One of the up and coming Super Netball stars, Lara Dunkley, sat down to talk about her (very, very long) journey from country Gippsland to the Queensland Firebirds.
“I first started playing when I was 13 years old,” Lara grins. In truth this is almost an understatement. The now-25-year-old's Firebirds profile describes her as playing sport "since she was in the womb."
“I played heaps of other sports as well as played netball; I was playing football. I danced; I played tennis. The reason I started playing was because my auntie was a local netballer back in the day.
"She pretty much said 'you should give netball a go.' She took me through my first training session and we never looked back. I loved it so much."
Not that her aunty's support was indicative of a family-oriented enthusiasm.
“It was kind of funny though," she chuckles. "Mum and dad didn't initially allow me to go. So, she snuck me into my netball session and gave me a pair of shoes and shorts and off I went.”
After playing country netball in Victoria, Dunkley’s talent shone through and she was chosen to join the regional academy and from there played in the Victoria Netball League.
“I started playing State League in Melbourne on a Wednesday night. Then from playing, I suppose was scouted from and trialled for the state team.”
It wasn’t the ideal path to get into the state team, but Lara’s never give up attitude held her in good stead to get to that next level.
“I got knocked back a few times, it was probably was top age 17's, and I didn't make it. bottom age 19, and I didn't make it, and then I made my first top age under 19, and then played for Victoria at nationals for three years.”
Looking back, there were a lot of people along the way, but there were two special people in Lara’s life that without them, she probably wouldn’t be where she was.
“Mum and dad were crucial in that regard and especially the travel, because the state Victorian netball league team that I played for in Melbourne required me to be in Melbourne four times a week, so that was three hours to training and three hours home four times a week. So, my parents travelled 2000 kilometres a week for me and netball which is unbelievable I travel 10 kilometres. I think I'm very lucky, so they have been amazing.”
Lara comes from a very sporty family; her dad was a professional AFL player for the Sydney Swans playing over 200 games and is in the Sydney hall of fame
“I think having dad play professional football before he kind of well he knows what it takes and what what's involved in the environment that you're putting yourself in and going through. And he was just someone that, you know, taught us what hard work really meant and whether you were knocked back, you know how to stand up again, or just the sacrifices you have to make”
After being selected in the Vixens line-up in 2019 as a temporary replacement player, Lara debuted in Suncorp Super Netball for the Melbourne Vixens midway through the season in 2019 against the Sunshine Coast Lightning.
“I do remember just having that support from my teammates, at the Vixens around me and just made me feel really comfortable…it was very special. Mom was lucky enough to be there too”
After the 2019 season Lara was offered the opportunity to make the switch to sunny Queensland and join the Firebirds. The offer was too good to turn down, so Lara made the move up north.
“Yeah, it was a pretty smooth transition actually the firebirds were welcoming with to open arms and made me feel very comfortable moving to Queensland. it was really good, and the team were amazing.”
Lara recalled a story from when she first arrived in Queensland to join the Firebirds, the flight landed late at night and Lara and the new firebirds were surprised with who was there to welcome them.
“I remember I arrived at the airport late the night that I came and Gabi and Romelda were there to pick us up and we didn't even know, we thought we're getting an Uber l back to our apartment. but they were there, and it was just felt like family and I think that's really important. To move interstate from close family and friends and just to have them there from the get-go, makes you feel so much more comfortable.”
A few months into pre-season for Super Netball, the season was postponed due to COVID-19, where most players that re-located interstate to play moved back to their home state, including Lara. She was lucky enough to have her 2 brothers Kyle and Josh who both play AFL.
“I’m very lucky to have a really good relationship with my brothers and having a play professional sport themselves that it made it a lot easier and the motivation was there because of what we were all doing so we had a routine of getting up in the morning and getting our session done and, yeah, trying to do it all together. The motivation was great to have them their whole way So, yeah, I was very lucky to have the boys.”
Lara is loving life as a Firebird in Queensland, She made her debut for the Firebirds in Round 1 against the Sunshine coast Lightning, and is going to be a very important part of the firebirds line up for years to come.