Star Hawk Kaitlyn Ashmore has praised the “incredible” connection between Hawthorn’s AFL and AFLW programs.

Speaking on the Dos and D podcast, the 32-year-old provided an insight into the strong bond between the two playing groups, highlighted by the club’s ‘Day in the Life’ program, where AFLW players are invited to spend a day with the AFL program.

Having spent eight seasons and playing 68 games in the AFLW competition, Ashmore said she noticed a difference at the Hawks that she hadn’t experienced before.

“I’ve never had as much involvement as I have at the Hawks, they’ve been incredible,” she said.

“We had what’s called a day in the life where a few players would go and just hang out with the men’s program to see what they do… so they go through all the meetings, trainings on the track and in the gym and have lunch with them.

“(The boys) are all just so lovely and they treat us like one of them and it’s the same with the whole place.”

Ashmore singled out AFL Senior Coach Sam Mitchell as a key driver of the culture at the Hawks. 

“Sam has done really well to bring everyone together and you can see that from the outset,” she said.

“He’s just super lovely… he knows how to talk to everyone and he’s actually gone out of his way to get to know all of the AFLW players’ names and I think that’s something small that every coach should do.”

This was a big contrast to Ashmore’s experience as a budding sports player in primary school.

Having already started up in athletics and played a bit of baseball because that’s what her brother played, Ashmore turned to karate - but not for the reasons you may think. 

“When I was super young in primary school, this boy kept pushing me,” she said.

“I’d take things to school that I was really proud of and he would rip them up.

“Mum put me in (karate) just in case he actually did something to me and I had to defend myself.

“I was also super shy so it would be hard for me to speak up whereas now I’m happy to speak up.”

Having worked as a primary school teacher for many years now, Ashmore has seen a change in the bullying culture at her school, which is why she loves the job she has outside of football. 

“I have no time for bullies or anything like that,” she said.

“Growing up, you did have so many bullies and so many kids that were really rude to one another whereas now it’s really inclusive - girls and boys are playing together from prep.”

As Ashmore transitioned into high school, she found football and although she only got to play on rare occasions and with little knowledge of the game, she instantly fell in love with the sport. 

“I played footy at high school and we barely got any numbers to training,” she said.

“They just chucked me in the middle because I could run and I’d literally just boot the ball.

“I wouldn’t hit up a target or anything like that, it was just so rogue.

“It was a women’s comp and we played one game a year - it was the footy day, which everyone was stoked about.

“We were actually alright after a couple of years and we joined the Ballarat League where we played Loreto College every Thursday night for a few weeks.

“It was really fun but I literally had no knowledge of any positions and I just literally ran around and did whatever I wanted and so did everyone else.”

From there, Ashmore’s career went from strength to strength as she joined Melbourne Uni shortly after and began to learn a bit more about the professionalism of the sport.

She then got drafted to Melbourne with Pick 39 before spending some time with the Western Bulldogs back when the exhibition games were happening over a decade ago. 

After “working really hard” on her skills, Ashmore was selected as a priority pick by the Brisbane Lions ahead of the inaugural AFLW season, spending six months up north and six back in Victoria while working as a teacher.

When the opportunity presented itself to be closer to home, Ashmore joined North Melbourne ahead of their inaugural AFLW season before becoming another inaugural player - this time at the Hawks - in 2022.

Ashmore hasn’t looked back since, flourishing in her role as one of the senior players at the club. 

Arriving at Hawthorn as a winger/ forward, the 32-year-old spent time in the backline in 2023, highlighting her versatility and expertise. 

For now, Ashmore has gone back to teaching in the AFLW off-season while keeping up with her running and strength workouts.

With pre-season just under 60 days away on Monday 3 June, Ashmore and the Hawks are ready to launch into their third AFLW season, this time under new coach Daniel Webster.

2024 could also shape up to be a special year for Ashmore individually, as she is set to notch up her 75th AFLW game.

It’s a big change of fortune from that girl with an athletics background who knew nothing about football all those years ago!