Daisy Pearce is an AFLW star and inspirational role model for women in sport, who juggles footy, midwifery, media and motherhood.
Daisy Pearce (La Trobe Alumni Young Achiever Award, 2019) is an icon of women’s football in Australia. Growing up in Bright in country Victoria, she started playing Auskick at age five, then went on to play with the boys in junior football.
“It was at a time where there were no other girls playing. I found my way down to the footy club because my brother played and my dad was the junior coach. My career started off just by being there, being the annoying little sister who was kicking the ball around on the sidelines,” she says.
“After a bit of persistence and determination, I was allowed to join in the training drills. Before long, Dad realised how passionate I was about it and pushed me into everything I wanted to get involved in.
I was really lucky – being in a small community, I never really felt like there were any barriers to me playing at that age. I was just ‘one of the boys’, for want of a better phrase.
Today, Daisy dons the red and blue as a powerhouse midfielder for Melbourne Football Club, where she’s been named two-time Best and Fairest winner and twice voted the Australian Football League Women’s (AFLW) best captain. The journey to reach the highest level of the AFL has been many things for Daisy – a sporting revolution, a young girl’s dream come true – but most of all, it’s been a balancing act. To get there, she’s juggled full-time work as a midwife, part-time roles as a football commentator and women’s sport advocate and, most recently, motherhood.
Training as a midwife
Although Daisy had always wanted to play football, she wasn’t always sure she’d be able to. She remembers clearly the moment she realised she had no professional female football players to look up to.
“At about the age of eight or nine I thought, ‘Hang on, all my heroes are men.’ I became aware that I’d have to stop playing football at some point. Despite my clear passion, and my dreams of playing and commentating footy, I just didn't think it was possible. So, I decided to become a midwife instead.”
Looking back, Daisy sees her interest in midwifery as influenced by ‘growing up with babies in the house’.
“My mum had kids when I was a bit older. I remember being fascinated by her pregnancy and the birth of my little brother and sister, so that's what sparked the midwife in me,” she says.
She went on to study a double degree in midwifery and nursing at La Trobe University. The course fuelled both her passion for midwifery and her ‘addiction to coffee!’.
“At the time, there were only about 30 of us doing midwifery, so it became a bit like a family. You really looked forward to your classes, getting together and sharing what you’d been doing on your hospital placement and what you’d seen,” she says.
I loved the course. The teachers and tutors were so inspiring. They’d tell stories of what life was like on the job and any great birth stories would just have you hooked.
Tackling a football career
While studying at La Trobe, Daisy kept playing footy. She’d been playing as a senior with the Darebin Falcons in the Victorian Women's Football League since 2005, an experience that gave her confidence that women might get greater opportunities to play footy at an elite level.
“I was surrounded by really strong, like-minded women who believed women should have the same opportunities as men when it came to sport, particularly football. It was an empowering time in my life – it was what gave me my voice to start promoting and advocating for women to get opportunities in the game,” she says.
Through the team, she became a ten-time premiership player, including seven as captain (2008-2016). It was around that time that she had ‘a bit of an epiphany’, realising that the professionalism of women’s football in Australia wouldn’t increase unless players like her fought for it.
Playing footy at a high level wasn't going to happen if we didn't promote it ourselves. Part of my motivation to go out there and talk about women’s footy was to get there as quickly as we could, so I was happy to be a spokesperson and help put it on the map.
In 2016, in recognition of her exceptional talent, Daisy was drafted by Melbourne Football Club as a marquee signing ahead of the inaugural AFL Women's season. She was also named the team’s first captain and immediately became a role model for aspiring players.
“Being a recognisable figure in football isn't something I chased, but it's something I'm really happy to carry. To think there are girls and women out there who now have role models that I didn't have when I was dreaming of a career in footy is special,” she says.
“Some of my proudest moments are when I see girls' footy teams decked out in their own uniforms, with their own changerooms and a space they belong in. I’m proud to have been involved in the journey to get to this point where it's completely normal for girls to be playing.”
Stepping up as a media commentator
As the profile of women in footy has increased, so have career opportunities across the industry. Daisy now also works as an expert commentator, becoming the first female to commentate on Triple M. Today, she provides match-day comments for the Seven Network and 1116 SEN radio, across both AFL and AFLW games.
For someone who’s ‘not the most naturally outgoing person’, being a boundary rider and podcast host can be nerve-wracking at times. Daisy manages her anxiety by focusing her work on a bigger picture view.
“In moments when I'm feeling a little bit shy or anxious, or when people criticise me for getting a player’s name wrong, what motivates me is knowing there's probably a young girl out there who can see themselves in my role. And if there's a little girl out there thinking, 'I can do that and I can do it better than Daisy,’ – well, then I'm doing my job.”
To stay driven in her media career, Daisy also draws on the discipline she learnt at La Trobe.
“Becoming self-motivated has been important for my footy, but also now in the work that I do as a sports commentator. For the hour or so you appear on-screen, you have to put in about four hours' work behind the scenes. Uni was very similar, so it was a good stepping stone to where I am now.”
Adding motherhood to the mix
In 2019, Daisy became the first AFL player to go on maternity leave – the same year she was named in the Sydney Morning Herald’s 50 Most Influential Women in Sport. She took the 2019 season off to care for her twins, Sylvie and Roy, but is back at Melbourne Football Club for the 2020 season.
Being a working mum across three careers is demanding, but so far Daisy is enjoying the challenge.
“The juggle is all part of the fun. Being a mum is my number one, but I think I'll always stay involved in football in some capacity. I'd like to keep working as a midwife, too, for as long as I can,” she says.
Football, midwifery and media are very different careers, but they’re all driven by relationships and communication. I can carry my experiences across all three: the leadership development I've done at footy really helps me in midwifery and staying cool under pressure as a midwife is something I draw on for footy.
Reflecting on her career journey, Daisy feels as grateful for the opportunities that didn’t come her way, as for those that did.
“If a career in football was all there before me as a kid, I might not have pursued the midwifery career that I love. I don't ever regret that decision. I feel really privileged to be a midwife, to be there in that part of people’s lives. I feel so lucky, I wouldn't change it for the world.”
Looking to the future, Daisy hopes for the continuing professionalisation of the AFLW. She recognises that developing a fully professional women’s football league would come at the expense of the career juggling she’s been able to do, but believes the sacrifice is worth it for women’s better representation.
“In my lifetime, I'd love to see an industry where roles aren’t gendered, where a woman can be senior coach of an AFL team. Now that you've got a big body of girls involved, who are seeing themselves in the game from a really young age, I think by osmosis you’ll see more barriers being broken down and more of those girls in roles right across the industry.”
Closer to home, Daisy also hopes Sylvie and Roy benefit from the changes she and fellow advocates have helped make for gender equality in sport.
“I hope Sylvie and Roy learn that they can go out and do whatever they're passionate about. I hope each of them have the same opportunities and that their gender doesn't limit them in anything they do. And whether or not they aspire to do what I’m doing, I hope I’ve helped create a world where there’s no limitations on what they want to become.”
Last updated: 29th January 2020