FEELS like home.

Focus is Octavia Di Donato. The workhorse is the pinnacle of zen and balance when it comes to commitments, working incredibly late nights in the Melbourne CBD, but her focus will always be on the Blues.

“I'm pretty focused with my footy and footy is always my first priority. I'm not going to let work get in the way of that,” Di Donato says.

Her work ethic in and outside of footy was recognised by the 2024 VFLW playing group and was named Co-Captain alongside Eliza Wood. They were pulled aside by Head Coach Glenn Strachan and told of their successful appointment as club leaders being given equal votes.

“That was pretty nice: that all the players had the confidence in me and ‘Woody’ to lead the team for this year,” she said. 

“It’s been really good having ‘Woody’ by my side, being able to talk to each other about things and obviously this is our first time both doing something like this.”

The players made the right choice as they feel comfortable approaching the two stalwarts not only as those figures, but as people.


“I'm very approachable. All the girls can come up to me to have a chat with me,” she said. 

“I feel like once we're not in game mode or training mode, it's pretty easy for me to switch off and just talk to them as a human.”

This didn’t all just happen in an instant. It all began when Di Donato was 8-years-old when she picked up a footy for the first time where she then started playing for South Bendigo Football Netball Club through a familial connection.

When she hit the age of 14, she moved over from the boy’s program into the girl’s division in order to take her football more seriously.

“I've always taken my football pretty seriously from a young age and I had really good coaches at Bendigo who provided all the support I needed and all the training I needed,” she said. 

Then in the span of two years, Di Donato changed allegiance to Strathfieldsaye Junior Football Club and ultimately got picked up for the Bendigo Pioneers in the formerly known NAB League.

She then went on to represent VIC Country and was selected in the National Academy from there.


Di Donato described her experience with VIC Country like no other: as a 17-year-old, she was a part of the under 17s and under 18s National Championships. 

She was the Co-Captain of the under 18s side with current AFLW player Yasmin Duursma.

It didn’t stop there. In 2021 Di Donato was named the VIC Country MVP in the under 17s group -  a day she will never forget.

“I remember that day very clearly, we were at Oakleigh, it was windy as, it was shocking, and the ball just would go up and it would just sit there in the air, it was so bad,” she said.

“I wasn't expecting (the award) at all.”

That caught the eyes of the Essendon VFLW program. Next thing you know, Di Donato packed her bags and moved to Melbourne to pursue her dream of playing elite footy.

Wanting to grow her game, Di Donato moved to Carlton for the 2023 season and was immediately taken with the program. The opportunity to be constantly exposed to the calibre of talent in the AFLW environment was second to none. 

Round 12 of the 2024 VFLW season marked an influx of AFLW talent with 14 stars showcasing their talent in the Victorian competition.

The 20-year-old was left starstruck when stepping out onto the field with notable defender Gab Pound and AFLW skipper Kerryn Peterson.

“Getting to play with ‘Kez’ and Gab, both of whom I've watched on TV and looked up to not only just as players but as leaders, was something that I'll look back on for a long time,” she said.

Di Donato was one of the seven VFLW players named in the game-day squad, and one of five the following week.

“It definitely means a lot because it means that the coaching group thinks we're at that level to play with them and understand the game plan,” she said. 

“All the five girls that played, we've put in a lot of work to get where we are and the coaches can see that and reward us with playing.”

This experience has only pushed Di Donato’s AFLW aspirations after gaining immense confidence over these rounds, knowing the coaches have faith in her abilities to perform at that level.

When the 2022 AFLW draft night came around, Di Donato was expecting her name to be read out on TV. It’s the night every emerging footballer dreams of.

Instead of celebrating with her family up in Bendigo, she was left not knowing what the next step was for her.

“Not getting drafted took a bit of toll on me to start with and I just wanted a fresh start,” Di Donato says.

Even though she was disheartened with not having her name called out in the draft, Di Donato continues to live by a ‘never give up’ attitude. This helps her to keep persevering, and not be afraid to ask for feedback and ask any questions.

It was a relatively unknown environment to the midfielder, but there was one face she recognised at Carlton, and that was Keeley Skepper.

“The only person I knew was ‘Skep’ because I was living with her at the time,” she said. 

Now donning the Navy Blue with Skepper, Di Donato feels like she’s at home at Carlton and isn’t planning on moving anytime soon.

The Di Donato family isn’t afraid to take the one hour and 40-minute car drive every weekend to watch the football prodigy at the home of the Blues at IKON Park. A longer drive for away games with the furthest being two hours and 20 minutes to go to the Blues’ Round 1 win over the Cats.

Octavia is forever grateful for her family’s dedication to showing up week in, and week out, not only supporting her but the team as a whole. It’s hard to miss them at the ground wearing their scarves and beanies on the sideline.

“All the footy girls this year, we have such a connected group and no matter who you ask for feedback, they're always here to support you,” she said. 

“If they see you're a little bit sad, they're always coming up to see if you're okay and that's to do with everyone in the group.”