By Chris McAsey

Vietnam Swans defender Thuy Nguyễn – or ‘Lucy’ to her team mates – has never been to Australia or witnessed an AFL game in person. And yet, she is now the proud holder of a very unique title, as the first Asian-born player to win two Asian Championship titles.

A close-checking and team-oriented defender, Lucy is a bone fide veteran of football in Asia. Introduced to the game in 2018, she has now played in all four Asian Championships, winning titles with the Vietnam Swans in 2018 and 2023.

Lucy showcasing her team-first mentality and laying a shepherd for her teammate during the 2023 Indochina Cup.

When the Swans won a nail-biting grand final against the Singapore Wombettes at the 2023 Asian Championships in Thailand, Lucy says she ‘cried with happiness’.

‘It was an awesome feeling! I actually breathed a sigh of relief, and then ran to hug my team.

‘I’ve been so fortunate to play in all four Asian Championships and I’m so proud that my teammates and I have won twice now.’

When asked what she likes most about footy, Lucy is quick to pinpoint the team aspects of the game.

‘Teamwork, I love it,’ she says. ‘Footy helps me feel that bonding and listening to each other on the field is really important.

‘I love my teammates!’

Lucy with her Swans teammates after securing victory at the 2023 Indochina Cup.

Lucy’s team-first attitude and work rate is summed up by her favourite individual highlight – when she ran down an opponent to save a certain goal – and her favourite AFLW players, hard-working midfielders Ash Riddell (North Melbourne) and Ebony Marinoff (Adelaide). Lucy says she has ‘learned a lot’ from watching them play.

She is also grateful to her friend Chia Sabbatucci – a founder of the Vietnam Swans women’s program – for introducing her to the game and fast-tracking her development.

‘Chia is the best coach,’ she says. ‘She taught me the basic skills of kicking, handball and tackling and guided me through the rules.

‘I thank her for giving me the opportunity to fight and win with the Vietnam Swans women!’

For her part, Chia has proudly watched Lucy’s development as a footballer and her love of the game grow.

‘Lucy is our Vietnamese pioneer,’ Chia says. ‘She started when I formed the team back in early 2018.

‘Now she’s won two Asian Championships and taken home an All-Asian jersey, along with the Coaches Award and Best Asian Player at the Swans.’

Lucy and Chia celebrating winning the 2023 Asian Championships.

Lucy’s footy journey mirrors the growth of AFLW in Asia since the first exhibition game in 2016. Four teams participated at the inaugural AFLW Asian Championships in 2018, and despite challenges during the Covid pandemic, the competition doubled to eight participating countries in 2023.

Lucy says the sport is becoming more popular in the major cities in Vietnam and is contributing to cross-cultural exchanges.

‘Vietnamese people who know AFL think it’s an interesting, fun sport,’ she says. ‘A bit scary because of the tackling!

Lucy laying a tackle against Cambodia at the 2023 Indochina Cup.

‘From the moment I learned about AFL, I fell in love with the sport.

‘But it’s also widened my understanding of Australian culture and language.’

Lucy now has her sights set on representing Vietnam in the revamped AFL international competition due to kick off in November 2024.

Three events – the Asia Cup, Pacific Cup and Transatlantic Cup – will be the first AFL-sanctioned international championships since 2017 and will include male and female divisions.

Lucy in action for her beloved Swans during the 2023 Indochina Cup.