Talented Morrison learns to adapt in new system, eyes improvement

ALWAYS an eye-catching player, Mikayla Morrison has never been short of a highlight or two. The Swan Districts young star and AFL Women’s Academy member spoke to Draft Central about her journey through the West Australian pathway, busy schedule and hopes for the Swans’ season ahead.

Like a number of aspiring AFL Women’s Draft hopefuls, Morrison played Aussie rules as a child before stopping for a few years and taking it up again as an older teenager. Already she has represented a number of teams at school, club and state level.

“I started liking footy when my older cousin came and lived with us,” Morrison said. “Then I just started playing with school which was Lockridge Primary. “Like just in the little girls carnivals. “Then I didn’t start playing club until Year 7, which was at Bassendean Junior Football Club. I stopped footy for a bit after that year and then I went to East Perth in 2016. “Then I was with them until 2019 and then I moved to Swans this year to play League footy.”

Without a League side in 2020, the move from the Royals to the Swans made sense, and Morrison joined a raft of other AFL Women’s Draft hopefuls, including fellow Women’s Academy member Shanae Davisonwho spoke to us last week – and other talents who have impressed on a national stage such as Nyra Anderson, and Mikayla and Brianna Hyde.

Much like other talented West Australian footballers, Morrison was named in the State Academy and represented the Black Ducks at the AFL Women’s Under 18 Championships. Alongside the likes of Anderson and the Hyde sisters, Morrison was able to shine on some of the biggest stages. Her efforts earned her a place in the AFL Women’s National Academy – something she admits she had never heard of – despite not rating her own performance at the carnival too highly.

It’s (WA Academy) been really good,” Morrison said. “I only started that in 2018, I started in 16s. “Then 2019 moved up to 18s which was a pretty good step and then from there, got chosen for National Academy as well. At first I didn’t even know what it was. “I had no idea, but then when I realised what it was I felt really proud of myself because in the championships I thought I didn’t play that well.”

Morrison described running out on Metricon Stadium as “unreal” and it just felt “really cool” to be able to play on an AFL ground on the other side of the country. While the midfielder-forward admitted she was nervous at first, she soon settled in, and then took a mark that few would be likely to forget.

“At first it felt like I let my nerves take over me, but as the game went on I started to feel more comfortable and started to play my own game,” Morrison said. “As I took that (mark), I felt so good because I’ve never obviously taken something like that before. “Looking back at it, the video, I dunno it just felt really good.”

While Morrison has spent the majority of her time inside 50, the athletic and smart player said she sees herself as a midfielder in the future. Morrison said the AFL Women’s Under 18 Championships helped with her footy smarts, enabling her to get to ball-winning positions and become more involved around the ground. It also allowed her to make new friends, forming connections through mutual friends she had played with in previous carnivals.

I did get to mingle with the other girls, with a lot of the Indigenous girls,” Morrison said. “We played other carnivals together like the Woomeras and Kickstart, so I got to see them again. “Which was pretty good and they just introduced me to their other teammates, and got to know them.”

Morrison said while she wanted to become more of a midfielder, she admitted her fitness was an area of improvement, something her coaches have pushed her to improve in the coming weeks.

I feel like I’m more of a midfield player but I feel like it was my fitness letting me down a bit, I just needed to get that up,” she said. “Along with fitness, it would be my composure when I’m running with the ball (as another area of improvement). “I got told a few times on the weekend that I sometimes rush it, so I need to compose myself and take my time.”

Morrison’s strengths include her athleticism, in particular her speed and overhead marking, with her precision kicking and tackling pressure also among her better attributes. It has helped her adapt to a new side, having captained East Perth last year, but now representing Swan Districts. She admitted it has been a big change for her, but her teammates have been terrific.

It’s been a lot different,” she said. “Because now I’m one of the youngest. “They’ve been really welcoming, and because I’ve known most of the girls through state and through the community. “I think I’ve adapted pretty well, just getting to know everyone.”

The team has gelled well off the field, and now Morrison believes it is time they gelled on it, with some promising signs, but so many young players and limited time playing together has made it difficult to start strongly. They won their opening round clash, but have dropped the past two matches to arguably the two best sides at the moment.

I feel like we’re going fine,” Morrison said. “I just feel like we haven’t gelled properly yet because we have a lot of new people this year. “We are a young side, but I think we all get along well, but on the field it’s more of a gelling thing.”

Off the field, Morrison is at university where she is studying pre-medicine. Not yet decided on her major field of focus, she has narrowed it down to either nursing, medicine or physio. The extra workload has been pretty tough for the teenager who said she might have preferred to do Year 12 in her top-age year, but also conceded that could be due to the extra workload of a medical degree.

At the moment it’s pretty full on because I’m at uni at the moment studying pre-med and some classes I have later in the day, so I have to rush around for training, but that’s about it,” she said.

Morrison credits her cousin Darnell Morrison as her greatest inspiration and support coming through the pathway and on her football journey. Helping her get into the sport she loves, as well as providing plenty of tips along the way, Morrison said he was a huge influence on her growing up.

“He’s the one that got me into footy and he’d always come down to my games and give me tips,” she said. “When I was younger he took me out to kick the footy, and just watching him made me really want to play.”

Now in her draft year, Morrison said she is always keen to develop her game, and while the two AFL Women’s clubs who could be eligible to draft her do not directly communicate, there is a strong communication channel from the elite level to the up and coming players through the terrific West Australian Academy.

I don’t get much feedback directly from the two clubs, it’s mostly through state,” she said. “I’ll just find that ‘Deggers’ (Clint Degebrodt, Talent Manager – Female Programs) will just text me if the two clubs have something to say or any feedback. “So yeah it’s mostly through State Academy.”

The 2020 season has been like none other and whilst the season has been shortened, Morrison said she was just glad to get back into the action.

“Yeah it (pre-season) was a bit much.” she said. “Just trainings after trainings after trainings, but then with some trainings we’d do scratch matches after training so we wouldn’t be out of it. “But yeah, it got a bit much. “I was just glad when Round 1 came around.”

Now preparing for a Round 5 clash with reigning premiers, East Fremantle at home, Morrison said she believes the Swans have the capability of turning around their couple of losses and posting some wins on the board on the run home.

I still have high hopes, I think we could still make finals,” she said. “We just have to really put our heads down and gel this weekend.”

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