Moving out of home at 18 is a significant change, but for Essendon VFLW player Eloise Ashley-Cooper, she quickly found her home away from home at the NEC Hangar.

Growing up in Finley in regional New South Wales, Ashley-Cooper’s focus was on netball until in 2017 a close friend convinced her to join the local girls’ football team.

In her first football game for Finley, Ashley-Cooper’s talent was identified by Murray Bushrangers in the then-TAC Cup, seeing her quickly progress into the Eastern Allies side for the 2018 AFL Women’s Under 18 Championships.

After relocating to Melbourne to study a Bachelor of Law at the Australian Catholic University, Ashley-Cooper was then convinced by Essendon's head coach Brendan Major to join his VFLW side ahead of the 2019 season.

“Initially when I first met ‘Maj’ (Brendan Major) and checked out the club, I was honestly just in awe of the facilities. Major is such a fantastic communicator and he was really honest with me,” Ashley-Cooper said.

“He described how Essendon was developing and the kind of pathways they were heading. It just seemed really exciting and to be honest, at The Hangar, you can’t get better than that.”

For the 20-year-old, joining the Bombers filled the supportive void she missed by leaving her family in New South Wales.

“I’ve made some of my closest friends at the club and it is honestly like my home away from home. It’s just been fantastic, they’ve turned into my support network in Melbourne,” Ashley-Cooper said.

Eloise Ashley-Cooper with Courtney Ugle. (Photo: Celie Hay)

“We’ve got a community within the club and I think the club in general has been great, but what we’re building within the women’s team is really special and it’s got such a great culture. Honestly, they’re just like family to me.”

In her three years at the club, Ashley-Cooper has developed strong connections but has also impacted those around her, which was evident in her inclusion in the 2021 leadership group as the youngest member of the five-woman contingent.

“To be honest, I was just completely shocked and just so excited. It’s (leadership group) an opportunity that I could not be more thankful for and I think it has been pretty integral for my development and my learning,” Ashley-Cooper said.

“It’s such an honour for your peers to look at you in that kind of way and I could not be more humbled.”

(L-R) VFLW leadership group members Eloise Ashley-Cooper, Georgia Nanscawen (captain), Kendra Heil, Courtney Ugle (vice-captain) and Mia-Rae Clifford. (Photo: Celie Hay)

To be involved in the leadership group is something that Ashley-Cooper is proud of, but as a younger member of the team she is using the opportunity to learn from her fellow leaders.

“I think they are all absolutely incredible. I think each of them possess a very different skillset which is awesome so I can draw little bit from each of them,” Ashley-Cooper said.

“Mia (Mia-Rae Clifford) is just a phenomenal communicator and has that loud and motivating voice. The way ‘G’ (captain Georgia Nanscawen) goes about it is just second to none, while ‘Kenny’ (Kendra Heil) is just so powerful.

“'Ugez' (Courtney Ugle) has been an extremely positive influence from the start, so I’m very lucky to be surrounded by these girls.”

Like the leadership group, Ashley-Cooper said the coaching staff all bring different qualities that have helped individual players develop but also establish a high standard among the squad.

She said Major, who has been at the helm at the VFLW Bombers since their inaugural season since 2018, had been a huge influence on a personal level.

“I think they are all just amazing and Major in particular, he really coached me to work hard. To be honest, without him I still wouldn’t be playing. From his coaching I really found my love for the game,” she said.

“But he can’t do it without the people around him and I think they all have such different skillsets and they all sort of balance each other out really well. They are all just really good people as well as coaches and I think that’s really integral to the culture we are building.”

Essendon VFLW head coach Brendan Major has had a massive influence on Eloise Ashley-Cooper. (Photo: Celie Hay)

When she isn’t training at the NEC Hangar or leading the girls on the field, Ashley-Cooper is busy studying or completing internships, which she admits uses many skills she developed through football.

“I feel like with any sport, but footy in particular, there’s so many transferable skills. I think especially with my degree, communication is very integral so footy has definitely developed my communication skills and my ability to network with people,” she said.

“Even at the club, I’ve been presented with great opportunities with the coterie there, the Law Dons, which has just been fantastic. I think there’s so many real integral things that can come from footy and just sport in general.”

Whether it’s with a footy in hand or in the corporate world, Ashley-Cooper is ready to give it her all and strive to do her best.

“I’d just love to give it the biggest crack I can and see what I can actually do,” she said.

“I think that’s ultimately what I’m heading towards but also just further developing all different types of fields; that’s something I really want to dive into. I just want to take any opportunity and give it a red-hot crack."