THE AFL Women’s Under 19 Championships has got underway with Vic Country and South Australia victorious over Vic Metro and Western Australia respectively in the past fortnight, but now the full week of matches – two match days – takes place in Melbourne. As an additional preview for the tournament, we take a look at a top-ager to keep an eye on from each side. Top-agers are 19-year-old – or turning 19-year-old – prospects who for one reason or another missed out on being drafted last year, and have returned to the junior pathways for another crack at standing out and representing their state.
ALLIES: Jayde Hamilton (North Melbourne VFLW)
The NSW-ACT hard nut received a Draft Combine invitation last year and showed in her bottom-age year at the AFL Women’s Under 18 Championships that she was not afraid to crack in and win the contested ball. Fast forward to 2021, and whilst she missed out on gaining a place on an AFL Women’s list, she has joined her sister Lexi – ex-Gold Coast Suns tall – at North Melbourne in the VFL Women’s. As someone who is good on the inside around the clearances, she will no doubt crack in once again for the Allies.
“I’m very competitive, so I always want to win which is probably bad and good,” Hamilton told Draft Central last year. “But it’s having fun, I think that’s still the main part of enjoying it and every moment on the field.”
QUEENSLAND: Keyshia Matenga (Coolangatta Tweed)
The speedy over-age talent is one of a number of Queensland players who have garnered attention over the past 18 months, providing great run and carry throughout the QAFL Women’s competition. A member of grand finalists Coolangatta Tweed last season, Matenga is a player who has the perfect balance of power and speed having come from a touch football and Rugby Sevens background, as well as karate and swimming as a youngster.
“I feel like my speed is more better in that area instead of in the midfield where the ball will just be hit down and I’m quite small as well so I can just be wrapped up,” Matenga said to Draft Central last year. “(I want to work on) just hitting targets more and scooping up the ball through the offensive play or transition play, or transitioning from defence to offence.”
SOUTH AUSTRALIA: Jade Halfpenny (Norwood)
South Australia has a ridiculous amount of top-age talent given it just feeds the one club in its state, and the talent overflows into other states for the elite level. Jade Halfpenny is one of a number of talents this season who have gone to another level, adding an inside midfield string to her bow, with the athleticism and contested marking ability she has as a 175cm tall forward. Throw in her remarkable speed and second efforts with her fierce tackling, and she has quite the package that will likely standout at the championships.
“I never thought I’d be able to do what I’ve already done and so if this was as far as I got then I would be happy with that,” Halfpenny told Draft Central. “But to get the furthest I can and maybe if I can have a shot at AFLW would be a dream, but at the end of the day I’m happy with what I’ve done and if that’s as far as I get, then that’s as far as I get.”
VIC COUNTRY: Elizabeth Snell (Bendigo Pioneers)
The Bendigo Pioneers midfielder/forward has been one of the most consistent players across the NAB League Girls competition, and has some elite traits that standout at any level. Whilst still working on some areas of her game, Snell’s athleticism – in particular her burst speed and agility – sets her aside from most other midfielders, whilst also having great goal sense when inside 50. She might be a future pressure forward who can roll through the midfield in future years, but Snell is someone who has progressed to be a very important player for both the Pioneers and Vic Country.
“We’ve got two girls from Bendigo who have been training with us quite a lot as well, Elizabeth Snell and Jemma Finning, they’re both 19th-year players with Bendigo,” Essendon VFLW operations manager Charlotte Miller told Draft Central during preseason. “They’re playing in the NAB League season but we’re going to try and get them in games down here as soon as we can. “They’ve been training really well, their attitude is great and they’re bringing everything they can to the sessions.”
VIC METRO: Maeve Chaplin (Northern Knights)
A dominant inside midfielder, Chaplin is just a natural ball-winner who can take control on the inside for her side, and also hit the scoreboard. On multiple occasions this season, Chaplin was able to just step up when she was required to do so, and whilst she has copped a couple of knocks this year, has the potential to add to the Vic Metro midfield. A player who will have no issues whatsoever stepping up to the VFL Women’s competition, Chaplin has been outstanding for the Knights and a real driving force at the coalface.
“I definitely tried to use (the lockdown period) to my advantage and I really worked on myself mentally,” Chaplin told Draft Central last year. “It was a big thing for me because I didn’t really have the time like I do now to just focus on myself. “It was a time for me to understand that I really do want to get far in footy and that I am prepared to play at a professional level. “In order to do that I really wanted to mature in those areas.”
WESTERN AUSTRALIA: Dana East (Swan Districts)
Of everyone on this list, East stands alone in the sense that 12 months ago she was not playing at the same state level as many of her contemporaries. The now-Swan Districts standout midfielder was dominating for Donnybrook Football Club in the South West Football League. She has since moved due to further studies, and took up the chance to play at Swan Districts, and has starred at the WAFL Women’s level for the unbeaten Swans. Throughout multiple games this season, East has been clean by hand and smooth-moving through the midfield, able to hit the scoreboard as well.
West Australian Female Talent Manager Clint Degebrodt commented throughout a Swans’ game earlier in the season that East worked so hard during the off-season that the State Academy coaches could barely hold her back, and it is showing in her performances this season.