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Bennett grateful to be back home at West PerthThursday, June 13, 2024 - 10:44 PM - by Chris Pike

STUDYING, working and playing in the WAFLW is a juggling act that Emily Bennett is doing her best to navigate but for so many reasons she is delighted to be back at West Perth and now knowing they are guaranteed of a first finals appearance.

West Perth didn’t have a WAFLW team up until the 2022 season so for Bennett to continue to play at the top state league level in WA, she did spend time at Claremont but she always knew that she wanted to return to the Falcons.

She did that for the 2023 season alongside her sister, Kat, and after a greatly improved performance in that first year back with West Perth, the Falcons now are guaranteed of playing finals and could even finish second depending on results in the last round this weekend.

Bennett has been a key part of what West Perth has been doing all season with the former West Coast Eagles AFLW defender who made the WAFLW Team of the Year in 2023 also being part of history when playing for WA in the first women's State game against South Australia at Optus Stadium.

But the focus now for Bennett is on making this as successful a season as possible for West Perth and she couldn’t be happier with the vision the Falcons have with their female program, the way they treat their players and will start paying them in 2025, and so much more about it.

Coming back to West Perth

Bennett has only good things to say about her time at Claremont, but at the same time it's West Perth that will always feel like her football home and she's been blown away with how far the football program has come upon being back the last 18 months.

The West Perth Rogers Cup team continue to dominate and then the WAFLW team has improved in each of the three seasons to now be set for a finals campaign no matter the result this Sunday against Subiaco.

It's not just about the results on the field, what Bennett has been happiest with is the commitment from the West Perth Football Club to provide all the support possible for the players with their football but also life and career in general.

That's something that makes Bennett and everyone part of the female program feel supported, embraced and like they are getting all the help needed to reach their goals both on and off the field.

That's something that Bennett has no doubt will continue to help all the players in the program thrive as a result.

"I have greatly enjoyed coming back to West Perth. I feel so valued as a person and player within this club. The changes made within the group over just these two seasons is incredible," Bennett said.

"With the new resources we have gotten this season such as an innovative coaching group, new partners in recovery in FITSTOP Joondalup, launching of our ground-breaking Personal Excellence Hub and increase in sponsorships, have all been vital in making this program professional.

"Due to the mountain of work by our Head of Female Football Luke Richardson supported by the club and our entire support staff (especially Deggers (Clint Degebrodt)) has meant that these strides forward aren’t necessarily a surprise.

"I have always felt valued and over the past two years my experiences have been called upon to try and foster the type of environment that allows high performing female athletes to thrive."

Feeling at home with West Perth

While Bennett did enjoy her stint at Claremont for three years to allow her to play in the WAFLW in that time and also which helped get her a chance to play in the AFLW at the Eagles, she always knew she wanted to come back to West Perth for so many reasons.

"To be honest, it wasn’t really a difficult decision to move back to West Perth," she said.

"Having started playing Rogers and a season of reserves for West Perth, it always felt that as soon as a WAFLW side were to be established I would come back.

"Claremont are an incredible club, they really do set the standard of success and professionalism, but being involved in a developing side such as West Perth has been incredibly rewarding, giving me so many more opportunities for growth. Also, the drive to Joondalup is a lot easier for me!"

Bond with sister Kat

The bonus of Bennett's time at Claremont was getting to play with older sister Kat during that time which saw her be part of the WAFLW premiership for the Tigers in 2022.

But then it was a family decision to return to West Perth in 2023 and now both Bennett girls have been key reasons why the Falcons are playing finals in 2024, and Emily couldn’t be happier to be doing it alongside her sister.

"The decision to come back was definitely influenced by Kat. We are pretty close, and I really enjoy playing with her for that reason," Bennett said.

"She is a great player and an amazing person, she has been involved in high level basketball and netball bringing a level of competitiveness and professionalism that has been key to helping the West Perth club grow.

"In terms of playing together we definitely play better when we are on different areas of the field, however we do connect really well."

Season so far in 2024

There is just one round of the home and away season to go in the WAFLW for 2024 and West Perth is locked into being part of finals for the first time in the club's third year in the competition.

The Falcons currently sit in third position on the ladder but is just a game behind the second placed Claremont. So a win this Sunday against Subiaco at Sullivan Logistics Stadium could see West Perth go to second and earn a finals chance should Claremont lost to East Perth on Saturday.

West Perth will be playing finals either away in a second semi-final to East Fremantle or at home to Swan Districts or South Fremantle in a first semi-final.

Bennett is excited to be part of the upcoming first ever finals campaign for the Falcons and seeing how far the team has come in just three years since joining the WAFLW competition.

"Yeah, it’s definitely super exciting, especially as this is the clubs first ever finals series. This season has been incredible in terms of success for the club, as we have beaten teams we have never beaten before and surpassed all expectations," Bennett said.

"As any other club in the competition, we were always striving for finals, but we have a clear premiership model with a three-year plan and to see this success early is just a major credit to the players, coaching group and WAFL club as a whole.

"Knowing that we are in finals no matter what happens this weekend does not change our processes. As a club we strive to play moment by moment and after a tough loss last weekend this game matters more than anything.

"I think just showing to the competition that we won’t settle until the season is over, is so important."

Prospect of a home grand final

Nobody at West Perth is getting ahead of themselves and looking too far ahead, but at the same time it is only natural to dream of what it would be like to not only reach the grand final, but with the added bonus of knowing it would be on home turf at Pentanet Stadium.

Bennett certainly isn’t taking anything for granted or getting ahead of herself, but it's not a bad dream to shoot for.

"It would be an incredible experience playing home in our first grand final ever," she said.

"As you said we don’t want to get to ahead of ourselves, but I think playing on home soil would bring an incredible atmosphere.

"All that aside we remain clear focussed on our premiership model and doing whatever we can to make those around us the best they can be."

Being happy where she is

Having had a taste of playing in the AFLW at the Eagles with six games over the 2021 and 2022 seasons, Bennett would embrace another chance if it came her way, but it's not something she is focused on.

At just 22 years of age, time is still well and truly on her side and playing in the WAFLW State team and also now part of a West Perth finals team will help, but she's just focused on making the most of being at the Falcons.

"Personally, I am really happy and grateful to be where I am. Of course, it was pretty disappointing coming out of an AFLW side but the support from West Perth has been amazing," Bennett said.

"The entire staff have been super accommodating with everything, as my goal has always been to play the best footy I can. What I love about West Perth is if an opportunity to again play at the highest level came my way they would support me through the whole process.

"But again, my focus and energy right now is to continue to lead the Falcons team into their first ever finals appearance."

Juggling act with rest of life

Football at WAFLW level is a big enough commitment on its own and that's why Bennett is proud to be part of a club at West Perth that wants to start paying players from 2025 to help ease the pressures on the rest of their lives.

For Bennett, she is finishing her occupational therapy studies and is dealing with exams right now ahead of the WAFLW finals series but she also needs to make money to live and is currently also working at Bunnings.

To be juggling three time consuming commitments all at once while also still having a life as a young woman takes some doing, but Bennett is grateful to be at a club like West Perth knowing the support will continue to grow.

"Away from footy I am currently in my third year studying to become an Occupational Therapist at Edith Cowan University and I work part time at Bunnings, both have been very accommodating for any commitments I have had for football," Bennett said.

"The juggle has been difficult as to be the best player I can be, I would love to commit more hours to football as I did at AFLW level, which hopefully will come when we get player payments.

"West Perth were the only club to vote in favour of paying female footballers for the 2024 season, so I am confident that the work being done by the club will see a favourable result for female footballers across the whole WAFLW competition in 2025, to allow the juggle to be less strenuous."