Moana Hope in the Age

Samantha Lane has written an article for the Age on Sharks star Moana Hope.–moana-hope-finds-her-feet-20150814-gizns3.html

Samantha Lane
Courtesy of the Age

Moana Hope is 23 years of age. She lost her father, to cancer, when she was 13, has a mother battling a cruel assortment of illnesses, and is the full-time carer for her 21-year-old disabled sister (one of her 14 siblings). Today, though, she is blissfully overcome by an opportunity that feels so close she could reach out and touch it.

In unsteady times, and Hope indicates she’d need more than two hands to count hers, Australian rules football has been an anchor. Sometimes a lifeline.

On Sunday, Hope will play in a Western Bulldogs jumper, in a cream-of-the-crop team, in a genuine AFL match setting. A gifted key-position player, she is capable of being a match-winner in the fourth ever AFL women’s match, and the first to be televised.

Moana Hope and mum RosemaryMoana Hope and mum Rosemary Photo: Supplied

Hope says it will be the highlight of her decorated sporting career, which includes representing Australia on an international rules women’s football tour.

A state-level cricketer forced to choose between two sports at under-19s, Hope, with her lightning-quick bowling arm, could well have been playing in England right now like former teammates, now Southern Stars, Elyse Villani and Jess Cameron. But she chose football because from the time she slept with a ball, as a kid, to now, the game has been an unfailing conduit to joy.

Only recently, though, Hope walked away from all sport. And for a couple of years. Going out late and hard took football’s place. Things, in Hope’s words, got “complicated”.

She tried, for a period, to keep up training and playing, but repeatedly turned up hungover. She’d then get down on herself for not doing well enough. In a cyclical tussle, footy lost out. Nightlife – with all its trimmings, but also its physical and psychological pitfalls – won.

When the AFL, in 2013, staged the first women’s game between two league clubs, Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs, the best 50-odd female players in Australia were given a stage that had previously only ever been dreamt of. Hope was still out of the game, neither training, nor playing. But even from a distance she clocked the buzz and great potential around what, to women’s footy, was a truly momentous event.

The first Bulldogs and Melbourne women’s game is the very reason that Hope appeared in the re-match – last year’s second AFL-sanctioned football clash – 12 months later.

It is the reason that, on the eve of Sunday’s fourth encounter between the teams, she is a more committed sportswoman, and more in love with playing football, than she has ever been in her life.

“I grew up loving it, and I’ve never stopped loving it,” she says. “Playing football takes me to a different place.”

Hope’s biggest supporter has been her mother, Rosemary, who was particularly encouraging of her young daughter pursuing sporting paths that were much more easily accessible to her four footy-playing brothers.

Hope sees her mother, who was born in New Zealand, a nurse, and had her large brood with a German-Australian, every day.

“She’s just an angel,” Hope says of the woman who, as well as having her own 14 kids, has also fostered children.

“But she’s got really sick. She’s got two brain tumors, her heart’s not good, she’s got lung cancer, emphysema … it’s very rare now that she leaves the house or gets to walk very far.”

Each morning, Hope takes coffee to her mother, and her 21-year-old sister – Rosemary’s daughter – Lavinia.

Lavinia Hope suffers from a very rare neurological disorder, Möbius syndrome, which typically paralyses a sufferer’s face and eyes completely.

“The best way to explain it is she’s 21, but has the capacity of a four-year-old … She needs 24/7 care, and she lives with me now,” Hope says.

On weekdays, Lavinia takes a school bus that goes by Rosemary’s place to her professional daycare. This allows Hope to work. She’s in the traffic and construction management field, working for Utilities Traffic Management, who she says are most accommodating of her life and sporting commitments. At the end of the day she returns to Rosemary’s to collect her sister.

The telecast of Sunday’s match is all the more meaningful for Hope, who otherwise plays locally for the St Kilda Sharks, because she knows that for the first time in many years her mother will be watching. Even if from the couch.

Lavinia will be in the Etihad Stadium stands. “I take her to all of my games. I take her basically everywhere I go,” Hope says.

Among the collage of beautiful images stained onto her increasingly strong arms and legs are several replicas of Salvador Dali works. The names of Hope’s mother, father and sister Lavinia feature and, on her neck written in Hindi, is the name of a dearly departed friend who helped look after her when she was growing up.

In her soft voice Hope shares the symbolism of each tattoo, and also describes the concerted effort she’s made over the last 12 months to transform the body they’re inked on.

Once she decided to return to local women’s footy, Hope set her sights firmly on the second AFL women’s draft. She was selected in 2014 and retained this year for both Bulldogs-Demons games. Nicole Graves, one of the best females to have played Australian rules and now an assistant coach to Craig Starcevich at the Bulldogs, has been a constant rock and mentor. Strength and conditioning professional, Tennille Hay, who Hope encountered after winning a prize ticket into the AFL system through the women’s program, has also changed her life.

Hope says she had no idea, previously, of the impact nutrition and tailored exercises could have on her football ability. Since they met, Hay has set programs that Hope has followed diligently. In the last six months, she has drunk alcohol just once or twice.

“Coming back to football was the best decision I’ve made in my whole life, I think,” Hope says.

“This is how I look at it now: if I drink on a Saturday night I need that week to recover when I could actually be spending that week getting better.”

In previous football incarnations, Hope – ‘Mo’ to many of her teammates – has played for Hatfield and the storied Darebin sides that won five premierships under coach Peta Searle.

She repeats that she always loved playing football, never stopped loving playing football and will always love football. She was lost to the game, but thanks to a major game-changing development, Hope was found.


  • Western Bulldogs v Melbourne, female/male double-header, Etihad Stadium, Sunday.
  • Women’s match starts at 12.35pm and broadcast live nationally on Channel Seven, the first telecast of an AFL women’s match
  • Men’s match starts at 3.20pm.


  • 23 years old, born in Victoria
  • Started playing football (with boys) from age 7-12
  • Represented Victoria in women’s football competition from age 16
  • Multiple All Australian, captain of U19s Victorian women’s football team, and past player of the national women’s championships
  • Represented Victoria in under-age women’s cricket, until U19s
  • Represented Australia in first women’s international rules football series in Ireland (2006)
  • Multiple leading goalkicker of Victorian Women’s Football League
  • Local VWFL football club: St Kilda Sharks
  • AFL women’s team: Western Bulldogs (third game for team on Sunday)
  • Past local football clubs: Hatfield, East Burwood, Darebin (played in club’s five premierships)

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