THEY’RE sitting pretty on top of the Sunraysia Women’s Football League ladder and now they’re under the leadership of a new coach.

Erin Gathercole has recently taken over as coach of the Gol Gol women’s team and although it’s a different avenue to her previous leadership in both basketball and netball, she is very much looking forward to the challenge.

Gathercole and teammates Kristen Gregory and Peta Milne have been playing a big role within the club since their coach stepped down after the first game this season. The trio have been focusing on development of the team as well as training. The team on game day has until now been led by Gol Gol Football Netball Club president Paul Mensch.

Gathercole enlisted former Gol Gol men’s playing coach Jason Wilkie to assist with the team where he could, and it was Wilkie who encouraged her to think about taking over the coaching role.

After sustaining an injury in round four, and wanting to stay part of the team, before undergoing surgery eight weeks ago that has put an end to her playing days, when Mensch approached her to take on the role, it was an opportunity Gathercole was excited to take on.

“I definitely thought it was a commitment I could make to the girls and to just do my very best to support them, help them improve and encourage them to work together,” Gathercole said.

Gathercole isn’t a out of her depth when it comes to leadership in sport, starting at 16 coaching the under 12s Hawks basketball team. At 19 she coached the under 17 South Mildura netball team to the grand final.

With her career and work commitments straining her ability to coach in the manner she wanted, Gathercole stepped away from coaching, but not playing, and at 20 years of age played her 100th senior game of netball at South Mildura in their A grade team, before being a part of their first ever A grade premiership later that same year.

“I was then lured to Gol Gol by my long-time coach and now close friend Melisa Hederics to play alongside some old Swallows netball club teammates and return to the club where my dad had coached and played when I was a small child,” Gathercole said.

“At age 27 playing A grade netball at Gol Gol I found myself injured and while on the sidelines I realised how much I could help people’s games and had others asking me to watch their game and assess where they may be able to improve, or new things they could try that would help with their game.

“This led to me loving the tactical side of sport and how positioning and small adjustments was so important to opening up a game and I was fortunate enough that Melisa was so encouraging and helpful with all my thoughts and willing to let me give feedback to some players.

“That year I came back from injury, we won the premiership which seen me play alongside my sister and after the medical advice I received earlier in the year decided to end my playing days on that amazing high.”

Gathercole turned to coaching netball, at first as assistant of both the A and A reserve teams under Hederics, and then as head coach.

In her first year of coaching the Hawks by herself, Gathercole defied many critics who said after losing a number of their longer serving players due to other commitments or retirement, they would be destined for failure.

“That year struggling for numbers seen me pull the runners back on as A grade playing coach and despite what everyone thought both A grade and A reserve teams made the grand final with A reserve winning the premiership,” Gathercole said.

“That year for me is definitely a highlight of my sporting life.”

In 2019 Gathercole knew the girls football team were struggling for players and it looked like they wouldn’t be able to field a team.

Knowing the hard work Gregory and Milne had put in, she thought she would give football a go.

“Growing up watching my brother excel at footy and spending all my weekends as a young girl down in Bendigo watching him definitely gave me the confidence to give it a go,” she said.

“I’m glad I did, making what I feel will be life-long friendships as well as ending the season in the league’s team of the year and winning the league’s best defender as well as Gol Gol Women’s most valuable player in my first year of footy.”

Unfortunately for Gathercole, her football playing story came to an end earlier this season

“Due to playing high impact sport since the age of four and a serious knee injury to my left knee as a 15-year-old, which required a screw inserted into the knuckle of my tibia bone to reconnect the broken bone, as well as multiple operations on both knees I have no choice than to permanently end any hope I had of continuing to play,” she said.

Despite not being able to run out with the girls on field, Gathercole is determined for them to keep building as a team this season, focusing on their self-belief and teamwork as well as their fitness and skills.

Combine her coaching duties with a busy lifestyle at home and Gathercole should be considered one determined super coach, super friend and super mum!

“Away from football I’m all about family and friends,” she said.

“They 100 per cent come first.

“I have my supportive partner Bobbie and together we have three beautiful kids; Hayley is seven and loves footy I think even more than I do, Jax is our four year old who loves Marvel and superhero and Indigo is our beautiful little COVID baby.

“I gave birth in November and he is thriving in our chaotic busy family life and is the absolute light of all our lives.”

Not that anyone would expect her to have a lot of spare time, but Gathercole, who is currently on maternity leave from her management position at Woolworths, said she also has a passion for exploring and travelling to new places as well as landscape photography and capturing the uniqueness of each place she visits.

– By Zoey Andrews