27 April 2023

Ainslie star Zoe Skyrianos prepares to play her 100th first-grade game for the tri-colours

| Tim Gavel
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Zoe Skyrianos. Photo: Fiona McQueenie.

Zoe Skyrianos has unfinished business in the tri-colours. Photo: Fiona McQueenie.

Zoe Skyrianos hadn’t played a game of Australian Rules until she was 30.

Until then, her sporting focus had been on basketball.

“I started playing footy when I was working in an office job at the Tax Office,” Zoe explains.

“My manager had a daughter playing for Ainslie and he asked if I was interested in playing.”

Zoe nervously turned up to her first training session and instantly fell in love with the new sport.

But at first, there was scepticism from others.

“I was told by one of the male players that I was a bit late to start playing football but I loved it from the start. The camaraderie was great, as were the traditions in the sport. I knew from the outset that this is where I wanted to be.”

That was over a decade ago.

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Now at 41 years of age, Zoe is preparing to play her 100th game in first grade for the Ainslie Football Club. The team will play Tuggeranong today (29 April) at the Alan Ray Oval.

“I was going to retire last year. I’ve threatened to retire a few times, but after we went down in the Grand Final to Queanbeyan, I felt as though there was unfinished business and I decided to go around again this season.”

The disappointment of the 2022 Grand Final loss can’t be underestimated with Ainslie going into the decider having not lost a game through the entire season until that point.

Proudly wearing the tri-colours of Ainslie Football Club. Photo: Fiona McQueenie.

Ainslie Football Club has worked hard to create an environment of equality for their female players. Photo: Fiona McQueenie.

“There’s a great feeling around the entire club this year,” says Zoe.

“I’m keen to win a premiership with Ainslie. It’s been over 20 years since we have won one.”

Plenty of water has flowed under the bridge in the 10 years since she first ran on.

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At the end of the 2021 season, Zoe and teammate Allyson Flynn fronted the Ainslie board seeking equality for the women’s program.

In March last year, Ainslie announced equal funding for the men’s and women’s programs.

The salary cap restrictions mean the women don’t receive the same pay for playing as the men, although the women’s cap has been lifted to $40,000 for each club this season.

But Zoe says it’s not necessarily about player payments.

“It’s more around respect for the women’s program. Ainslie has been great. We now have equality around the use of facilities. This includes the ground for training. There are other things, such as the availability of physios. The whole culture has changed with the boys now coming along to our games.”

As for her future in the code beyond this season, Zoe is already planning: “I feel like I can keep going. I’m also moving into a coaching role. I’m keen to stay in the sport; I love it too much to leave.”

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Away from football, Zoe now works as a firefighter with ACT Fire and Rescue.

Recently Zoe, along with Dani Curio, and mates from ACT Fire and Rescue, raised funds for Lifeline by replicating the vertical distance to climb Mt Everest by traversing up and down Mt Ainslie.

At 41, Zoe has plenty to give. She is a great role model for the next generation and a critical part of the Ainslie Footy Club.

Ainslie Tricolours First Grade Women take on TVAFNC First Grade Women at Alan Ray Oval 1 at 12:45 pm on 29 April.

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