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'She'll be a star': 17-year-old Zarlie Goldsworthy to make a giant debut

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Zarlie Goldsworthy is from a self-professed "unaffectionate family" but when the former Junior Matilda now GWS Giant had her name called at pick 20 in the 2022 AFLW Draft, the family from Albury "went absolutely berserk".

"Everyone stopped and looked, it was so funny and so embarrassing at the same time, but I wouldn't have wanted it any other way" the 17-year-old told ESPN earlier this year.

"I was so ecstatic when my name got read out, my family can't stop telling me how proud they are."

Now, on Saturday, she will make her debut for Giants against competition newcomers Sydney - in the AFLW's first-ever Sydney derby.

Goldsworthy's parents and two siblings are no strangers to seeing her in the spotlight, the talented sportsperson has been a member of the Young Matildas, and in the 2021-22 U19 Female Vic Country Squad for the Cricket Victoria Emerging Players Program.

Playing soccer nationally was surreal for the unassuming teenager, who admits the moment she realised it was a big deal was at the airport.

"Getting that first airplane ticket I was like, 'Oh my gosh, I'm actually flying somewhere for free,' and then I got the polos and the jackets with the big Australia logo," she said.

Goldsworthy said the choice between footy, soccer and cricket came down to logistics and who you knew either side of the Albury-Wodonga border.

"Whatever side of the border you live on is the pathway you usually took, so I played cricket on the Victorian side and then soccer on the New South Wales side" she said.

Soccer is what won her over initially, but Goldsworthy says she eventually "fell out of love".

"If I was ever playing footy, it was just at school in the schoolboy's team but, as I grew older, I picked up football and just kind of made it my priority" Goldsworthy said. That was only last year.

"It was always something I wanted to do in the future, but obviously, there wasn't really a pathway for girls until recently."

After impressing at local footy, Goldsworthy stepped up to play with Murray Bushrangers for the 2022 NAB League Girls season, her performance earning her the Rookie Me Central Player of the Week nomination for Round 1.

"In all honesty, I had no idea how that game would go, I didn't know anything about the NAB league or where I stood with any of the girls, I was just hoping not to let the team down in any way."

She didn't disappoint. By the end of the final siren of Murray Bushrangers' win over Bendigo Pioneers, the mid/forward had racked up thirty-three disposals, five marks and ten inside 50s.

Goldsworthy is balancing her remaining Year 12 studies in Albury with training and playing commitments.

"It's a real step up from any professional environment I've ever been in for sure."

Cam Bernasconi coached Zarlie when she first joined the Academy, and now, with his elevation to senior AFLW coach at GWS, it's a serendipitous reunion at the elite level.

"She's impressed a lot of us already" he said.

"She's come in and she's trained really well and her commitment to jump on a flight and come up to Sydney as much as she can but also still making sure that school's a priority, we're really happy with how she's going."

"The biggest thing you can see in Zarlie coming from an elite alternate sport type is just the competitiveness, you see that for elite players it doesn't matter what their sports are, they're just super competitive and that's probably Zarlie's biggest strength as a player" he said.

"Her ability to want to win at any cost will make her such a good player and I think she'll be a star of the competition in the next few years."