Erin Phillips may be retired, but when it comes to women’s sport, she’s here to stay

Erin Phillips OAM, a former WNBA basketball player, Australian Olympian and AFLW player, is no doubt a trailblazer in sport. She has witnessed and been a part of the ups and downs, the breakthroughs and roadblocks of women’s sport.
erin phillips football
Women's Agenda
5 mins

By Olivia Cleal

There’s not a single thing that Erin Phillips doesn’t love about footy. The adrenaline of getting tackled. The excitement of making a tackle. Footy shorts and long socks. The smell of Deep Heat in the change room.

This is her happy place – but it was a place that not all that long ago women were refused entry.

Erin Phillips OAM, a former WNBA basketball player, Australian Olympian and AFLW player, is no doubt a trailblazer in sport. She has witnessed and been a part of the ups and downs, the breakthroughs and roadblocks of women’s sport.

But she’s not done there. As the coach for her daughter’s under 8’s football team in Adelaide, she has faith in young people to champion women and girls in sport, including Aussie Rules.

“This new generation are the catalysts of change,” Phillips told Women’s Agenda, “and they’re going to view AFL and AFLW and respect it to the same level.

“And to feel like you’ve even had a small part in that transition, in the way of thinking – it’s so special. There’s no way to describe it. So unbelievably special.”

Phillips is one of the guest speakers at The Australian Women’s Leadership Symposium in Adelaide, which is set for Friday 24 May.

The reality of footy as a kid

All of Phillips’ earliest memories as a child involve a footy in her hands. Mostly, she has her parents to thank. Greg Phillips, her father, was playing for Collingwood in the AFL when she was two years old, before the family moved back to Adelaide for Greg to play for the Port Adelaide Magpies.

“My earliest childhood memories were at the football ground, watching dad play, jumping the fence with the footy at quarter time or half time,” Erin Phillips said.

“If it was raining outside, I’d be inside kicking a balloon around, pretending I was playing footy.

“That was kind of in my DNA. It definitely started because of dad, but the actual game itself I just loved.”

When Phillips was growing up, there were no girls’ footy competitions, so those wanting to play had to play alongside boys. But when girls turned 13, they could no longer play in the boys competition – and they had to leave the game entirely.

This was Phillips’ reality. And it breaks her heart to think about now.

“Even though deep down I was crushed and shattered because my dream of playing football was coming to an end, I had years to get ready for that… like so many other girls around the country that were in my position as well,” Phillips said.

“But the sad part wasn’t because my dreams were crushed. It was because that was the way it was in the world.

“The sad thing about it is that I just accepted it as reality.”


Thankfully, the talented sports person she is, Phillips made the switch to basketball when she was 13 years old.

Phillips became one of the greatest basketball players Australia has seen, debuting for Adelaide Lightning in the WNBL at age 17 in 2002.

Ten years later, in 2012, she was picked up by the WNBA and played nine seasons for the Connecticut Suns, Indiana Fever and the Phoenix Mercury, picking up two WNBA premierships along the way.

Phillips debuted for the Opals, the Australian national basketball team, in 2005. By 2006, the side had won the first gold medal any basketball team – men’s or women’s – had ever won for Australia. Phillips also represented Australia at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, where she won a silver medal.

These were all highlights for Phillips – but one of her biggest highlights was meeting her wife, Tracey Gahan, also a former WNBA player.

“Maybe, had I kept playing footy, our paths would never have crossed,” Phillips said.

So while the switch from footy to basketball may have been tough, it’s safe to say Phillips found the silver linings.

“I’m very, very lucky and grateful for where my journey took me,” Phillips said.


It was 2016. Phillips was living in the US, playing the highest level of basketball on a decent salary – for a woman in sport, anyway – and living with her wife and two twin babies.

Her children were just 12 weeks old when she heard about the inaugural season of AFLW.

Nothing was totally clear about how the AFLW season would work and Phillips knew it would be a risk to leave what she had built behind and chase her childhood dream.

Asking her wife Tracey what she thought, Phillips expected her to tell her she was nuts. But Tracey told her to go for it.

“She knew how important football was in my life,” Phillips said, “and how it would be a huge regret if I didn’t give it a go, even just for one season.

“Deep down, I was just dying to play.”

So her family made the move back to Adelaide, her hometown, where she prepared to make her debut for the Adelaide Crows.

Phillips will never forget the moment she ran out onto the field for her very first game of AFLW.

“I could not replicate the excitement and the nerves. It was almost like Olympic level,” she said.

“And to see over the fence for the very first time young girls and young boys together, wearing your colours, wearing your number… you could hear the glass ceiling shatter.”

Phillips led the side to three premierships in 2017, 2019 and 2022, and after 66 games with the Crows, she moved to Port Adelaide in 2022 for Season 7 of the AFLW, captaining the side for what would be her final twenty games and two seasons in her career. Phillips announced her retirement from the game in October 2023.

As a founding player in the AFLW, Phillips knows the importance of expanding women and girls’ participation in sport through footy.

“We have made huge strides in the AFLW, and we’ve been a real driver for change in women’s sports… (but) we still do have a long way to go,” she said.

“I believe in the AFLW and the trajectory that is building. We are still progressing, but we need to still keep having the conversations and we still need to be making people aware of the inequality that still exists.”

The key to that trajectory, Phillips says, is accessibility to the game – whether it be through TV broadcast, going to watch games, or furthering grassroots footy competitions around the country.

“It’s about connection, and how the only way to grow women’s sport is growing it together as a community,” Phillips said.

‘I won’t be far away from the game’

These days, you’ll see Erin Phillips’ face and hear her voice on TV, commentating the AFL with the Seven Network.

But nothing gets in the way of a much more important gig: coach of the girls under 8’s SMOSH West Lakes football team, the team her daughter plays for. Wednesday nights and Sundays are permanently blocked out of Phillips’ schedule for training and weekend matches.

Phillips prioritises sport not just for herself, but for her four kids as well, because she knows how much sport changed her life.

“No matter what I do moving forward, I’ll always make sure that I’m around my kids,” Phillips said.

“Whether they go on to play sport (in the future) I don’t care – but I want them to learn the values of what sport can teach you for life.

Rest assured, when it comes to footy, Phillips is here to stay.

“No matter what, I won’t be far away from the game, that’s for sure.”

This article was originally published on Women’s Agenda as Partner Content