Lost, uncertain, lucky. They’re the three overriding feelings AFL Women’s league star Monique Conti has experienced as a global pandemic has changed life as the world knew it.
Lost without the routine and competitive outlet that the two sports she has excelled in have provided.
Uncertain because – well, Coronavirus happened.
Lucky because, amidst it all, her nearest and dearest are healthy and, thanks to weekly Zoom meetings, her Tigers teammates remains connected to boot.
In the ninth episode of The Originals podcast – back after a COVID-19-induced pause – Conti, in lockdown in Western Australia with her boyfriend and fellow Richmond footballer, Sydney Stack, could not be clearer on her ambitions. She is more intent than ever on pursuing a dual sporting career.
Representing Australia in basketball as a junior, Conti stood aside from that program earlier this year, which saw the 20-year-old athlete devote her body, mind and time exclusively to AFLW. But Conti says that narrow focus is temporary. She wants to represent Australia, playing basketball, at an Olympic Games – possibly as soon as 2024, and in world championships.
Conti has recalled the agonising decision, reached earlier this year, to put her basketball pursuits on hold. She has detailed sleepless nights, periods of high stress and, ultimately, some hard conversations with coaches and a tearful announcement to old basketball teammates.
Conti says her move to leave the Western Bulldogs, where she’d won a premiership in a best-on ground Grand Final performance in 2018, was equally gut-wrenching. AFLW debutants in 2020, Richmond won her signature because Conti felt the Tigers were more committed to cultivating “the best athlete I could be instead of just the best footballer I could be.”
“I loved my time at the Bulldogs but I could see myself developing further, and I was just thinking long-term at Richmond,” she says in The Originals.
Conti has zero regrets about leaving the Dogs - “Richmond just takes really good care of the athlete … I’ve never been part of something like that”. But on standing aside from the Boomers’ basketball program, Conti says: “I wanted to do both but they weren’t allowing me to.
“I still see myself as a dual athlete ... I still want to represent my country one day at the Olympics and the world championships.
“I’ve got to play some big WNBL minutes …it could be the next Olympics, it could be the Olympics after.”
Driven by defying convention, Conti describes how she wants to be living proof that balancing an elite basketball and Australian rules football career is possible. Conti nominates Basketball Australia hall of famer and three-time Olympian Ray Tomlinson as the best coach she has ever had, in any sport, at any level.
Her sporting idols are Erin Phillips, whose path is inspiring to Conti even if not the model she wants to replicate exactly. Phillips played basketball in America’s peak league and was an Australian Olympian before focusing squarely on AFLW where she set an awe-inspiring benchmark in a new national competition.
Richmond’s Brownlow medallist, Dustin Martin, and champion Australian basketballer Patty Mills are Conti’s two other sporting idols. She shares how she’d like to pick the brain of fellow Tiger, Martin, but, to date, has felt too shy.
Conti also discusses her deepening relationship with 2019 AFL debutant, Stack, and how the pair are training together - pushing each other in running sessions.