Averaging 19 disposals and six tackles per game before 2020’s season pause, Sandy’s back-to-back best and fairest winner was quickly forging an impressive path to the AFLW draft, while playing an integral role in the Dragons’ stellar start to the year.
Alice Burke already lays claim to an eye-catching football résumé, which the star midfielder continues to build at a rapid rate.
Strikingly, though, Burke’s football journey is still only in its infancy, since making the switch from soccer just three years ago.
After years of involvement in the state program, Burke needed a fresh challenge, and football would prove to reignite her love for sport.
“We had a few girls in the team move across to footy, and we heard nothing but people raving about it,” she recounted.
“I ended up playing footy for school, and thought ‘OK, this is a lot more fun.’
“Dad signed me up for a local club team, and that was when I joined the [East Brighton] Vampires.
“I went down, I didn’t know anyone, but the atmosphere around footy was so different to how it was at soccer. It was just really encouraging.”
While Burke’s football pedigree is well-documented—father Nathan played 323 games at the elite level for St Kilda—the Burke name is free from pressure for the 17-year-old.
“Dad never talks about himself. He has a rule where if you want advice, you have to go to him, he won’t just freely give it,” she explained.
“I’ve never felt any pressure like ‘oh, I’ve got to be like him’ or ‘I have to play the way he played’, he’s just with me enjoying what I do.”
While a chat with Burke swiftly reveals her calm and relaxed nature, her on-field training tells a different story, where even a laid-back kick with a friend is an opportunity to improve.
“When I train, I always train with being better in mind and trying to improve,” she said.
“If I’m going to go do sprints or if I’m kicking with a mate, I won’t ever do anything half-arsed.
“I’ll always have in the back of my head, ‘I’ve got to do it properly because I want to improve.’”
Having trained with both Collingwood and St Kilda, the balance between hard work and enjoyment at the elite level has proved a key lesson for Burke.
“They were both very different to each other, but one thing I was surprised about was how professional everyone was but at the same time they were all still having a laugh with everything,” she reflected.
“They had a really good balance. They never had any dawdling or mucking around that inhibited their training.
“It was a bit intimidating going into training with all these great players, but they’d be nothing but inclusive and they quickly made us feel at home.”
And while Burke’s ball-winning ability is always well-evidenced by the stat sheet, it’s perhaps her defending which sets her apart, an element of her game she credits to years of playing as a defender in soccer.
“I’m always more on the back of the pack or playing with a more defensive mindset, which I think has definitely come from soccer,” she explained.
“We all have our roles at the Dragons, and the girls like Winnie [Laing] and Eliza [McNamara], their roles are mainly getting the ball and running off with it.
“I see my role as being more if the other team gets it, I can shut it down quickly and get it out to those girls for the offensive.”
And it may not even be the Dragon’s biggest weapon, whose ability to kick on both feet is first-class.
With the NAB League Girls season scheduled to resume on September 5, be certain to keep an eye out for Sandy’s number 28.