Dakota Davidson thrives on rising to the occasion when the Brisbane Lions need.
The charismatic key forward affectionately known as ‘Daks’ has proven this more than once on her journey to 50 AFLW games, a milestone she will reach in Saturday’s Preliminary Final against Geelong.
This season the 24-year-old has risen to the occasion to help cover the void following the departure of former Lions teammate and last season’s league leading goalkicker Jesse Wardlaw.
Externally there was plenty of off-season talk about how Brisbane would fill the hole left by Wardlaw.
Though Davidson’s history of stepping up when needed gave solace internally.
“Dakota came into our group after we lost 11 players to expansion after the 2019 season,” Lions AFLW senior coach Craig Starcevich recalled.
“There was an opportunity there for her to take over a key forward role after Sabrina Frederick moved to Richmond.
“From the outset we were really impressed with the quality of her overhead marking, particularly in a contest, and her speed and work rate for a tall marking target.
“And of course, she has that energy and attitude that allows others around her to walk a bit taller.
“In past seasons she’s partnered up with either Jesse Wardlaw or Taylor Smith but this season she seems to have relished the responsibility to lead and organise the forward group.”
Relished the opportunity is exactly what Davidson has done this season, booting a career-best 19 goals as the Lions premier forward.
In doing so she has helped her team advance to a Preliminary Final and individually she has reaped the benefits including selection in the All-Australian squad.
Acknowledging the absence of Wardlaw has played a part in her stepping up in 2023, Davidson said her main motivation is the same as always – to help her team.
“I took it in my stride to take on a similar role but still play my game,” the proud indigenous woman explained.
“It gave me more drive to be better and I feel I have produced that this season and I’m proud of mine and the team’s efforts navigating that.
“We have done that so incredibly well, the whole team has gelled together so well and it’s exciting to see how far we will go.”
While trying to deflect the praise to her teammates and at times playing down her season, it was between last season’s Grand Final heartbreak and the 2023 season opener that the 181-centimetre forward got to work.
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“Having two seasons last year was mentally and physically demanding. So, I took my holidays, went overseas, came back and was ready to rip in,” Davidson said.
“I put a lot of effort in on the off season. I put a lot of work into my fitness and strength.
“Being able to take marks and get to contests was going to be key this year, so I worked a lot on that stuff and my leadership.
“I worked on leadership and understanding footy, I watched a lot of men’s games trying to analyse how the forward lines worked together to then bring that back to our game.”
Looking at Lions AFL players and others for inspiration will help, but the self-described larrikin knows what helps her best – be herself.
Which is what she has done in her 49-game career to date, forging a reputation as one of the AFLW’s best forwards and a cult figure that has produced colourful moments.
“The journey has been incredible, lots of ups, lots of downs and lots of laughs,” Davidson said.
“I don’t see myself doing it with any other club and to be able to achieve this milestone and say every game played has been for the Lions is very special to me.
“I’ve grown as a person and player, you couldn’t have told me 10 years ago you’d be playing in 50 AFLW games, but here I am.
“I’m proud of who I’ve become and as a player and mentor for my teammates and the future generations.”
It’s fitting that a big moment player like Davidson will play her 50th milestone in Saturday’s Preliminary Final against Geelong.
And according to her coach, the games from the final to her next milestone will be worth watching.
“What you see on the outside sometimes belies how deep a thinker she is about the game and how strong her IQ is around her forward craft,” Starcevich revealed.
“She has presence and is a constant source of energy for her teammates.
“She’s had a terrific first 50 games and we’re sure there’s even better ahead.”