When Alison Drennan first set foot on the Gold Coast – it was love at first sight.
The former St Kilda midfielder became obsessed with the Coast while holidaying in the suburb of Miami during the 2018 Commonwealth Games.
Drennan told SUNS Media, within days, she felt at home surrounded by sunshine, perfect blue skies and fruity acai bowls.
It reminded her of another place she once called home, Los Angeles.
“My hubby and I instantly thought this place was ace and didn’t want to go home,” she said.
“It reminded us of our time in California. From then on, I wanted to come back, play footy and live here forever.”
Her dream came true when she was traded to the Gold Coast SUNS during the 2020 Sign and Trade Period.
“Moving to the SUNS was a great fit for me footy wise and also the change of lifestyle was a dream,” she said.
“I am so excited to join the girls and win because there is no better feeling.”
Drennan arrived on the Gold Coast from Victoria in early September.
The 29-year-old played five games for the Saints in 2020, seven games for the Kangaroos in 2019, and developed her skills in the St Kilda VFLW team in 2018.
But now, she’s determined to write a new chapter with the Gold Coast SUNS.
Early days: “I never thought it was possible”
When Alison Drennan was a little girl, she loved kicking a footy.
“I really enjoyed it but I was told it was pointless because it was a man’s game,” she said.
“I never thought about an AFL career because it was supposedly unrealistic.
“Despite what everyone said, I am now a professional footy player and love every minute.”
Drennan grew up in Wheelers Hill, Victoria, surrounded by sport.
Her mum Lynne is a former softball player, her dad Kenny is a “stupidly good runner”, her sister Maree is a basketballer-turned-netballer, and her brother Adam loves martial arts.
When studying at Caulfield Grammar in St Kilda, she lived and breathed sport.
After watching her siblings at basketball training each week, it didn’t take her long to find a ball and hit the court.
As it turns out, she was pretty good.
Upon graduating high school in 2008, the 17-year-old budding basketballer secured a scholarship at Fresno State College, California.
After a few years in the US, Drennan was set to graduate and jet back to Australia.
But then she met Jason Gutierrez – a good looking track-and-field shotput and hammer champion who would eventually become her husband.
With no extra convincing necessary, she decided to stay at college for an extra year and have a go on the track herself.
She was pretty good at that too.
After a year, Drennan catapulted onto the national stage, finishing as a top-10 USA heptathlete in her division and crowned Fresno’s 2014 track-and-field athlete of the year.
After finishing college on a high note, she came back to Australia to rejoin Victoria’s Nunawading Specters basketball team.
It was once she was back in her homeland that Drennan first rekindled her schoolyard love for football.
“It was great to be back on the courts that I grew up on,” Drennan said.
“But as soon as I heard about the AFLW, I put caution to the wind and decided to take up footy full-time.”
Journey to the AFLW: “It was nerve wracking"
Drennan quickly discovered she was fierce, strong, full of fire and couldn’t hold herself back because her passion for footy burned brighter than her fears.
“From day dot, I put my heart and soul into it and didn’t attempt anything half-heartedly,” she said.
“I loved footy and learning new things.
“I honestly felt like a little kid again – it was the best feeling.”
After intense training, she joined St Kilda’s VFLW team.
On the back of her best-and-fairest year for the Southern Saints, Drennan was then drafted to North Melbourne during the expansion club’s signing period in 2018.
She made her debut in North Melbourne’s inaugural match, a 36-point victory over Carlton at North Hobart Oval in 2019.
When asked about her first game, she mused “it was the best feeling of my life running out on the field in Tassie.
“I played basketball and performed on the track under pressure, but my first game of AFLW was nerve wracking.
“Somehow I managed to kick a goal, which was so exciting.”
When it was announced St Kilda would join the AFLW competition in 2020, Drennan made the switch back to the club she began her footballing journey at.
The 176cm midfielder played five games for the Saints this year, including a dominant performance against premiership contenders Fremantle.
“The North Melbourne footy girls were so experienced and skilled,” she said.
“However, when St Kilda announced they were adding a team, I wanted to be loyal and go back.
“I was so grateful for everything they taught me in my first season.”
Why Drennan loves the Gold Coast
The Gold Coast reminds Drennan of everything she missed when she returned to Melbourne from USA.
She loves the sunshine, salty air and laidback atmosphere; it suits the lifestyle her and her husband want to live.
For Jason, it draws comparisons to his home country of El Salvador in Central America.
“I love that it’s sunny and tropical, and similar to where my hubby Jason grew up,” she said.
“It’s a sweet spot between big city Brisbane and small-town vibe Byron Bay.
“It’s little but with good energy and not crowded.”
After serving a 14-day quarantine period in the AFL’s Gold Coast hub, Drennan is looking forward to exploring the Coast further.
“I am dying to go to Wet’n’Wild because I love water slides,” she laughed.
“I am also on the hunt for the best acai on the Coast, so hit me up if you have any recommendations.”
Drennan’s future with the SUNS: “I accept the challenge”
As an experienced player, Drennan is keen to bring her determined, kind and encouraging soul to the team.
She’ll be looking to make an immediate impact in the midfield for the SUNS, playing alongside the likes of inaugural Club Champion Jamie Stanton, Lauren Bella, Hannah Dunn, Jacqui Yorston, Dee Heslop and Kate Surman.
She served in St Kilda’s leadership group in 2020 and hopes to also bring leadership qualities to the SUNS.
“As a runner and track athlete, I hope to bring athleticism to the team,” she said.
“With experience on my side, I also would like to be an encouraging leader for the girls.
“I would love to get to the finals. The great thing is that we have so much youth and so much potential – we could go anywhere.
“I am looking forward to a few wins with the SUNS.”
Drennan hopes she can play a role in inspiring the next generation of female athletes on the Gold Coast.
It’s a changed landscape from the one she grew up in as a girl wanting to play footy in the schoolyard; now there’s a genuine pathway for young female footballers to pursue a professional career.
She hopes to see that next generation supporting the SUNS at Metricon Stadium next season.
“If you’re a little girl in the stands and want to be a footy player, do it,” she said.
“Promise me, that you will chase your dreams and don’t take no for an answer.
“All our dreams come true if we have the courage to pursue them.”