Daisy Pearce talks to Eagles players at quarter-time of the practice match between West Coast and Fremantle at Mineral Resources Park on May 4, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

DAISY Pearce might be one of the most decorated names in the women's game, known for her skill, leadership, and strategic mind. But there is one key driver for Pearce behind it all: a sense of belonging to something larger than herself.

The concept of a team-first game is no truer than when discussing Australian Football, and more specifically, AFLW. With playing lists of 30, and a team of staff working behind the scenes, bringing a big group together all with the same goal is both the most challenging and most enticing part of the game.

"There is something so special and unique about footy, just the size of your list and the program, the club. To have people from so many different walks of life and background, all trying to push towards the same thing," Pearce told AFL.com.au.

"That is probably my favourite thing about coaching, and it was my favourite thing about playing as well."

Now taking charge at West Coast as head coach, Pearce has become the driver of the group. Overseeing the whole program is a mammoth task for anyone, but particularly for someone like Pearce who has plenty of eyes on what she's doing by virtue of her status in the game.

But, really, pressure is coming from the ultra-competitive Pearce herself, as she learns to balance her style of coaching with her responsibility to her family.


"The coach I want to be means a lot of care and love and nurturing the 30 players that I've got. It's not lost one me, the responsibility I have for their very short careers," Pearce said.

"I've always thought about how lucky I was that I got eight seasons of AFLW with a coach that I loved who, every week, I felt was challenging me to get better. I walk away with this amazing experience that's shaped my football career but also my life.

"Now I've got players that are relying on me to be that for them."

That coach was Mick Stinear, someone who has been a significant influence on how Pearce has shaped her own attitude toward coaching. 

"If I had one dollar for every time I thought, 'What would Mick do?' I'd be wealthy," Pearce laughed.

Daisy Pearce and Mick Stinear lift the premiership cup after Melbourne's win over Brisbane in the S7 Grand Final on November 27, 2022. Picture: AFL Photos

"I just feel so grateful that nothing changed since I took the (West Coast) job. I'm sure that when we play against each other we'll both want to win. One of the main things we bonded over was our competitiveness and will to win, so I expect nothing less than for him to want to do a real number on us when we play."

Unfortunately, Pearce and Stinear will have to be patient on that front, with West Coast and Melbourne not fixtured to line up against one another this year.

Before she formed such a fierce bond with Stinear, it was in her days with the Darebin Falcons that Pearce learned the value of being one of a unit, rather an individual competing alone.

"You always had to concern yourself with more than just trying to get a kick and trying to be a good player. That's just the nature of community clubs, and particularly at the Falcons where everyone had a 'get it done' mentality," Pearce said.

"I always had this vision of the competition getting to a place where it was a national, fully fledged, elite competition and for a long time thought you were trying to advance it for someone else… I guess I always had that understanding that we as a team, or as a comp, you're only going to be as good as everyone around you."

Daisy Pearce in action for Darebin during the VFLW Grand Final against Melbourne University on September 18, 2016. Picture: AFL Photos

The drive of those who progressed from the Falcons program is clear, with Pearce's teammates from those Victorian Women's Football League (VWFL) days proliferated throughout the AFLW, including three of the five women in head coaching roles this year.

Pearce joins Natalie Wood (Essendon) and Lauren Arnell (Port Adelaide) as former Falcons taking the reins in 2024.

"I remember when Natalie Wood got the job at Essendon. She's standing there in a big press conference for one of the biggest clubs in the land, and it's like 'I played footy with her at Darebin!'" Pearce said.

"Even though all of this is happening in my own life, you still kind of notice that more when you see it play out for other people, same with Lauren Arnell. You're just so proud of them because of those early experiences you shared when it didn't seem possible."

Natalie Wood addresses the team during the AFLW R4 match between Essendon and Fremantle at Windy Hill on September 24, 2023. Picture: Getty Images/AFL Photos

In those days, when the AFLW was simply a dream rather than a reality, Pearce was always trying to find a path into footy.

"I could have never dreamed of this," Pearce admitted.

"I remember emailing all 18 clubs, or 16 at the time, to want to do work at the clubs and that kind of thing, and it never getting anywhere… and I guess you put it away for a little while because it doesn't seem possible, but then just go about doing what you can do and taking the opportunities you can. And this is where we've ended up, so it's pretty exciting."

But now, more than a decade on, Pearce was the one in demand as four clubs hunted for new head coaches ahead of the 2024 NAB AFLW season. The world was now opening doors that previously remained deadbolted.

"There's a job in women's football that's big enough and meaningful enough to pick up my family and move to the other side of the country. It's like, 'Wow, look how far the game's come'," Pearce said.

Daisy Pearce, her partner Ben and their children Sylvie and Roy at Pearce's retirement media conference on January 18, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

As Pearce, someone who has never watched football "as a fan who was hoping our score was bigger than the other team's score at the end of the game", prepares for yet another challenge to help move the women's game forward, there is no one better placed to attack it head on.

West Coast, which has a historically poor record since joining the AFLW in 2020, is desperate to start on a path to success. Appointing Pearce to lead the program is the first big step on that journey.