Author: Taylah Melki

Theodore hoping to emulate Prespakis’ journey to AFLW

CALDER Cannons product, Felicity Theodore proved to be a lynchpin in defence using her nimbleness and speed to evade players and burst away from the pack time and time again. Signed with Essendon VFLW, Theodore aspires to follow the same path of those before her in particular, NAB Rising Star Maddy Prespakis who introduced her to the sport.

“I got into footy through Maddy Prespakis who plays for Carlton. She actually pulled me over one training session and was like ‘come to training’ so that’s how I started,” she said.

Prespakis had a continued influence on Theodore, captaining her last season and leading from the front both on the footy field and off the park.

“I hope to follow Maddy’s footsteps and get drafted but I’m just at the moment hoping to have a really good season and enjoy myself,” she said.

The Rising Star proved to be an inspiration for Theodore who credited her effort on the field and sheer class while also highlighting her importance at the Cannons throughout their time together.

“It was amazing, every game she just gave 120 per cent and it was so inspiring to see,” she said.

The nippy defender worked tirelessly throughout the year securing a spot in the National Championships with Vic Metro credit to her gut running, versatility and ability to break lines and while she has a spot with Essendon’s VFLW side is aware of elements she must improve.

“Definitely my quick kicks so like just getting kicks and really trying to hit up a target,” she said.

She relished the new opportunities throughout the 2019 season, taking the younger players under her wing and capitalising on her chances to impact across the ground.

“I’m just looking forward to this season as a whole and being able to play with my teammates, the coaching staff that are amazing and just to improve my game,” she said at the NAB League Fitness Testing Day earlier this year.

Theodore’s move from the attacking 50 to defence paid dividends with the talented small making the Vic Metro side. In the NAB League Girls competition, Theodore averaged 8.3 disposals, 2.0 tackles and more than a rebound per game, but it is her speed and dare to create options up the field that set her apart. She played a similar role for Vic Metro, running hard for almost identical statistics, and holding her own against the nation’s most talented players.

Then returning to Victoria, Theodore tasted Victorian Football League Women’s (VFLW) experience with Essendon, where she averaged 8.3 disposals and 3.3 tackles, not afraid to throw herself into the contest against stronger bodies. Now with some good form behind her throughout the season across three different levels, Theodore is hoping to join Prespakis in the AFL Women’s.

Late bloomer O’Driscoll eyes elite level

ONLY still new to footy Emma O’Driscoll is taking each moment as it comes and enjoying the ride despite being an overager. O’Driscoll was a late bloomer to the sport and has not put a foot wrong since her inception into the game, steadily developing and posing a dominant threat credit to her skill.

“So I only started playing footy last year, so in Year 12 – which was in 2017 – I went to school country week,” O’Driscoll said. Just a week of football at the school country week and then one of the ‘Deggers’ – Clint Degebrodt came up to me and gave me a state invitation and I thought I’ll go and try out for the state 18s and that summer I did their academy and then made it to the state 18s team last year, and then I made it again this year as an overager so that was really exciting.

The talented footballer is hoping to remain in her home state with the Eagles and Dockers both viable options considering her breakout season and connection to both clubs with the youngster receiving text messages and calls from the rival clubs throughout the WAFL season.

“I think it’s great, I think it just shows that the game is developing so much and obviously it gives us girls in WA a lot more opportunity having two teams to be able to go to,” she said. “I was part of the West Coast Eagles Academy so I was training with those girls and signed girls every Tuesday throughout the season which was great, got feedback from the coaches constantly. “Freo have been the exact same, ringing me, checking up on me if I did get injured and they were always making sure everything was all good and I was looked after which has been amazing. Both clubs were very supportive.”

Despite going for the Eagles her whole life, O’Driscoll is open to the chance of either Western Australia side to pick her up and has been inspired by a host of AFLW players along the journey.

“AFLW is a bit different, I literally support everyone, Tayla Harris is probably my favourite player so there’s a bit of Carlton there but I love the Dockers in the AFLW,” she said. “Kara ‘Juddy’ [Donnellan], she’s the captain of the Dockers, she was my Swan Districts coach at my WAFL club, she’s just been amazing, calls me ‘champ’, will message me all the time. “Checks up on me and we just have that good kind of communication going so I’ll message her if I can’t come to training and things like that, yeah she’s been a really really great help.”

Having spent a large portion of her life playing netball the switch to footy was slightly challenging for the Western Australian with the sport posing a heap of new challenges physically and mentally.

“Most importantly my kicking, was the main thing I got told to work on, fitness-wise it would be the 2km, I haven’t been used to running that long distance you know, I’ve had a 30m court that I’ve had to run on instead of a big oval so they were the main things and feedback that I got back from the coaches,” she said.

Aware of her areas of improvement O’Driscoll has toiled away to address the issues in her game play to further develop her skills and become a commanding figure on the footy field.

“I definitely think I have been working harder this year, I think because last year was my first season I was kind of settling in and getting to know everyone whereas this year I know the game a lot better so being able to implement those things at training was a lot easier for me to do and I was more familiar with the coaches,” she said. “I think I am fitter, in terms of my 2km I’ve cut my time down which was one of my major goals, not comparing myself to other people and just trying to work on my own 2km time trial so that was good. In terms of kicking I’m getting there, slowly, but I think by having more exposure to the game I’ll be able to improve that a lot more.”

Gifted with the opportunity to play for and represent Western Australia, O’Driscoll has loved every moment taking on a leadership role of sorts and injecting herself into the footy culture.

“Oh it’s been amazing, probably one of the best experiences I’ve ever had,” she said. “I think the first year it was a lot different to obviously netball, so coming over and just the footy culture is fantastic and I’ve enjoyed every minute of playing in the State 18s with the girls and I think this year being older in that team has kind of allowed me to have a leadership role which I’ve really enjoyed so yeah it’s been great,” she said.

With the league expanding and the possibility of two clubs vying for her services the 19-year-old’s main aim is to get drafted and put her best foot forward highlighting her hard work and skill across the oval.

“I think I really just want to push myself and show that I have a really good work ethic and I’m willing to work as hard as I can and kind of step up to the level of AFLW,” she said.

Tarrant taking GIANT strides ahead of draft

BRENNA Tarrant is no stranger to the limelight, earning herself a spot in the AFL Women’s Under-18 All-Australian side credit to her impressive season and ball winning ability – but she did not start off playing Australian rules football. Despite encouragement from her father, Tarrant did not follow in her father’s rugby footsteps, instead initially opting for netball and dancing.

“My dad used to play Union, he played first grade Union, and he sort of thought ‘oh, she can go play Union’,” Tarrant said. “I ended up playing netball and dancing and then sort of got into AFL and a lot of kids are going to AFL too because it’s sort of a safe option over the Union and League.”

Hailing from western Sydney, Tarrant was immersed in a heavy NRL (National Rugby League) and rugby union culture with only a handful of girls opting to pick up the footy. But that tune is slowly changing with more girls making the switch to Aussie rules.

“A lot of parents are cautious about ‘oh, I don’t want my child to get hurt, don’t want them to be injured’,” Tarrant said. “I think we still cop a lot of it, especially living in that Penrith area because that’s a really big Union/League area with the Penrith Panthers being so close, so I cop it a bit at school, so there is a bit of it around – a lot of that NRL sort of competitiveness. But it is coming through a lot, it’s been really good to see that rise in AFL,” she said.

Tarrant’s love for footy runs deep with this year marking her fifth season in the system after starting her journey with her local side Penrith-Emu Plaines at the bottom of the Blue Mountains.

“Played there in their inaugural team, played against one other club just for that season and then played with them in the first Western Sydney Under 15s team,” she said. “Then got onto the Under 15s New South Wales school team, came through the Rams team for the past three years now alongside some of the other stronger girls.”

Her development has seen her earn a spot in the Eastern Allies side with Tarrant enjoying the opportunity to play against some of the elite up and coming talent and hone her own craft on the footy field.

“It’s been phenomenal,” Tarrant said. “It’s definitely boosted my skills, playing alongside Tasmania and playing against Tasmania, all the coaching, it’s just been the best learning experience and playing with the best from two different states has definitely improved my skills and the skills of everyone else because we’re so united and we (bonded) really quickly as well.”

Having spent a large chunk of time playing in the defence end for netball, Tarrant has been able to transfer some of her skills onto the footy field, labelling marking as one of her strengths.

“I like to think that I’m a good marking target,” Tarrant said. “I used to do quite a bit of netball as a defensive player, I’ve only just started playing forward lately so I’ve worked a lot on my marking and getting down cleanly off the ground and that’s sort of a few good strengths of mine. “I like to think I’m a good tackler as well, run and carry is still one to work on, marking and (those) clean skills.”

Growing up in New South Wales, the 17-year-old models a lot of her play off the likes of Swans forward Isaac Heeney while also drawing inspiration from Christian Petracca and AFL Women’s player Alyce Parker.

“I played with Alyce for the last two years in Rams and Allies and she’s led the team really well, she’s been strong and her skills are really good too,” Tarrant said. “I just sort of looked up to her leadership and her skills.”

Tarrant seemed unfazed by the travel despite having to journey around the state to get to training and games.

“I have had to travel 45 minutes to get to training and then I’m sort of training on with the Giants’ team – that’s a bit of a trek out to Homebush from where I am. It is a little bit of a drive but it’s definitely not as far as some of the other girls who have to travel three-plus hours to get to training,” she said.

With commitments to the GIANTS, the defender is kept quite busy managing training schedules and is loving the opportunity to be surrounded by AFLW players.

“So a lot of them like Alicia Eva, Parker, Louise Stephenson are all around that training and they really get around all us new girls who have been invited into it. So we get a lot of help, encouragement and support from those girls and they really have helped us improve our skills,” Tarrant said.

Eva has had a huge influence on Tarrant given her coaching role as well as on-field impact, helping to guide her through the stages and further enhance her skills.

“She still takes on that coaching role even when she’s training because she’s the vice-captain, she sort of has to take on that coaching role,” she said.

But like many aspiring footballers the the ultimate goal for Tarrant is to get drafted and play at the elite level whether it be in her home state or elsewhere.

“Getting drafted and playing for the GIANTS or any team would be probably my main goal,” she said.

Postlethwaite thrives with captaincy

AFTER overcoming an ankle injury leading up to her bottom-age championships, Brisbane Lions Academy member, Lily Postlethwaite continues to take her footy to the next level with the 18-year-old loving every moment of her journey so far. Draft Central spoke to her last year regarding how her love for footy blossomed and what she endured to overcome her injury.

Awarded the Queensland captaincy, Postlethwaite was not overawed by the added responsibility standing up to the occasion throughout the Championships and showcasing her elite talent through the midfield with her daring style of play, quick hands and good vision across the ground.

“(Captaining Queensland) is a real honour for me, I’ve loved leading the group this year and it’s been a great experience for me,” she said. “Sometimes you forget about yourself when you’re trying to make sure everyone else is up but it’s all part of the challenge and I’m really enjoying it so far.”

Postlethwaite has enjoyed a continuous ride to the top with the dynamic midfielder rewarded for her efforts on the field making it into the Winter Series team and playing with a host of AFLW stars.

“On the footy side of things my game has improved a lot… I’ve made the Winter Series team which has given me great experience with lots of AFLW players which has been great so just learning off them which has been really good,” she said.

The up-and-coming midfielder has relished the opportunity to play with the experienced girls, absorbing every bit of knowledge and applying it to her own game.

“It’s really good,” she said. “All the girls are so welcoming and you just learn so much off them and it’s just that next step that shows you where you’re at I guess, if you’re up for it or not.”

Despite all the accolades and chances to develop her skills at a higher level, Postlethwaite is still well aware of the improvements needed to make it to the top tier.

“Probably just play consistent footy and don’t drop below, like to always keep improving I guess and to not be set like ‘I’m good now’, you’ve always just got to keep getting better,” she said. “I’ve always got to keep improving.”

Although Postlethwaite does not have a particular inspiration she has a multitude of players that have helped guide and develop her throughout her budding career which she attributes a great deal of her success to.

“Probably some of the girls that were in this (Queensland) team last year like Jade Ellenger and Nat Grider, they’ve been great,” she said. They just welcome you so much, make you feel comfortable and everything like that. And then I’m probably learning off players like Emily Bates, she’s just a great player.”

Not only have they inspired her on-field with their courageous actions, clever game play and skill but so too off field with their training regime and dedication.

“For sure, the off-field side like the professionalism, your (rehabilitation), your recovery and everything like that – you just watch them and it’s really important,” she said.

When looking closer to home, it is her parents that have played a major role in her success and development with Postlethwaite noting their influence and commitment to fulfilling her footy dreams.

“Mum and Dad are really good, they’re always there for me which is really good and keeps me going,” she said.

Webber making waves

GIPPSLAND Power product Nikia Webber has high hopes for the future with the 18-year-old in her fourth season with the club and dreaming to get drafted in the near future if everything goes to plan. After telling us her footballing story growing up, she spoke prior to the NAB League Girls season about her dreams for the year ahead.

“By the end of the year I hope to get drafted, obviously that’s every girls dream. Just go hard, show the other teams what I have,” she said.

Webber has seen first-hand how far footy can take you with former teammate and Power captain Tyla Hanks playing with the Melbourne Demons in the AFLW. The crafty forward credits a lot of her development to Hanks and the influence she has had on her footy life.

“Yeah obviously playing alongside Tyla was a really good opportunity I learnt a lot from her and to see her actually killing it on the big stage as well is really good for her,” she said.

She has drawn the eye of plenty of people in the footy world getting a call up to the Vic Country squad at a young age due to her goal sense and ability to have an impact across the ground.

“It was a pretty good experience especially because I was 16 at the time so one of the bottom-agers and actually getting to run out wearing those colours was just the best thing that could happen,” she said.

Throughout her time with the Power, Webber has learnt a great deal of things with leadership one of the key elements of her development on the field.

“Just be a good leader for all those young ones that want to come through the program and actually lead by example for those younger girls in under 13s that actually want to make something out of this,” she said.

She has added some versatility to her game play making the switch down back when needed while also perfecting her craft up forward to ensure she has a continued influence on the scoreboard.

“Yeah I’ve always played forward but last year I actually played a bit of backline as well so that was a really big change,” she said. “I didn’t know anything about that position but one game the coach was like “oh you’ve got to go into the backline” so a bit nervous going into that. “But he said I did really well which was good.”

Webber has enjoyed the opportunity to mentor and foster the new up and coming players at Gippsland while soaking in the environment at the club over the past year, especially last season.

“All the new girls that came in you sort of just have to mentor them through the program because I’ve been there for so long,” Webber said. “It was a pretty cruisey year last year, it was really good actually. “A lot of the girls you wouldn’t think stand up did so it actually made the year pretty fun and enjoyable.”

Webber is aware there is still plenty she can improve on to become the best footballer she can be with aiming to go in harder at the contest and upping her work rate to have an impact at the coalface.

“Yeah the team improved massively, obviously I improved as well,” she said. “So the few years before that I didn’t really stand out wasn’t really going for the ball or anything was just sort of laid back but last year I actually felt like I was part of the team and could actually show my skills. “There’s a lot of things to get better on and obviously because no one is perfect so everything that you don’t think’s good during the season just work on that.”

Strom forces her way into draft contention

FROM Exmouth, a small country town in Western Australia (WA), Mim Strom has become one of WA’s biggest prospects ahead of the draft. With limited opportunities to pursue her footy dreams in Exmouth, Strom was forced to the sidelines but that did not stop her returning to the game bigger and stronger given her commanding height and ruck craft.

“I played a little bit in the junior league but I had to stop after Year 7 because they said girls aren’t allowed to play in the older one, so I stopped for about two or three years,” Strom said. “I wanted to train with the boys because I missed it so much and then my dad stormed down and said ‘my daughter is going to play’ and then I ended up playing a year before I came down here. “Then came down to Perth for more sporting opportunities and yeah it’s been a bit of a whirlwind but I’m very excited to see what happens.”

Strom made the decision to move down to Perth in hope to enable her footy dreams while also nominating WA as her place of choice for the upcoming draft.

“I’ve actually moved down to Perth now to be closer, but yeah I do miss home a bit because that’s a bit of a trek,” she said.

Despite missing home, Strom has been able to focus on her craft and although she was not always been this tall and able to play ruck, her rapid growth spirt gifted her with the opportunity to switch it up from her usual position.

“My height I guess, really my ability to follow up around the ground I think I pride myself on, I didn’t used to be this tall so I used to be a rover,” she said. “So now that I’m tall enough to be a ruck I feel like once I’ve tapped that ball I’m going after that ball like anyone else and playing that role.”

Given her height, Strom has noted a few areas she wants to improve on such as her marking and ability to impact the contest going forward.

“Probably my pack marking, just getting a bit stronger crashing those packs and being that tall option, obviously I’m pretty young but I think that will come with experience hopefully,” she said.

Getting the opportunity to play for Western Australia meant a lot for Strom who valued the chance to represent her state and develop strong connections with her teammates.

“It was amazing to represent WA, it’s such a great team and just the values that we had really brought the team together and I think we did well,” Strom said. “Would’ve liked to do a bit better, but it was just about the experience and the culture was really great.”

Playing with the Swan Districts in the West Australian Women’s Football League (WAWFL), Strom has been subjected to some highly talented footballers and exciting occasions such as the grand final.

“Favourite memory – probably playing – well, for Swan Districts we made the grand final, unfortunately we lost but just playing in front of so many people we had a great crowd that day so the finals were pretty cool,” she said.

Swan Districts coach and captain, Kara Donnellan has proven to be a huge inspiration for the aspiring footballer with her off field leadership just as influential as her on field guidance.

“I’d have to say my coach at Swan Districts, Kara Donnellan, she’s been amazing,” Strom said. “She’s the captain of the Dockers team and just her experience and her wisdom and obviously she’s coaching at Swan Districts and won an award recently, it just shows how good of a coach she is and I’ve learnt so much from her. “She’s not only an amazing player but her leadership on and off the field is inspirational.”

Strom has had a busy 2019 well and truly announced herself ahead of the upcoming draft with the 18-year-old showcasing her development throughout the year and willingness to take up the challenge regardless of the level or situation.

“Yeah I was obviously playing youth at the start of the year and then we were a bit worried about going into league (WAWFL) but I feel like I’ve learnt so much, and at the start of the year I didn’t think being drafted could be a possibility but now it’s really becoming a reality and now it’s my goal,” she said.

Smith hurdling her way to success

TAYLOR Smith quite literally made the jump into footy after dedicating a large portion of her life to heptathlons. Only having played footy for a short amount of time, Smith is still learning all the intricacies of the sport and transitioning away from her previous life of athletics.

“I transitioned from athletics – I was a heptathlete,” Smith said. “I represented Queensland in the heptathlon a couple of years ago and then after that I fell into the injury trap. “Had a year off and the played a school footy game and found myself scattered from there.”.

The training schedule for heptathlons was highly demanding with the budding footballer committed to certain hours and days to preparing for her events in order to fine tune her skills.

“So it’s [heptathlons] lots of training and pretty much six days a week so you kind of had to adjust your training sessions to all the different events,” Smith said. “You wouldn’t just come on Monday and say I’m doing hurdling, it’s come on a Monday do a half hour warm-up, do a bit of high jump in that time, come over to the hurdles do the hurdles, maybe go over and do some shot put and that’s the end of your night. “Then come back Tuesday long jump, javelin, a bit of 800 at the end of that. “It’s a very demanding schedule.”

The change from heptathlons to footy was big for Smith both on and off the field with Smith having to get accustomed to the different training requirements and new environment. Smith was used to a relatively flexible, but demanding training schedule with her heptathlon commitments compared to a more physically demanding football regiment.

“Its honestly just been as demanding but in a completely different way,” Smith said. “So athletics was a little bit more of take your time, walk between your events and stuff but you come to footy and your two hours is very intense you warm-up, you work hard, you cool down you go home and that two hours is very structured. “A little bit more free-flowing through the athletics I feel.”

The footy environment is another major change for Smith who noted how it is more inclusive and has that family vibe as opposed to athletics.

“I think the community around the football environment is outstanding and the support staff we have is just unreal,” Smith said. “But in the football environment you’ve got your team around you 24/7 especially on trips like this (Under-18 Championships). “You’re with your team for a week and the environment is just amazing, love it, wouldn’t change it for the world.

But it has not been all smooth sailings for Smith who was struck down with piriformis syndrome and subsequently was forced to take time off sports in order to get her body back on track.

“Basically what happened is I started getting some really odd symptoms down my right side of my body and it got to a stage when I was at stage championships for athletics and I was running a hurdle race and half way through the hurdle race it was almost like I couldn’t pick up my left leg,” Smith said. “It was just bizarre.”

Despite all of their best efforts it took doctors some time to figure out what the exact cause of Smith’s symptoms were, with the youngster subjected to six months of investigation to decipher the issue.

“Sometimes I would just walk and I would fall over for no reason it was just bizarre,” Smith said. “It took a big toll on me mentally as well because since I was a very young child I’ve always done sports and then I’ve gone a year and a half off. “I struggled a bit like I didn’t know what to do with my time. “I was obviously still in school I was in year 12 so it was a big year anyway and having that burden sort of on top of that made it a little bit more difficult.”

Unable to participate in sport, and going through Year 12 at the time, Smith struggled at times but credited her family for helping her get through it and helping her discover her new love for footy.

“Parents for sure (were my biggest supporters) and I think that the biggest thing for me was coming out of that stage and I think finding footy was something that really helped me through that,” Smith said. “Tim Searle who is one of the AFL Gold Coast talent managers he was the one who got me into the sport but I’ve developed a really good friendship with him from there. “He has been a great mentor, someone I’ve been able to talk to about a lot of things and I’ve really appreciated having his support through everything as well.”

A fluke game of school footy spiralled to a whole other level for Smith, with the 18-year-old delving deeper into the footy world and becoming a key member joining the state sides and rising up the ranks.

“Yeah that was pretty unexpected,” Smith said of the rise to state representation. “I played in the Under-17 state championships that was from the carnival I went straight from that one footy game. “Then from there to the Suns Academy, Queensland Winter Series and then I’ve been lucky enough to come back overage and do it again. “It’s been very fast moving, very intense, completely unexpected but I’ve enjoyed every step of the way and I wouldn’t take it for granted.”

With her ultimate goal to be drafted Smith is aware there are a few things she needs to work on such as her cleanliness across the field, while a clear strength is her vertical leap given her extensive training with heptathlons

“I think I definitely need to get cleaner on the ground being a bit taller it’s a bit hard to get down to that ground level,” she said. Otherwise I think working back and just being a bit more clean, fine-tuning some skills and just I guess footy smarts as well I think that will just come with time because I’ve been in it for such a short amount of time. The footy smarts thing will come with experience,” she said. “My old goal when I was doing heptathlon was to make the Olympics or make some type of Australian team but now for me it I would love nothing more than to get drafted.”

McClelland leading from the front

A LETTER from the Eastern Ranges kick-started future club captain Laura McClelland’s footy journey, with the club inviting her to come down and try out before blowing staff away and earning herself a spot in the team.

She first picked up a footy when she was eight, inspired by the likes of her brother and best friend, both of whom always had a passion for football.

“My brother played when he was younger,” McClelland said. “I kind of just wanted to be like him so I just got into it from him and one of my best friends was playing and she convinced me to go up to the local club.”

McClelland has a big bag of tricks, able to play anywhere across the field and have an impact credit to her footy nous.

“I don’t really mind (where I play),” McClelland said. “I’ve played a lot forward for Eastern so I think I’ve become adapt to that craft, so I like playing forward. “But I’m also used to the backline from local so either’s fine, there’s no preferred.”

Coming into her top-age year and rewarded with the captaincy, McClelland has taken it all in her stride standing up to the challenge time and time again and backing herself to perform even when under pressure.

“Being captain of Eastern Ranges, obviously there’s a lot more pressure put on you, but it’s just something you have to take with a grain of salt and just push through and lift everyone around you,” she said. “With pressure comes responsibility so you just have to take it on.”

McClelland took her side to the preliminary final this year despite losing a host of top-end talent last year with the captain praising the young side after falling short against the Northern Knights in the final.

“It was exciting,” she said. “But heartbreaking to just lose it in the end. “But they were the top team all year and they probably deserved it but it was a lot of fun and exciting and it was a great opportunity to play like that, probably our best game for the year.”

Despite all the accolades – having made it to the finals, being named in the All-Australian Team and the Vic Metro team – McClelland still has areas she wants to improve on.

“Probably my right foot kicking as I’m a left footer, so just working on that,” McClelland said. “I’d like to work on just my endurance just so I can run out full games and get my marking all right and so I can really showcase what I have to offer.”

The nod in the All-Australian Team was a surprise for the Eastern captain who was flattered to be selected.

“That was an honour,” McClelland. “Don’t think I was really expecting it, but it was a pleasure to be in and to be around all the great players that were playing, it was just an honour.”

When asked to define her favourite football momen,t McClelland could not just cut it down to one with the Ranges captain attributing that winning feeling as one of the most special things about footy.

“I don’t know if I have one particular memory, but just the feeling of being around everyone,” she said. “You know when you’re playing well and everyone around you is playing well, so just being around everyone and getting the win is also awesome.”

Over time, McClelland has witnessed first-hand the evolution of women’s footy, from being one of the first girls to play for the Ranges to the steady growth and expansion of AFLW.

“It’s amazing. I’ve played since I was eight, so how it’s expanded and the growth it’s gone through, it’s amazing and I’m just excited for the new generation of girls to come through and make it even better,” she said.

One of her biggest inspirations throughout her footy journey so far has been none other than Daisy Pearce, with the AFLW Melbourne star paving a way for all future women footballers.

“Daisy Pearce is a phenomenal player, she’s an inspiration to so many young girls and I guess I aspire to be someone like her when I’m older,” she said.

Late boomer Ahwang making the most of her switch to Australian rules

COMING from a touch footy and track and field background, Tiarna Ahwang has well and truly found her feet within the Australian rules football system. Despite being a latecomer to footy, Ahwang has not taken a backwards step capitalising on every opportunity that has come her way.

“I didn’t start off with AFL, I started off with track and field,” Ahwang said. “So when I was young I was always in the jumps but I did all the events because I loved sport. Then when I got to like year seven and high school it was more touch footy and then in 2014 AFL.”

Inspired by a close friend, Ahwang was introduced to Australian rules football and decided to give the sport a shot despite her father playing it when he was younger.

“One of my good mates that is older, she has kids and stuff I went and watched one of her partners games and I was like ‘this is a cool game, do women play?’ Then I went and saw her game and it was really good and she got me into that and then I started representing all the NQ (North Queensland) and started making Peninsula and Queensland,” she said.

Overawed by the endless opportunities footy had to offer, Ahwang decided to dedicate her time to perfecting her craft and focus more solely on her footy hopes.

“Then I was like this sport is really good it’s taking me somewhere, whereas the other sports it takes a while to get there,” she said. “So then I kind of stopped doing all the other trainings and started to focus more on AFL and just left touch footy,” she said. “I’m focused more on footy and trying to get drafted by the end of the year.”

There are plenty of similarities that can be drawn between touch footy, track and field and footy given the free running and tackling nature making the transition between the sports relatively easier for the developing footballer.

“Track and field I love my running that’s one wing position because I love to run,” Ahwang said. “With touch footy all you do is step and like it’s a fast play. Whereas AFL there’s a lot of kicking, there’s more space, there’s more running to do.”

Before meeting former Brisbane Lions and now Richmond full-forward Sabrina Frederick-Traub, Ahwang did not have an AFL Women’s inspiration or know a lot about the football pathways available.

“She came to the North Queensland and showed us some stuff and showed us all the different pathways and stuff I can go to, because I’m indigenous I can take two pathways,” Ahwang said. “So I took the indigenous pathway as Queensland and also the other one so everyone else can do it which is really good.”

With a new inspiration on the field, Ahwang attributes a lot of her drive and support to her parents in particular her father who encouraged her to pursue her dreams while also crediting her coaches and staff at North Queensland for her progress.

“Mainly just my parents and all the NQ people, I still miss all my coaches up there that actually got me to where I am today at the Gold Coast,” she said. “If it wasn’t for my parents I wouldn’t be where I was today. It’s mainly my dad because he played AFL when he was like 13 years old and then he switched to rugby. “He [dad] just wants me to focus on footy and try and get drafted end of year and if that doesn’t happen still continue and wait for the next year and just progress on my footy.”

The 18-year-old has almost started a new trend in her family with fellow family members bucking the trend and picking up the footy instead of a rugby ball.

“So it’s a bit funny no one in my family, all my mums brothers they don’t play AFL – no one does,” Ahwang said. “But now I’ve seen since I’ve moved, I moved six months [ago] from Cairns to the Gold Coast I see my little cousins play AFL. “I’m like wow someone’s actually playing AFL in my family besides my dad when he was young.”

She made the difficult move down south from Cairns to Gold Coast leaving her family and life to pursue her footy dreams but the confident 18-year-old is happy she took the leap of faith.

“Like ever since I’ve moved there’s been way more training and like more intensity and I enjoy it more because there’s more people at my level,” Ahwang said. “In the NQ there’s not much like opportunities there. “As soon as I finished school there, one of my good coaches Jason Torney got me moving here and then once I got into everything it was just so enjoyable. “Like I didn’t want to go back home but then my parents were like you’ve got to come back home soon, like we miss you, we need you back. “It’s so good here I love it.”

Ahwang has a wealth of talents and uses her various sporting backgrounds as a backbone in her footy to have an impact across the field.

“So my strengths as a wing player, I like to run,” she said. “But in nice weather like someone will kick out wide and I’ll just run to the footy and just take it on and get it going. “My height, because I’m pretty tall as an 18-year-old when someone kicks the ball I like to jump on top of people and I just love it.”

She still has plenty of development left in her with the youngster highlighting her endurance and inability to adapt to the weather conditions as a couple of areas she wants to work on in hope to get drafted in the near future.

“I’m from the north so it’s mainly sunny but now coming here there is rain so I kind of have to adjust to that,” Ahwang said. “But other than that it’s mainly just work rate, like I’m pretty fit but you have to be really fit.”

McEvoy all class and determination

THREE-time All Australian and Geelong Falcons captain, Lucy McEvoy is one of the highly touted prospects ahead of the draft and for good reason given her impressive skillset and footy brain. McEvoy has never been far from the Sherrin, playing Auskick from a young age and working her way into representative sides credit to her never say die attitude and grit across the footy field.

“I started in Auskick back with the boys when [I was] about five or six,” she said. “Then played junior footy with Collendina Cobras with the boys up until Under 14s then swapped over to the girls league after that. “Played one year at Barwon Heads then went to St Mary’s which is my local club at the moment and managed to make my way into representative sides somehow and kind of just went from there.”

The Falcons recognised her talent from an early age gifting her with the captaincy at 16 and she did not disappoint guiding her side to grand final glory and feeding off her teammates to develop her leadership qualities throughout her time at Geelong.

“It’s been a great experience working with girls that are older and also younger,” McEvoy said. “They’ve been really helpful in helping me build my leadership and really focus on that a lot more, especially this year and even just working with the other girls in the leadership group it’s been really good. “I think I’ve always been quite confident personality wise. “I think it depends who you meet sometimes. “Knowing that they’d voted for me as well gave me the confidence to know that they really did want me to be their captain and their leader. So tried to really embrace it and tried not to really think too much that I was younger than them. But yeah their support in that first season was really crucial for me.”

McEvoy has already had a highly decorated career, winning a premiership last year after going undefeated and will be looking to add to her trophy cabinet in the years to come.

“It was so good,” McEvoy said. “I thought we had a chance this year as well. “We had a really good bunch of girls and considering what we’d been through the year before with the loss of one of our teammates. “I think it made it even more special. “I’ll cherish that forever.”

With a premiership to her name McEvoy capped off her NAB League career as a three-time All Australian with each time more special than the previous.

“When I was younger I probably I took it for granted probably because I was a little immature and not as grown up and didn’t really realise the significance of it,” she said. “But as the second one I managed to get and this year, it’s quite something that I hold quite highly because a lot of the other girls don’t really get a chance to get that achievement. “So I’ve tried to really acknowledge my achievements but also not get ahead of myself and just keep on track and focus on one thing at a time.”

Often referred to as the Falcons’ footy factory, Geelong saw a wealth of talent get drafted last year leaving a gaping hole in the Falcons 2019 side. But that did not deter McEvoy with the captain standing up through the midfield to replace the likes of number one draft pick Nina Morrison along with Olivia Purcell and Denby Taylor.

“As pre-season went on we were able to create our own side and really adapt to each other’s games,” McEvoy said. “We lost some quality players in the midfield, but the girls that stepped up in Paige (Sheppard) and Luka (Lesosky-Hay) and some of the bottom-age girls was credit to them. “They really took it on board and played their role for the team this year.”

The talented footballer has a bright future ahead of her both on and off the football field with the 18-year-old hoping to get into university next year.

“I’m hoping to go into paramedicine,” McEvoy said. “I put Vic Uni as my number one preference. “Who knows whether I’ll get it or not, I’ve still got to finish exams and what not, hopefully I put my best foot forward in that and hopefully get the ATAR that I need.”

With an already solid set of skills, McEvoy is constantly looking to improve herself and develop her craft on the footy field noting her marking as one of strengths, but her short kick as a possible improvement.

“I need to definitely still improve my short kicking and accuracy in that area,” she said. “Then my fitness components which will be tested this week endurance, sprinting and agility, I’d really love to improve that side of my game.”

Throughout her time, she has been heavily influenced by her fellow teammates who have gone on to the next level with AFL clubs.

“Definitely the girls that were part of our side last year,” McEvoy said. “Nina Morrison, Liv Purcell and Denby (Taylor). “They’ve provided some of the great insight into what their experience was like and even in their first year of AFLW so I’ll continue to learn off them and admire what they do.”