Priceless gridiron moments

Neill closes out career with many memorable moments

In a storied career, Robyn Neill would experience several landmark moments in 2013. Competing on the offensive line, she is one of the finest at her position. Pulling double duty by competing with the Capital Area Lady Gladiators of the MWFL and the Canadian National Team, it would provide Neill with a lifetime of memories.

Having been named to the Canadian contingent that would compete at the 2013 IFAF Women’s Worlds in Vantaa, Finland was an opportunity for Neill to shine on the international stage. The opportunity to don the Canada jersey for the first time was one that provided her with pride and reflection on the sacrifices needed to reach such a pinnacle.

“When putting on the Team Canada jersey it was a very surreal moment. Everything that you have worked for and everything that you have sacrificed for this dream had come true.   It was truly was an honour to wear the maple leaf and represent my country on the World stage.”

Perhaps one of the most unique aspects of the Team Canada experience was the opportunity to call the competitors of the Western Women’s Canadian Football League as teammates. Having played against many of them during the 2012 Canadian Nationals (which featured teams comprised from Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba), being able to share in the Team Canada experience with them provided her with insight on their experiences gracing the gridiron out west.

“Being able to play with athletes from across our country was a great experience.  Hearing all of their stories and how they fell in love with the sport – we really had a team made of up women from every walk of life.

The WWCFL players are incredible athletes and women – I was always learning from them.  What I have learned from them I could not only incorporate into what I was doing at Worlds as an athlete but what I could teach my athletes when I coach our future football players.”

Like many of her colleagues in the MWFL, Neill is also helping foster the growth of women’s football at the grassroots level. Having served as a coach for teenaged girls over the last several years, Neill is helping to establish a solid foundation as the sport continues to have remarkable presence in Atlantic Canada. Her admiration of her teammates serves as a strong motivational factor in shaping the next generation of female football stars.

“The Canadian team is a tough, athletic and fearless group of women pushing the limits for our sport and are great role models for our future female athletes coming through the local leagues.”

In discussing her favorite part of beating in Finland, there were several facets that provided her with contentment.  “Other than the obvious – playing the game we went over to play. The first time we took the field as a team and raised our helmets to the national anthem is a moment I will hold in my heart forever. Celebrating Canada Day in Finland with the team and the post-practice lake time at camp.”

Upon returning to Fredericton, New Brunswick after the IFAF Worlds, Neill’s season had not finished. Neill was helping her Lady Gladiators make a final push for the postseason. Having competed for the Judy Upward Trophy in the SupHer Bowl the past two seasons, Neill was determined to see her teammates claim the coveted prize in 2013.

With the Saint John Storm as the host franchise for the 2013 title game, the Lady Gladiators entered the team with the odds not in their favour. Competing against the Storm in SupHer Bowl X, it would prove to be a very hard-earned yet rewarding victory.

“It was truly an underdog story. We were not favoured to win that game – but perseverance and true determination on the field is what won that game. It was great seeing women around me dig deep and leave everything they had on the field to win that game.

The 2013 season is my last with the Lady Gladiators so leaving a champion is nice feeling and a great way to wrap up a football career.”

Considering that several of her Team Canada mates such as Alex Black, Shot Chatterton and Cheryl O’Leary were part of the Lady Gladiators championship team, it added a priceless sense of satisfaction upon which to close this chapter of her football career. Sharing the title with them during a 2013 to remember only added to the prestige of the title.

“I absolutely love all the girls I play football with.  I do have a special connection with the ones I travelled to World’s with, after going such a unique experience of competing together with each other at such a high level.

I have spent my entire football career with the Lady Gladiators and with Alex Black. We have gone through all the great wins and tough losses together, competing on Team Atlantic with her and then travelling to Worlds together has been a great experience I am grateful that we got to do it together.”

Of note, Chatterton was once a rival for the Lady Gladiators in the MWFL. Having also competed with the Moncton Vipers, Chatterton is one of the few women in league history to earn All-Star status with two different franchises. While her career may have gone through a different path than Neill, their journeys both merged at a special time.

“I have spent just as many years competing with as I did against Kristen.  We both tried out for Team Canada in 2010, and we both could not finish the entire try-out process due to different reasons. This time around we both had the determination and drive to make sure we made the team.  Kristen and I have become very good friends while training together and while playing on the Gladiators.  I consider Kristen to be one of my best friends and I am very thankful that we were able to experience this together.”

With the MWFL celebrating its milestone tenth anniversary season, it was an opportunity to celebrate the game but the remarkable women whose sweat and sacrifice helped the league to grow. Of note, Neill was one of those women recognized with a well-deserved spot on the league’s tenth anniversary team.

Although competing on the offensive line may be one of the more thankless jobs in sport, an effective performance is crucial to the success of a team. Throughout her career, Neill handled that responsibility with more than just perseverance and dedication, but with a grace and dignity that makes her one of the true greats in the MWFL.

Providing quality performances that always bestowed her team with a chance to win, the retirement of Neill from the MWFL is significant. While she engages in the next chapter of her career, sharing her erudite and encyclopedic knowledge of the game with a new generation of players as a coach, the league loses more than just a competitor, but a great person who left a positive mark on a growing but great game.

“All quotes provided first hand unless otherwise indicated”

Photo credit: Melissa Daley (Left to right: Canada’s Offensive Line in Finland included the likes of Jessie Buydens, Virginie Roberge, Neill and Jennifer Archer)

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