was suffering a lot and I felt like I failed her in a way. I also knew if I put in the work I was going to get my opportunity, lucky enough that happened early in the season.
“Emma was ringing me quite regularly, just checking up on how I was feeling mentally. She would just say to go out there and do it for Nanna. I said the same to her, they were on a finals run and they were trying to win a flag. It was good they got deep into finals and Nanna got to see them play really well.”
To Emma, Nathan’s struggles created an opportunity for the siblings to bond through the summer, even if Emma was interstate in the AFLW hub.
“We definitely got real with each other when we needed to, and that's something that my family has struggled with in the past, that vulnerability side of things,” Emma said.
“It was nice being able to check in and ask how he was going, whether that be anxiety towards footy, whether he's gonna get a game – and we were all just pretty stressed about Nanna at that point in time.
“I think it is important to keep those conversations up, we need to reiterate how important men's mental health is. For us to share those experiences, not only being athletes, but being a part of the same club - having similar demands on us that we had to balance was reassuring.”
Those following Fremantle’s social media through their time in the AFLW hub could be forgiven for thinking Emma was having the time of her life interstate as Freo won four of a possible five games. From her podcasts with Hayley Miller, viral videos with Laura Pugh to the celebratory backflip after a win – the defender was arguably the game’s social media darling of the summer.
But from Emma’s perspective it was hardly smooth sailing - an important reminder that behind the veil of social media, life may not be as rosy as it seems.
“It was tough. I definitely had a few meltdowns here and there, especially at the beginning of pre-season. I even had a meltdown during the 2k time trial, but I think that's pretty standard for me,” Emma said with a laugh.
“When we found out she was really sick, that was two years ago - that definitely affected my pre-season. Going into this year knowing that she had deteriorated, it was an extra challenge that we had to deal with every single day, not knowing what was going to happen.
“I think it was a lot harder when I had to go into the hub, having to go and see her before going away because that might have been the last time I saw her, that was quite confronting.”
It was no accident that Emma was able to enjoy significant portions of her time interstate, praising the support of her teammates and Fremantle’s AFLW coaches and staff.
“Having the girls around me was a really nice distraction. They make me happy, footy makes me happy and Nanna wouldn't want me doing anything else but playing footy and enjoying myself,” Emma said.
“Being able to continue doing that, having the support of my teammates around me and the Club - I may have been away and not seeing my family but Freo are also my family, so that made it a lot easier.”
While Emma missed Nathan’s debut due to her AFLW commitments, she was dealt a further blow by not being able to see him play against GWS after catching Covid.
She had even organised a box for her and her AFLW teammates for the game, and the AFLW crew did their part to make sure Nathan felt the love.
“Hayley Miller said once that Nathan may as well be her brother as she’s so close with me and I talk so much about him,” Emma said.
“They all feel that pride and want to be a part of it just as much as I do. They all treat him like family, just like Freo treat all of us.
“I watched the GWS game from home when all the girls were in the box. I had the girls FaceTime me. Everyone was crying, I was crying, it was a very touching moment. I think most of the girls felt that emotion for us and I had so many messages. It was bloody good.
“I think it's great that they were chanting for Nathan across Optus and really getting around him. He would have loved it too.”
And love it he did.
“It just shows we're one big family at Freo, I love the girls and the girls were there to support me and they showed the love for me too, I couldn't thank them enough,” Nathan said.
And when Nathan’s first goal sailed through, Emma couldn’t help but think he had a bit of help from above.
“I could see he was playing his heart out and it was for Nanna,” Emma said.
“The kiss of the armband and the body language from him and what he did after he kicked it. It was something special and Mum and Dad want to get that picture framed of him pointing to the stars.
“100 per cent I think Nanna would have helped him kick it, she would have given him a clip around the ear if he missed!”