FULL STRIDE: Grafton Redmen women's player Carla Dougherty has left defenders grasping for air with her pace this year.
FULL STRIDE: Grafton Redmen women's player Carla Dougherty has left defenders grasping for air with her pace this year. Gary Nichols

Adept hoop Dougherty trades track for pack

RUGBY UNION: This time last year, Carla Dougherty was gearing up for an assault on the Grafton July Racing Carnival.

But despite having 26 career wins under her belt, the talented hoop has decided to swap her silks and saddle for a football and a pair of rugby boots.

Although she still rides plenty of trackwork, Dougherty has been a revelation for the Grafton Redmen women's sevens side this year in the Far North Coast competition.

To those looking on from the sidelines, Dougherty may seem a little slow out of the gates, but once in full flight she leaves her opponents chasing helplessly in her wake.

Guiding 500kg of horseflesh around the track among a thundering pack of runners is not for the faint-hearted. And for some, bringing down a rampaging forward at full throttle can also be a bit daunting.

When asked about taking on players twice her size, there was a bewildered look from Dougherty followed by a deathly silence.

"Umm ... I've had to ride and control some large racehorses, so coming up against bigger girls on the rugby field doesn't scare me one little bit,” Dougherty eventually quipped.

Yep, stupid question.

The Redmen speedster said playing rugby had not been on her radar until a chance conversation with a friend.

"You could say I started playing rugby by default,” Dougherty admitted.

"A friend was trying to get my flatmate to play so I told her I'll play if they're short on numbers, and here I am.

"I love team sport and love rugby.

"I learnt some skills from playing touch football and love the challenge.”

Redmen women's coach Mitch Drinkwater, who is no stranger to coaching rugby sevens at a high level, says Dougherty has all the attributes to be a success at rugby.

"Firstly I enjoy coaching girls because they listen, and also coaching people who have never played the game before,” Drinkwater said.

"Carla is suited to sevens with her pace and she is also great in defence - she'll tackle anyone that comes her way.”

Getting up before sunrise to do trackwork is testament to Dougherty's unbridled passion for horses, but as far as saddling up for the July Carnival it's not going to happen this year.

"I still do trackwork six mornings a week. If I do go out to the track during the carnival I'll go out for a few drinks - I won't be working,” she said.



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