Western Bulldogs premiership defender Lauren Spark has called time on her AFLW career.
The foundation AFLW Bulldog arrived at the Kennel from Melbourne University in the Victorian Women’s Football League, taken with pick 76 in the 2016 AFLW Draft.
She played 28 games in the red, white and blue over five years, before an ankle injury put an early end to her 2021 campaign.
Spark said the decision to retire was a tough call, but she knew it was time.
“I got to the game late – I took it up around age 27 after beach volleyball – but managed to get involved in those two exhibition games with the Bulldogs initially, and then the competition was brought forward which I’m always thankful for,” Spark said.
“When I first started there were definitely a handful of girls that were AFLW worthy, but they just missed out on the timing of it all. We thank them and we do it for them basically.
“I’ve squeezed every little bit of juice out.
“The ankle injury was kind of the tipping point – to do that in the VFLW while trying to get back to AFLW level was kind of disappointing. I’ve realised that my body is old, and it takes a lot longer to get things going. It doesn’t rebound as quickly as it used to.”
During her time as a Bulldog, Spark formed part of the leadership group in 2020, and was heavily involved with the Bulldogs’ Community Foundation, holding an ambassador role in the Daughters of the West program.
She received the Community Award last year for her contributions to the Foundation, and was also recognised as a nominee for the 2020 AFL Jim Stynes Community Leadership Award.
“Obviously the premiership is a special memory, but for me it was more the meeting of amazing people – being involved in the Community Foundation allowed me to meet some unreal people and be involved in some pretty cool programs,” she said.
“Playing at Whitten Oval in front of crowds and seeing those people that generally love women’s football and are excited to see us play, that was a pretty big highlight for me as well.
“I’ll really miss being around 29 of your mates – having that social group to bond with and talk with and have a laugh with. Those change room chats and gym chats, that’s probably the biggest part I’ll miss.”
Bulldogs’ General Manager of Women’s Football Debbie Lee thanked Spark for her service to the red, white and blue, and said she will be missed by all those at the Club.
“’Sparky’ was a founding member of our inaugural AFLW team and has made a significant contribution to the Club over the past five years,” Lee said.
“’Sparky’ took on the role down back as the general, providing a lot of support and guidance with her backline craft to many of our players.
“Whilst coming to the game late, she is one of the very few players who transitioned from VWFL to the AFLW – her ability to read the play and shut down many key forwards in the competition was a major feature of her game.
“We thank ‘Sparky’ for her investment, time and commitment, and wish her all the very best with her future endeavours.”