Category: Feature Articles

Lachlan Carrigan – The dashing Dragon no longer flying under the radar

LACHLAN Carrigan has enjoyed a steep rise in draft stocks this year, and he hasn’t even registered an official game of footy. The Sandringham Dragons speedster is a prospect billed with the increasingly popular buzzword, ‘upside’. A December birth, Carrigan is one of the youngest top-agers available in this year’s draft pool and has seen his rate of development climb rapidly since making his NAB League debut in Round 11, last year.

The most promising part? He still has plenty of growing and improvement left.

“I guess just the potential that I have with my body being a December birth, the upside of me growing (is a trait recruiters value),” Carrigan told Draft Central. “My grandfather is 6’6″ and my uncle’s 6’4″ so I’ve got a lot of growing left in me and I’ll fill out obviously.”

While his growth has hardly been stunted, Carrigan’s on-field feats were limited to a couple of big preseason performances which built upon the promise shown in five outings for Sandringham in 2019. The 17-year-old not only grew to 189cm, but was also able to showcase his expanded athletic base with outstanding preseason testing results.

His speed-endurance mix was on full show; registering a 2.91-second 20-metre sprint, 21.6 score on the yo-yo test, and even running vertical jumps of over 80cm off either foot. It meant on top of his eye-catching returns on-field, recruiters also had some data which jumped off the page, keeping Carrigan’s name fresh in their minds.

While he had hoped to really press his case to be drafted in 2020, Carrigan says he had not been particularly “fazed” by garnering perhaps a little less attention than some of his highly-touted teammates, at least coming into the year.

“It’s something you get used to, just going under the radar,” he said. “Unfortunately I couldn’t play this year, I was really excited to showcase what I can do (and earn) the team success we thought we could achieve. But always going under the radar hasn’t really fazed me, I’ve put in the hard work that needs to be done and achieved things.”

Lachlan Carrigan on the move for Sandringham | Source: Supplied

Carrigan’s motivation is far from waning either, even in the face of Melbourne’s Covid-19 restrictions. The Hampton Rovers junior was able to set up a home gym with equipment from his former club, while also doing touch work and running throughout the week. With Year 12 studies at St. Bede’s College also thrown in the mix, there is plenty on Carrigan’s plate, though he says life has been “pretty cruisy” of late.

“I’m pretty much kicking every day, just with mates doing whatever we can do,” he said. “On top of that I’ll also be out (at the) gym four to five times a week and then just running as well. But it’s pretty cruisy, lots of study too.

“Dad works at Hampton Rovers so we went in and got a lot of their gym equipment. We set them all up in the backyard and in the lounge room so that’s been really good. And then just using the facilities around in the 5km (radius) I guess.

“The motivation is always there for me when it comes to footy. Maybe not as much with school but definitely for footy. Training, whether it’s in the weight room, running or just doing the extras, I think the motivation comes easily.”

The AFL hopeful has also been in contact with around a dozen clubs throughout the year and is beginning to gauge how the next few months, or even year may pan out. A Carlton fan, Carrigan hasn’t spoken to the Blues just yet but is planning for multiple outcomes by the end of 2020. With the NAB League extended to an Under 19 competition, the chance to prove himself at that level remains should he be overlooked in this year’s draft.

“(Discussions with clubs) have been really mixed,” Carrigan said. “I don’t think many clubs have delved into the talks about where they’d pick me up. We get a few, but it has been a mix of ‘we’ll pick you up in the late rounds and take a punt’ or ‘we want to see you play more footy’.

“I’m pretty academic… after school, I’m still deciding if I go back to the Dragons. I just want to put in all my effort there and maybe if I’ve got enough free time around halfway through the year I’ll pick up a (university) course. The courses I’m looking at are probably accounting or commerce, and also sports management.”

The running wingman also does a fair bit of footballing study, moulding his game on the likes of Hugh McCluggage for his inside and outside balance, as well as Josh Kelly and Isaac Smith.

“I love footy so I watch a lot of it,” he said. “I think I’m very versatile (but) my favourite position is probably the wing, just because I’ve played there the most and I know how to play it.

“I’ve been working hard on a lot of areas. I think my main areas over the summer, this preseason, were just my contested work and my ability to hit the scoreboard. You can get better at everything I guess.”

While much of his journey, especially of late, has been carried out among the unknown, Carrigan says he has had “a lot of great coaches and mentors” to lean on throughout the experience.

“(Sandringham assistant) Jackson Kornberg‘s been really good this year, Simon McPhee and (Mark) ‘Bomber’ Reilly too,” he said.

Carrigan’s next point of call will be at the Vic Metro Draft Combine on Saturday, though he will not participate in the testing. Draft day looms on the week of December 7.

Tenacious Snow takes the long road to her footballing goal

THE PATH less travelled by is a phrase often attached to the journey of budding AFL Women’s draftees. Well, how does Perth, to Singapore, to America, to Melbourne sound?

That’s the journey Northern Knights prospect Ashleigh Snow has embarked on throughout her young life, with an AFLW club potentially the next destination. The diminutive defender-turned-midfielder learned to play football through a school program during her seven years in Singapore, and says she “always wanted to play” having watched her brother and dad do the same.

“I went to an Aussie school, so they had a little program where I learned to play,” Snow said. “My brother and dad played so I just always wanted to play. I played there for two years and then came back to Melbourne and that’s where I joined my first girl’s team at West Preston.”

Snow entered the Northern Knights through its development program, before turning out six times throughout the region’s undefeated premiership season in 2019, and thrice more in 2020. Though injury kept her out of last year’s Grand Final team, Snow came back strongly as a top-ager.

Her form was enough to warrant a National Combine invite, something which Snow says was “unexpected” following the cancellation of this year’s NAB League season.

“In the year that Knights won the NAB League premiership, I missed out because of my injury which was a bit hard,” she said. “I went back this year and only got to play the three games, but I feel like I came back pretty (strongly) and got to show what I could do in those games.”

“I started playing midfield which was a bit different because I played (in the) backline for the last two years before that. I feel like I seemed pretty determined and was always going hard for the ball. In one of the games I even got a goal against Calder, which is a bit different for me, always being down back.”

“The draft, being invited to the combine, and having the interviews was actually really unexpected for me. I just thought ‘the season’s over and that’s it’. “But luckily enough I have a little gym in my garage so I’ve been doing circuits every day to keep my fitness up. So hopefully if I do get drafted I’ll be in alright shape for preseason.”

Lauded for her tenacity and toughness at the ball despite her size, Snow’s importance to the team has long been known to those who can see past the conveyer belt of stars Northern has produced of late. She comes from good pedigree as well, with her father, David a former WAFL footballer and 1996 Simpson Medal winner. The ‘daughter-of’ says her dad has long been one of her greatest motivators, along with outgoing Knights coach Marcus Abney-Hastings.

“My dad has a massive footy background and I just have to say, he’s the one person who’s non-stop motivating me,” she said. (He is) always asking me to go for runs, do workouts with him, and wanting to go for kicks. “When I don’t want to do any of that he’ll keep pushing me and he knows that in the long run I’ll be thankful that he made me do it.”

“Marcus has been the coach for the whole three years I’ve been (at Northern). I really like him and feel like he’s been the most supportive…  obviously all the coaches as Knights like Marcus and Nat Grindal, they’ve been a massive help. “They’ve always made me keep belief in myself and given me the confidence that I sort of struggle to have.”

The Knights’ affiliation with Carlton’s AFLW side saw Snow choose the Blues as her favourite women’s side, though her upbringing in Perth meant she grew up a West Coast Eagles fan. Heading into the draft, Snow says she will be watching alongside her family and boyfriend at home amid Melbourne’s lockdown, hoping to hear her name called out.

“My parents and friends (have) always supported me in life. My boyfriend I think is my number one fan, he’s proudest out of everyone,” she said.

The 2020 AFL Women’s Draft will be held virtually at 7pm AEDT on October 6.

Hockey to footy no problem for Kendall

IT is fair to say that Mietta Kendall is a pretty well rounded sports star with the youngster representing Victoria in hockey, attaining her black belt in Karate and also representing the Eastern Ranges. However, it is the latter that Kendall had always been interested in for a long time.

“So I played footy with the boys at school just recess and lunch and stuff. Then Blackburn, my local club, started up a girls team, I was in grade four when they started and I joined in grade five. So that’s how it all kind of started and I just went through the pathways,” Kendall said.

The ability to inject your own flair into the game and the family-like culture are what initially drew Kendall to the sport, along with the fact that she is a dedicated Richmond supporter.

“I’ve always loved it (football), I’ve always been a really strong Richmond supporter. I would go with my dad to the games every week,” she reminisced. “So I guess I’ve just always loved it as a little kid. I love, I suppose, the room in the game to kind of be a bit unique and be your own player to add your own magic and your own touch to the game in whatever way that might be. As well as being able to play in a team that’s really like a family and being amongst that culture that you can’t really find anywhere else.”

Speaking of culture, that is something Kendall particularly loves about the Ranges. Having been there for four years now, Kendall has become a part of the furniture at the club and credits the nurturing environment of the club and strong friendships she has made throughout her time there.

“Definitely our culture, we’re all very much there for one another, we are more of a family than we are a team on and off the field, and that’s been built through our coaches that we’ve had since the start and managers like Jessica Hollands. As well as having good leaders and a really good bunch of girls. It’s not cliquey, it’s not segregated we are all one and I think it is a beautiful thing,” Kendall said.

Playing as a goalkeeper, the switch from hockey to footy was an easy one for Kendall with the Ranges defender explaining she was able to bring those attributes from hockey onto the footy field, especially when it came to reading the play – an area she highlighted as one of her strengths.

“I’m hard going at the ball so that’s definitely one of my strengths. I will follow up on second, third, fourth efforts wherever I can, and my reading the play. And I’ve got quite a long kick that’s usually accurate. I think being able to read the play comes from previously playing hockey, as a goalkeeper and being able to lead the girls as much as I can with direction and communication,” she said.

“I think karate and hockey have both really helped my footy, karate in my strength, hockey in my read of the play,” Kendall said. “I’m grateful that I’ve had the opportunity to play more than just one sport.”

Representing Victoria in hockey for roughly six years, which is no mean feat, Kendall decided with her busy schedule that it was time to forgo the sport and solely focus on her football dreams. It was a big move in the scheme of things, but something she felt she had to do.

“I sort of gave up hockey a little bit I suppose over the last couple of years. I gave that up to focus on footy when things started getting a bit hectic with Vic footy and plus school, there wasn’t really enough time. I think I was getting a little bit bored and playing in goalkeeper, you know, sometimes don’t get a touch,” she said. “You go to footy and you promise to get, you know, 30, roughly touches at club. I think the game of football is very different in the sense of there’s less rules and there’s more freedom, and I love that about it.”

In terms of areas of improvement, Kendall identified elements such as the ability to kick on her “alternate left foot” as a prime focus along with increasing her endurance, groundball gets and short sprints to ensure she is continuously developing and growing her game.

Much like many of her teammates and fellow Victorians gearing up for the Draft Combine it has been an incredibly unconventional year with the NAB League season only lasting three rounds before it was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The cancellation came somewhat of a shock to Kendall who was on her way to training when she found out and was left a bit emotional by the news.

“A few of the girls were there and we had a massive cry. Me and my two best mates El (Eloise Chaston) and Bridget (Deed) we kind of just hung out for a bit and just moped around with each other. We knew it was a sad rough day but we knew there was always going to be opportunities in the future so keep going.”

Initially upset by the news, Kendall found ways to keep motivate noting that her teammates and people at the Ranges provided her with that encouragement to keep pushing.

“So obviously it was super hard and the biggest thing that helped for me is actually having like majority of my team have Strava, and we post our runs and stuff we do, we follow each other, we like each others posts and stuff and keep supporting one another,” she said. “Throughout the year, I think that’s a really good motivation to keep pushing and keep training, as well as coaches and staff checking in on us to see how we’re going.”

With hopes of doing a double degree in education majoring in psychology in 2021, the centre half back has found some silver linings when it comes to the NAB League season being cancelled, able to spend more time focusing on her studies, although she did admit she did some motivation was “lacking now that I have been online learning for so long.”

“Yeah, in a weird way school this year has been a lot harder but a lot easier at the same time because usually I’m juggling driving out to Kilsyth for Eastern training two nights a week, which is about 40 minutes from me in traffic. My time was very precious last year and I didn’t have a lot of it when it came to study. So I think that’s a positive to come out of this year, I’ve been able to really focus on my studies a bit more in such an important year, Year 12,” she said.

When it came to inspirations, it is no surprise her parents came to the forefront of her mind crediting them for the support they have given her over the years.

“My step dad works at the Hawthorn Football Club and is the boxing and tackling coach so he has been a huge support this year. Training me every week, like, two, three times a week to help me out, which has been amazing and then mum is so supportive and always has been. They’ve definitely helped me stay motivated and get through this year to try to be as good as I can for the draft,” she said.

With her parents an inspiration off the footy field, on the footy field it was the likes of four-time premiership captain Luke Hodge and Adelaide Crows AFLW star Chelsea Randall that caught her eye, highlighting the way they lead the troops – something she hopes to include in her game and bring into the AFLW if all goes to plan on Tuesday.

“Their work rate at the ball ability to lead their teammates, and really lead by example is something that I like to try and strive towards in my own game. They’re two of my favourite players of all time.”

Talented forward Hyde made makes midfield move

MODELLING her game off Collingwood excitement machine Jamie Elliott, Western Australia product Mikayla Hyde draws a lot of similarities between the way she plies her trade on the footy field and that of Elliott. Having pushed into the midfield this year, Hyde noted the evolution of her game from being a forward to a player that can rotate through and have an influence.

“I’ve always been a Jamie Elliott fan. When I watched him I always saw that he was playing forward, before AFLW was even a thing I was always like ‘I want to kick goals like he did’. And then it’s actually funny he moved into the midfield this year, for Collingwood and I also played midfield mostly this year for Swan Districts,” Hyde said.

Drawing inspiration from Elliott from a men’s footy perspective, Hyde also highlighted the work of former Calder Cannons star and current St Kilda player Georgia Patrikios who is renowned for her cleanliness, coverage of the ground and sheer star power.

“In the female side of things probably a player like Georgia Patrikios. I think she is so clean and is a pretty tough midfielder as well. I would like to play exactly like her, I do like to model my game around someone like her.”

Dissimilar to her twin sister Brianna who supports Richmond, Hyde has been a lifelong Pies fan, so much so she made the trek over to the MCG for the 2018 Grand Final between Collingwood and her home state side, West Coast Eagles. Not getting the desired outcome – a Collingwood premiership – the youngster not only had to deal with the loss but so too the venture home.

“Went to the grand final in 2018 and I can confirm that I did lose a few tears after we lost,” Hyde admitted. “Fly over there and then fly home with all the Eagles supporters but we still wore Collingwood stuff because you know, we’re loyal.”

In terms of her own journey, Hyde made mention that it was the influence of her father and brothers that really prompted her love affair with the game and made her hungry to take the field.

“Probably mostly to do with dad, he’s a Collingwood supporter and so am I and we kind of just grew up watching it with him,” she explained. “Both our brothers played footy and we kind of watched them. We didn’t play until about Year 6 in our primary school team with the boys. And then after that we wanted to keep playing but mum wouldn’t let us because we didn’t know there was girls teams out there, and eventually we found girls teams and joined Swan Districts.”

“I played school footy and that led to like an All-Stars game, and we were on the Swan Districts side because that was the closest WAFL club to our house. Then from there the girls that were coaching actually played for Swans and then invited us to come down to the youth girls team,” Hyde said.

When speaking about the moment that she was identified and chosen to join the ranks at Swan Districts, Hyde reminisced on how important it was for her to be able to take the footy field with a group of girls and really get an opportunity to show what she is made of.

“Yeah, it was so good, I was with Mikayla Bowen at the same time, and we wanted to play for so long and mum just kept saying no, she wouldn’t let us play with the boys. So to know it was an actual girls team and actually play was so cool.”

Having grown up watching a lot of footy, Hyde identified that one of her most damaging attributes on the footy field is her ability to read the play and see the patterns unfold. When it comes to areas to improve on, the 18-year-old wants to “develop (her) contested ball on the floor, just being a little bit cleaner”.

Representing Western Australia in 2019, Hyde touched on what an amazing experience it was and the stark differences between playing in that competition and the WAFL Women’s, having to contend with much bigger bodies.

“Yeah it was insane, and the girls that you play with make it even better. When you’re over there you meet girls from eastern states, and that’s even cooler too, I’ve got so many mates up in Queensland and in Victoria. Such a good experience overall.”

“I think it is just body size that you verse, like we verse some pretty big girls. I’m not a huge human as it is,” she joked. “So versing the huge girls in the WAFLW, avoiding contact is harder to take but I got used to it, in the second year of league I got used to the harder hits where at states you can kind of use it to be stronger on the field and take on people and take on tackles.”

In her short career so far, Hyde has had some pretty momentous occasions, not only playing in a grand final but winning the premiership and some added silverware in the form of a best on ground.

“Probably 2017 when Swan Districts went back-to-back to back on the same day, our youth girls, reserves and league had all won the premiership and then I snagged best on ground so I was stoked with that,” she said. “But to win a premiership was good.”

“I was actually really surprised because the microphone cut out, and then someone must have heard it was my name and my mates were trying to tell me get up, and I was like no way, I was not expecting it at all but it was cool.”

Swan Districts has been a part of Hyde’s life for a long time, with the youngster crediting the work of the club for ensuring that women’s football is viable for all girls through their inclusivity and commitment to the program.

“I think we’re such a tight unit like from what people see, externally it’s nothing to what is in between the four walls like, especially we’re the only club in – definitely in WA that has their own female change rooms like the WAFL club. So that just shows that our clubs really care for our females. All of our coaches are always so supportive and we’re a really diverse club as well, we accept everyone,” she explained.

In terms of coaches and people at the club who have had an influence on the 18-year-old, it was hard for her to go past Kara Antonio, crediting the Fremantle captain for her progression, confidence to take the game on and general development as a player.

“Definitely Kara Antonio last year at least, really helped like guided me through on how I could make it all the way up and she still to this day has always been there for me and stuff like that so I’d definitely say Kara Antonio.”

A day out from the draft, Hyde hopes to “end up on an AFLW list” stating that “anyone that would take me I will be there”.

Shaw eyes positives after disappointing 2020 season

IT has been disappointing year for most Victorian footballers, with few getting a chance to really test themselves competitively. In most cases for the AFL Women’s Draft Combine invites they have been able to get out on the field and stake their case to be drafted in tomorrow’s 2020 AFL Women’s Draft. Unfortunately for players such as former Gippsland Power and Hawthorn VFL Women’s talent Maddi Shaw, she has not been able to get on the park due to the COVID-19 global pandemic.

Shaw is an over-age prospect who missed out on being picked up in last year’s draft, admitting she was “not ready” to make the next step up to the elite level. But with a big preseason behind her she hoped to be prepared to tackle 2020 in a huge way.

“My plan was to do really, really well in preseason,” Shaw said. “So I really worked quite hard in preseason, really wanted to better myself because I knew last year I was not ready at all. “I was like ‘this year I need to get myself ready’ and become one of those better footballers and make sure I was training really hard, and then coming into the season at my peak. “Making sure I was fitter than I’ve ever been, stronger than I’ve ever been. “But also physically and mentally ready as I’d already had that season to prepare myself and I knew what I was looking forward to.”

It was her first proper full uninterrupted preseasons and her hope to kick-start the year off in style was positive. Despite missing out on being drafted, Shaw said she did not want to look too far ahead other than to have it as a long-term goal, and rather focus on the here and now.

“(I wanted to) just make sure I had a really good preseason, as the last few preseasons I had interruptions and I went to Cambodia, not that that’s an excuse to not be fit, but just making sure I was really prepared and then going into it knowing I was playing for Hawthorn and not aiming for anything other than where I was now and doing my best on each weekend and then looking to the future as it came closer, so trying to work in the moment,” she said.

Her transition from the Power at NAB League Girls level to the VFL Women’s has been a great learning curve, with Shaw getting the opportunity to move through the pathway at local level, through interleague, as well as the elite junior competition and then state-level program.

“It was a bit intimidating at first,” Shaw said. “Walking in as a 17-year-old it was a bit scary, but I had a lot of support around me. “I feel like it was a lot easier than I anticipated. “My experience at Hawthorn’s been awesome, has been really helpful and taught me a lot. “Fitness wise and as an athlete, learning how to take care of my body and also as a footballer. “I’ve learnt so much from not only coaches, but players as well.” 

She said learning off experienced players such as Talia Radan, as well as AFL Women’s premiership coach Bec Goddard and highly respected operator and VFL Women’s premiership coach Paddy Hill, was a great experience for her development.

“You feel really at home in a way so they really help you develop and you have this relationship with them where you can trust everything that they’re saying,” Shaw said. “There’s no second guessing, I like the fact I can walk into training, get my feedback and then go to training, fix what I need to fix, come back and play as a better person. “I don’t have to chase up feedback, they’re always with you and supporting you.”

Picture: Supplied

Like many people, Shaw figured when the season was first postponed, that it would come back in some capacity, but then the disappointment set in and she was resigned to the fact that she would not be able to test herself at the level.

“When it first got postponed I assumed we would only have a few weeks off and we’d be back on track sooner or later,” Shaw said. “But that was definitely not the case, so I was very disappointed when I got there and they told us at training, because I felt like I’d done pretty well throughout preseason and I’d worked hard. “It was kind of hard, you think that that time was wasted, like it definitely wasn’t, but it was very disheartening that we weren’t able to showcase what we’d done throughout preseason. It was really disappointing, but I’m sure we’ll get another chance next year.”

Shaw has always kept a positive mindset when it comes to her football career, never losing sight of being drafted, but also keeping an eye on her present situation to try and produce the best football she can for her side.

“I’d love to get drafted, that’s definitely something I’d really, really want to do,” Shaw said. “I’d also really want to do well in the VFL. “I want to provide and be a high-level player in my team so I can always be trusted to do my job and play my role at Hawthorn and as much as individually I want to get drafted, but as a team at Hawthorn I really just want us to do well and get back to that premiership that we got in 2017, not that I was involved.”

Shaw said her greatest strength was to take on feedback and adapt to whatever role her coaches needed. In terms of on-field traits, Shaw has good athleticism and can provide run out of defence and has been particularly focused on improving her offensive side and developing from a defensive player into a utility.

The Hawks’ teenager said she had been working diligently on her fitness over the break in preparation for the 2021 VFL Women’s season, with help from Hawthorn as well as her university.

“I’ve just been trying to maintain my fitness, so obviously not trying to push myself too hard, we’re going to go into preseason and I don’t want to overwork myself, but really working on my running, keeping my legs ticking over and pushing my body in a way to maintain my readiness coming into preseason,” Shaw said. “Hopefully not get too much of a shock.”

She described 2020 as a “learning curve” and said there was always an opportunity to get drafted regardless of age. Shaw herself sets short-term goals to accompany her long-term aim of being drafted, and said whether it was being selected in the Hawks’ side, having a statistical goal or providing a particular effort for her team, she was always ticking off short-term goals.

As for evolving her game, Shaw still has plenty of belief she has what it takes to make the AFL Women’s in the future.

“I just want to become better, I just want to get drafted,” Shaw said. “That’s going to be my target and I’m going to do whatever I have to do to get there. “I’m willing to put in extra hours of training, learn new skills, I really just want to make it because I know that I can because I have the right support around me.”

Shaw is not alone when it comes to disappointment of not having a season to try and improve her form, and she said while some might be tempted to question their future in the sport, she was confident the pendulum would swing back and opportunities would arise in the future.

“I don’t think a lot of people have really turned their back on footy because we’ve missed a whole season,” Shaw said. “I’ve heard a lot of girls who have commented on like ‘maybe this isn’t for me, I’ve missed a whole year, maybe I’m not ready’. “I think a lot of people just think to try and click that reset button and try and push again and try again because there’s always going to be an opportunity that is going to come out of hard work I reckon, so making sure everyone keeps going this year as much as it’s been really hard.”

Pritchard takes opportunity into footy

IT was not so much a choice one way or another, but passionate sportsperson Isabelle Pritchard said the decision to pick up a footy and take a chance in the sport was more about opportunity than anything else. Trying her hand at just about anything growing up, and predominantly a netballer, the now Western Jets star has made the most of that opportunity that presented itself a few years ago.

“I had a go at pretty much everything to be honest,” Pritchard said. “Netball was probably my main sport. “I didn’t start that until I was about eight so I was quite young, I played that majority of my childhood, but I had a go at everything else. “I played some basketball, played indoor soccer, I did quite a bit of swimming, etc. and water polo. “I played some cricket, really everything, but netball was like the main thing for me.”

“I think for me it was sort of just, it wasn’t so much a decision it was sort of just the opportunity presented itself in football and I took it, I wasn’t so much weighing up the options of the netball path or football path. It was here’s the path for football, I love football, let’s play football.”

Pritchard said she would consider going back to netball later in life as she loved the sport, but knows the growth in women’s football has been too big to ignore and something she really loved to be a part of.

“Coming from playing netball, it’s quite restricted in terms of where you can run,” Pritchard said. “I loved the freedom of footy being able to go wherever and you’re not controlled by lines on the court or anything like that. “I think I enjoy the physicality as well, being able to get in there, get under the pack and win the ball out for your team is something I really enjoy.”

Pritchard lists her strengths as her ability to win one-on-one contests, as well as the contested ball. The latter of which she only realised after a role switch at the Jets this year saw the traditional intercept marker move from half-back into the middle.

“I really enjoyed it (midfield move) because it gave me an opportunity to be a bit more proactive instead of reactive I suppose,” Pritchard said. “As a defender you’re sort of anticipating where the ball’s going to come in and try and stop them from getting a goal, whereas in the mid your role is to get it forward to try and get a goal.

“I think I really enjoyed that aspect of it, but at the same time I think even when I was playing I still had quite a defensive role, I tended to stay towards the back as that backstop position which I think was good because it gave me an opportunity to translate the things that I learnt in backline into the midfield.”

Rewinding back to the start of her footy journey just a few years ago, Pritchard first tasted football at school as part of a round robin tournament and it instigated a move to sign up for Spotswood, her local football club.

“I signed up just for a bit of fun and started playing and I really enjoyed the day (at school) so then I began playing at a local team starting up at Spotswood, so I began playing there with a few of my friends,” Pritchard said. “I just fell in love with it, kept playing and I was lucky enough to get into the Western Jets that first year and I’ve played there since then.”

Her rise through the pathway was quick but she adapted, though not without plenty of nerves along the way, becoming a regular standout in the Jets’ side.

 “It was scary especially because Western Jets were such a relatively new team,” Pritchard said. “I think the first year I did it was the first year that the Western Jets was actually a standalone Western Jets. “I think it was a bit encouraging because we were all finding out, learning to play, so that was good. “It was scary, I didn’t really know what I was doing, but just tried to hold my weight.”

Hold her weight she did, having grown up supporting the Western Bulldogs with her family, and her twin brother playing football “since he could basically walk”, the game was hardly foreign for her. As a red, white and blue supporter, it was somewhat fitting that running out for Vic Metro as a middle-ager last season, Pritchard was coached by Nathan Burke who would go on to earn the top job at the Western Bulldogs later that year.

“I was incredibly lucky to play as a bottom-ager in the Vic Metro against some of the most talented players in Australia. It was such a great learning opportunity I think as well being able to work, being coached by Nathan Burke was amazing.

“He and also in the under 16s getting coached by Mel Hickey. “It’s so much knowledge that I was able to soak up and learn from their experience, their wisdom and they’re all great coaches. “Also being surrounded by a lot of players who had played a bit longer than me, but also just getting their help on the field and trying to learn from their experiences. “It’s just good being able to learn from such experienced people in such an experienced environment.”

Not only has Pritchard featured through the Vic Metro program, but has been a member of the AFL Women’s National Academy for a couple of years, something that took a while to adjust to due to a foreign exchange clash.

“I went on exchange when I was 16 for three months to France. “I actually found out that I’d got into the Academy while I was away,” Pritchard said. “I was in France and it was just before the summer that I found out and then I missed the first camp because I was away, and then I went on the second one. “It was a bit scary because everyone knew each other already and then when I went away on the second camp, I was trying to meet everyone, I was trying to get involved, find my place.

“But it was really good, and Aasta (O’Connor, AFLW Academy coach) was such a great role model and such a good coach,” she said. “It was amazing to learn from her, and also just be around such amazing talented players and some of those players ended up being my best friends, so it was really great just to be able to go away and spend some time around so much knowledge and talent and be able to try and learn as much as I can from them as well.”

Over her journey, Pritchard has been particularly looking to improve her skills and her athleticism, with the off-season of late giving her an opportunity to fine tune her fitness and speed. Someone who has always been there for the defender/midfielder is her father who she admits has been her role model throughout her childhood.

“He played football growing up as well, so he’s very passionate about it but I love it because he’s not overbearing,” Pritchard said. “When I want help from him I can ask and he’ll give it to me, but he never forces his opinion on me which I really value and I think his opinion is the most important to me, and whenever I need help I go and ask him what he thinks and he always comes up with something wise, so he’s probably been my biggest inspiration, my biggest role model.

“My brother has played footy since he was a kid and I guess that’s what sparked my intrigue into the game,” she said. “He’s always been so hard-working and humble, not just at footy but at everything he does. “My whole life I’ve just been trying to be as good a person as he is.”

Now with the AFL Women’s Draft looming large tomorrow, Pritchard said the goal for her was to just keep on improving to be the best she could be. Whilst being drafted would be a “huge goal” and an “amazing opportunity”, Pritchard said she would not stop aiming to always improve on herself.

“I mean it’s kind of crazy to think about that four years ago when I started playing I didn’t think that I would be here nominating for the draft, hoping that I would get drafted,” Pritchard said. “But it’s really exciting because it’s a huge opportunity that’s presented itself and the idea of it’s really scary. “I didn’t even know women’s football existed five years ago so it’s crazy, it’s overwhelming, but it’s also incredibly exciting and I can’t wait for the future to see what happens. “Obviously even if I don’t get drafted, I’m just excited to keep playing and keep improving.”

Determined MacLachlan overcomes obstacles

SUBIACO youngster Maggie MacLachlan has overcome her fair share of obstacles over her years on the footy field, continuously striving to come out better and present that on the field. But it was not always that way for the 171cm prospect, who was not a huge fan of the oblong-sport when she was younger until she realised she could be compensated for her effort.

“So I think I was six and everyone was playing footy, and I was like ‘I don’t want to play footy, that looks boring’, and then I was at Auskick watching the game and I was actually like, ‘no I’ll do it, I’ll play footy’ because you got a sausage sizzle after,” MacLachlan laughed. 

“I joined the junior football club and played Auskick there through midfield, and then when I was like 13 I went and joined West Perth Women’s Club, which was Joondalup Falcons back then, like 2016,” she said. “So I moved from the boys to the girls, which was different.”

But MacLachlan hit a speed bump in over 2018, forced to the sidelines with continued knee tracking issues which ended up requiring surgery.

“I had knee surgery on both of my knees, so, I took – not even a year, a couple months off in 2018… I had a tracking issue with both of my knees, they kept dislocating when I would do certain things, mostly in footy,” she explained. 

“So I got the left one done the September, so they moved my tibia over so it’s in line with my kneecap so it tracks properly so I can change direction, so I got that one done first and then six weeks later, when I could, I took the brace off the left one I got the right one done. So, yeah, that was quite fun.”

While returning to football was tough given MacLachlan essentially had to retrain herself to run, she was determined to make a full recovery and ensure the issue does not reoccur in the future.

“(It was) quite challenging because you obviously need to learn how to run properly and then not being nervous to change direction, or go in for contact in case someone bumps you. But, like, just rehabbing it properly so it won’t happen again.”

From there, MacLachlan moved to play with Subiaco women’s in 2019 given the lack of league opportunity at West Perth, and has not skipped a beat since with a finals berth this year.

“2019 I moved to Subiaco to play Rogers Cup with them so I played with them, didn’t play any state or anything. And then this year I still play at Subi, and was in the State Academy again. And then in the 18s teams. Now, I’m here.”

For MacLachlan, “here” is in the unprecedented position of selection for the Western Australia Football League (WAFL) Women’s All-Stars match and an invitation to the Western Australian pool of the AFL Women’s Draft Combine, both of which took place over the last week. MacLachlan says that selection for the Combine was a shock, admitting she expected to play another year especially given the lack of pathways and academy opportunities this year.

“I had no idea that this was my year because I was more thinking like being an over-ager. I thought, ‘oh this year I’ll just like go out there, play some good footy’. So when I got the email I thought oh no I’m in trouble,” MacLachlan said. “Because of COVID there wasn’t really any state academy or anything. And then when I read that I was like oh, that’s cool.”

“Knowing that my close friends like Mikayla and Bri (Hyde) were in it too I was like, ‘that’s sick’ because they’ve worked hard and I’ve tried to keep up with them, so getting chosen was a pretty cool experience.”

Booting two goals in the 2020 WAFLW competition grand final was the icing on the cake for MacLachlan, getting a little bit more out of the majors than the bragging rights at the end of the game. 

“So Kara Antonio works at SEDA as a teacher, and during the week she was chipping me all week about the game, and I was just giving it back saying I can kick goals, and I had only actually kicked two in the season,” MacLachlan explained. “So I was just like, joking around and I said ‘if we win I want a pair of footy boots, your footy boots’, and she laughed and said no, ‘but if you kick a goal,’ because she was commentating, ‘I’ll give you a pair of footy boots.’”

“I was like, alright, we shook on it, and then before the game I said to her, I was like ‘I’m gonna get my boots’ and she said ‘just just focus on the game buddy’, and then when I kicked that goal, I was like in my head, ‘I get a pair of footy boots!'”

While she does not get two pairs for the two goals, it was the youngster’s first official grand final stint, and even though Subiaco did not get the win she said the experience was invaluable. The bet with Antonio seemed to spark MacLachlan into action, determined to prove her mentor wrong and committing to doing everything in her power to make it happen.

“Yeah, it does (spur me on). like when boys chip you and all that about football because they think it’s a ‘boys sport’ and you just go out there and do these things,” MacLachlan said. “Now a lot of them in my class actually have watched the games, and actually, like supported, not just think it’s rubbish.”

It’s not just proving people wrong that inspires MacLachlan to go hard, but also a familiar name at both WAFLW and AFL Women’s level. 

“I’d say Hayley Miller, the captain of Subi. I’ve obviously played with her this year, and just seeing how she drives herself within football, she’s very committed to it, and playing at Freo,” MacLachlan said. “How she just handles herself on the field and off the field I think is something I want to be able to be really good at, like discipline-wise as well.”

MacLachlan is also inspired by her peers, once again citing Hyde twins Mikayla and Brianna as a few of her close friends and tough competitors.

“At state would be like Mikayla and Brianna Hyde and Bella Lewis, they really drive me to do better, until I feel like I can’t keep going, and running and stuff to push me to do my best.”

Running is something MacLachlan pointed out she wants to improve and continuously work on.

“Running, like being able to keep up with people who can run and run so I can keep going in games and running to the next contest,” she said. “I think running is one of the most important things so (I’ve been) working on that this year, and contact on my terms, so making the first contact and not waiting for them to hit me.”

As for where her strength lies, MacLachlan is confident in her kicking ability.

“(A strength is) my kicking. Both feet, I think, my right one’s really reliable and if I need to go on the left I can go on the left,” MacLachlan said. 

Whether or not the talented and driven youngster gets pickup up in the 2020 AFL Women’s Draft this coming Tuesday, expect to see her continue to ply her trade on the footy field, having proven there is little that will keep her away from the action. No doubt, the experience of playing with and among some of the top Western Australian prospects has put a pep in the top-ager’s step, with plenty to look forward to for the determined youngster.

“It’s fun being around people who have the same interests as you, and want to do good and get better. Having that drive, the same drive as you.”

Hard-working Barber ready to transition to elite level

IT was all or nothing for Murray Bushrangers’ Olivia Barber who took the chance on a fledgling Australian Rules football career at the start of last year compared to her tried and trusted basketball one. Whilst Barber was tracking superbly for the Bushrangers and played for Vic Country at Under 16s level, she had already achieved that feat with basketball and more, having only completed a full year of football at the age of 16.

“I played basketball for New South Wales Country for a while for four years and then I was also training with the Australian team for that, and then I started playing footy when I was 16,” Barber said. “How footy started for me was I got asked to play footy at school one day and I got approached by some staff members from the Murray Bushrangers and I went and had some training sessions with them, and then I got into the team and I’ve played for the Murray Bushrangers for two and a half years.”

While it might sound like a familiar set of circumstances, Barber was forced to make a tough choice, told to fully commit to her National Basketball League (NBL)1 side. While Barber enjoyed the sport that had taken her to the national level, football was something that was more flexible and was taking her focus away.

“Last year I had to make a decision on whether I wanted to only play basketball or footy, because basketball just didn’t allow me to play both sports because of how successful it was and the commitments they wanted from me. “So it came down to a decision of what I loved more and that was footy so I ended up giving basketball away in March last year.”

Despite the sports only crossing over for a short time period, and Barber unable to deny her chance at representing the Bushrangers, she made her choice. Barber left her basketball and “hasn’t gone back playing basketball since”.

The Barnawartha local is in an equally unique situation, living on the Victorian side of the border, but going to school in New South Wales. It means the equally unique situation of representing Vic Country at the AFL Women’s Under-18 Championships, but playing in the New South Wales All-Schools tournament.

Living in country Victoria and representing New South Wales as well, Barber has always had plenty of travelling commitments, admitting she travelled to places such as Newcastle, Wollongong, Penrith and Sydney most weekends, and that made her school-sport life balance difficult. Football became an outlet for Barber who said she loved the physical nature of the game and how aggressive everyone on the field can be.

“I like going out on the field and being free to play,” Barber said. “Having your own game but you’re also sharing the field with 17 other teammates. “I just prefer the sport over everything else. “It’s just a game that I really love and I always turn up with a smile on my face at training or playing on game day.”

As an incredible contested mark, Barber said she was hoping to build up her endurance, doing plenty of running over the break to help with that, whilst treating the time off as a way to knuckle down on her studies being in her final year of high school. While it has given her a chance to focus on her schooling, she admitted it was devastating to have the season called off after sustaining a head knock in Round 1 this year and being ruled out of the Bushrangers’ other game.

“I was pretty devastated because I also only got to play the one game because of my head knock at the start of the year,” Barber said. “I think going into the year as a top-age player I was ready to dominate. “I was very excited, but nervous and obviously my national carnival year last year I played pretty good but I thought this year was going to be my year where I could dominate because I worked so hard in the preseason leading up to the round and unfortunately I only got to play the one game.”

Barber stood out last year at the AFL Women’s Under 18 Championships, having a real impact up forward for Vic Country as a middle-ager and earning All-Australian honours. When asked if the first game where she kicked multiple goals on Metricon Stadium was a confidence booster, she said to some degree.

“Yeah it was, but leading up to that first game I wasn’t really prepared as in I didn’t train the last couple of training sessions because of my knee, so I didn’t know how I was going to go,” Barber said. “I think goals they can say a lot, but then individually for me they don’t say much, because if I didn’t do the work to get the goal, then the goal doesn’t really matter to me. “It’s the overall game for me and how I play overall, not just the four goals that I kicked.”

Barber has been a member of the AFL Women’s Academy for a couple of years now as both a middle-ager and top-ager, which she describes as a “game changer”.

“It made me realise how professional the sport was, and how determined and committed I was to actually succeed in the sport,” Barber said. “It really helped me out a lot in my first year.”

As for someone who has been there for her throughout her sporting journey and providing her with support, it was easy to pick out an inspiration close to home.

“My dad’s been there since day one helping me out with everything and anything along my journey,” Barber said. “He’s always been my biggest inspiration and my hero. “He does everything for  me and he never lets me down and I thank him for a lot.”

Now with the AFL Women’s Draft just a couple of days away, Barber said it would be a massive honour to reach the top level, but she would also not suddenly stop the moment she got into the system, with an eye on always improving no matter what.

“It would honestly mean the world to me because everything I’ve done over the years, I’ve pushed myself so hard to get to the level as high as the AFLW and I think getting drafted would just mean so much to me,” she said. “Although the work isn’t paid off when I do get drafted, I will get a chance to work hard. “If I do get drafted, I will get a chance to work even harder and pay off all the work I’ve done in previous years.”

Knighted: Burke follows famous father and becomes a Saint

THERE are few certainties when it comes to the AFL Women’s Draft, but one of three players who already know their destinations net week is Alice Burke. The newest Saint will follow in the footsteps of her famous father Nathan, who amassed more than 300 game in the red, white and black. While her father is now somewhat ironically coaching an opposition side – Western Bulldogs – Burke said the family ties are strong regardless of the colours they wear.

“I’m sure there will be a little bit of trash talking at home, but I don’t reckon it would wouldn’t change anything,” Burke said of a potential St Kilda-Western Bulldogs clash. “The rest of that home environment honestly is when we do come home, we’re all pretty easily able to just swap into our normal home life. “We’re good at separating just being a family. “I don’t see it impacting anything too much, but it would definitely be interesting to see who the rest of the family, would support.”

For Saints fans it would be a great relief to see another Burke at Moorabbin, and it is no surprise to hear that the newest addition has always had it in her veins.

“Yeah our whole family has always gone for St Kilda from the start so I do have a soft spot for them, especially with the father-daughter,” she said. “We’ve had a couple of functions there for the father-daughters, father-sons, events. “I also did work experience at Saints. “I know the the venues pretty well, and all of that, but ultimately my goal in the end is just to be the best player I can and get as far as I can.”

For such a passionate Aussie rules supporting family, you would expect she would be a lifelong player. Except the truth is, she only took up the game three years ago, instead preferring the round ball game.

“I’ve definitely got that connection with dad easily, but for about the first eight or so years, I was playing soccer with my sisters,” Burke said. “I didn’t actually start footy till I think it was, 2017. “I played for school and, that was really the first ever time I’ve done anything with a football, and it was just like a little AFL 9s game, and I just remember going out there and thinking, ‘Oh, this is kind of really fun, this is really new’ and it was pretty much from that I just kind of like I was playing proper at the time.”

At that point in her life, Burke was succeeding in soccer, pulling on the green and gold for the national Under 19s in the United Kingdom. Despite making it to international level, Burke admits her feelings towards the game had begun to wane.

“I was pretty invested in soccer at that point, but because I’ve been playing for so long, I think the kind of love of the game, had worn off,” Burke said. “So when I did start footy, it was something new. “I’m one of those people who really enjoys learning new skills and just like getting into new routines.”

Burke began to forge out a stellar junior career, as it escalated from something that was new and fascinating into an atmosphere and environment that she loved.

“I was pretty bad at kicking and all of the skills and the tactics and all of that (when I first started),” Burke said. “I remember that having Tam (Hyett, head coach) as my first coach, and she’s just pretty much staying back after trainings to help me learn to kick and all of that. “I just fell in love with just having all these new things to try and all these new things to do. “I like the games like having that bit of uncertainty. “Like in soccer you’re pretty set about your role and everything. “In footy, it’s a lot more chaotic, and all of that uncertainty makes it a lot more enjoyable for me, it’s a lot more exciting to play.”

A question on many people’s lips might be, when your father is a 300-game AFL player, how have you not at least played some junior footy before?

“Yeah at the time there was no one around, no girls that I knew that played it,” Alice said of women’s football “It wasn’t really an option, most people just played netball or soccer. “I think my oldest sister – I’ve got two older sisters – and they got into soccer first. “I was one of those siblings where if my older siblings are doing it, or if they were trying something, I had to do it with them. “I just got into that through following them.”

Having reached the international stage and having a promising soccer career in front of her, making the choice to cross to Australian rules football was far from straightforward, but Burke felt it was the right one.

“Yeah at the start (it was a hard decision),” Burke said. “Just because I had been doing it for so long. “Does that mean I’ve wasted seven, eight years to doing the wrong sport or something? “Once I actually I went down to the open day for Dragons and I loved it so much. “That was massive turning point for me that I was just full set on. “Soon as I got my first taste of an actual team, it was pretty easy for me to be like, this is a lot more enjoyable and it’s probably got more of a future in it then soccer did for me and plus, having Dad’s background, he was able to like go outside and teach me, and we’re spending a lot of time outside of it from that point on as well, just practising the skills and everything.”

Burke started her career off half-back, a position she was familiar with through soccer. While her technical ability was still adjusting, it was obvious from the start that she was dual-sided. It was not long before she soon caught up to the rest and was thrown in the midfield, a challenge the teenager thrived on.

“It was pretty new that having that different perspective, where you actually have to be aware of what’s around you,” she said. “Have that whole 360-degree perspective compared to just 180 when you’re in defence. “Having all those new perspectives and the multiple things to focus on in the game just made it all the more enjoyable for me. “And playing in midfield was definitely was the first time I’ve done it and straight away it was just really fun.”

Burke defines her ability to use both sides of her body, and her repetition of the techincal side further enhanced her ability. Through soccer she became familiar with running down the left side of the pitch despite being a right footer, and when caught on that left side, she naturally used the left foot.

“I was still in that habit from soccer is always using my left foot,” Burke said. “And from that I kind of learned, ‘alright If I can’t train myself not to use my left, well I’m going to have to learn to use it well, because I could be using it either way. “I’ve been pestering dad doing a lot of practise on that, and I reckon that’s definitely paid off this year.”

Burke recognised how lucky she was to have a father who had reached the elite level, but more so one who was always happy to aide in her development and assist in any way that he could, just being a father as much as a coach.

“It’s definitely been like it’s really important to me keeping on top of my skills and everything because, dad’s been working at home and everything now during lockdown,” Burke said. “It’s been pretty easy for us to just go down to the Trevor Barker Oval it’s a couple of blocks away. “We’ve been going down there a lot, and he has a really good input of he’ll teach you how to pick up your own mistakes, because in a game, he knows that you’re not gonna be able to have someone tell you what’s going wrong or not.

“One of our pet peeves has always been if you make a mistake, it’s okay. “But what matters is whether you make it again or if you fix it. “So being able to pick up those environmental cues yourself and realise what’s going wrong and then how to fix it. “That’s been something he has really diligently taught me and I reckon that helped me improve a lot in the game.”

Burke said she would love to build the knowledge of her inside midfield game. Whilst he has no problems attacking the contest and then using it once in possession, she wants to improve her decision making, as well as reading the play and at the stoppages off hands. What she calls her gameplay intelligence.

Her development as a player in a short space of time came to the fore after winning the 2018 best and fairest, an accolade she backed up in her middle-age year last year. Burke describes it as a “real shock” but said she loved how footy rewarded hard work over results.

“If you’re shepherding someone you might not necessarily be impacting the play, but you are still playing a vital role in the game,” Burke said. “That’s why that’s something that I’ve always tried to work really hard on in the games, is putting in those extra one per cent efforts. “I reckon it was definitely a shock for me when I got that first best and fairest, because it really it was good to know that I’m in a sport that values those kind of things.”

Burke progressed through the Vic Metro program and went up to the Gold Coast for the AFL Women’s Under-18 Championships. She loved the increased standard and said it was amazing playing alongside so many talented players all in one team and across the competition. What made it a little different to most is that her father coached the team, though she said you would hardly know they were related on game day, and they are able to switch back into family mode once home.

“During the day he’d be my coach and we wouldn’t have any talk at home (about it),” Burke said. “There’d be a few inside jokes of of ‘don’t pass Alice the ball’ or something, but I remember one night I snuck into his room and we watched Bachelor together and then we woke up next morning and he is the coach again. “He’s really good at swapping between putting the coach hat on and the dad hat, and we’ve never had any issues with that.”

While her father has undoubtedly been an inspiration over the journey, a former Dragon has also had a huge influence on Burke’s career. Jemma Owen was Burke’s first captain at the Dragons, and crossing from another sport it was daunting at first, but Owen helped her fit right in.

“I was pretty like scared to come into a brand new team by any sport, I didn’t know anyone or how to do anything,” Burke said. “Jemma … was fantastic, straight away was so nice and welcoming to everybody. “She was really good at being that leader, but also kind of demanding the best out of everybody on the field. “She was never afraid to talk, you know, let somebody know they need to be doing something. “One thing that I really liked too was she didn’t ask anything of the team that she didn’t do herself. “I found that she was someone that I could really respect as a player. “And, you know, her dedication through the game was really admirable.”

Now she is officially an AFL Women’s player – with her selection to be confirmed on Tuesday – Burke is ready to hit the ground running and knows her career goals.

“The reason I loved footy was I did play for fun, and I wanna make sure to improve and get better at the game and everything, but ultimately I just want to enjoy it, it’s a wonderful opportunity,” she said. “I’m going put everything in, I just hope that I do just keep enjoying the game because I love it, and it’s unlike anything else I’ve ever done. “I hope that definitely stays with me.”

Strahan takes inspiration from ‘The Bont’

A TALENTED state representative in basketball, Bendigo Pioneers’ Annabel Strahan has a goal of following in the footsteps of the footballer she loves to watch the most – Marcus Bontempelli. Despite being a Blues’ fan, Strahan said she can draw similarities in their journeys and hopes that she can emulate his efforts in the AFL Women’s.

“He also played a bit of basketball when he was younger and I think I see that through similarities in the way that he plays the way that I’ve transitioned too,” Strahan said. “I love how he’s one of the best users of the ball on both sides and I think that makes him really unpredictable and really versatile wherever he plays. “I hope to do that as I get more into my footy journey.”

“In terms of the girls, I think as a local person to use would be Kerryn Harrington who played for Spirit when I played (basketball) at Bendigo,” she said. “I think being able to watch her transition from basketball to footy and how she’s just been so good in both of those has been a good inspiration and good idol to use to see that you can transition and play both sports.”

As Strahan eluded to, she has had quite the journey, beginning in basketball until a couple of years ago where she took the chance on playing footy with the Pioneers.

“I moved to Bendigo two years ago which is when my footy journey started,” Strahan said. “I had been playing basketball. “Did that through the Vic Country program, played up for Bendigo. “Then I wasn’t kind of enjoying things so I wanted to try out footy and see if I would enjoy it and I absolutely loved it. “Loved it from the moment I played local footy. “Then I got invited to Pios the year after and just kind of kept going I guess.”

The attraction to football came from the increased team environment, with 18 players on the field compared to five on the basketball court. Similarly, Strahan said football was good at gradually bringing you into the system and getting the fundamentals right without demanding too much once you got to the elite junior level.

“I think the thing with basketball and the whole program where it was really intense really early on,” she said. “I felt like it was really professional from a young age and it kind of felt like I had nothing left to give for it and wasn’t really enjoying how it wasn’t really a team sport anymore and more focused on sole players. “But footy I found is much more focused on that team mentality and you’ve got to use everyone on the team, there’s not just one star team. “I like how it’s more valuing for each player on the team.”

Predominantly a midfielder in her short career, Strahan had a role change at the start of this year, moving to half-back where she thrived and said she would love to have a go at more positions around the field.

“I really enjoyed that and I think that I’d love to enjoy playing in more positions and obviously haven’t played enough to play most positions, but I think coming off the backline I really enjoyed that and I think being able to shift through multiple positions is really a good aspect for the game and for my versatility,” she said. “I think for the moment I’d say I’m enjoying the backline a lot but I’m open to being switched about wherever.”

Strahan said her clean hands and groundballs were among her best attributes on the footy field, crediting basketball with her skill. She also said she was looking to gain greater strength, adding 10kg since last season in a bid to become more of a “tackling threat”.

“I think I’ve transitioned really well and stands out in my game,” Strahan said. “With that I think my footwork which you spend so much time working on around packs, I’m really good at getting out of that. “I think the biggest attributes that I’m proud of are my decision making and my composure around the footy with the ball which I think comes from playing point guard and those decision making roles with basketball.

“I think that’s (strength) definitely something I want to improve on is just be stronger around the ball and a bit more of a tackling threat,” she said. “Also with my height, being more intercept marking, I’m more of a threat in the air by taking some good marks.”

While the Pioneers midfielder might have grown up playing basketball, her love to football has always been there, as a member of a “rabid” footy following family.

“Yeah my dad and my brother and that side of my family has grown up with rabid followers of footy, all Carlton supporters through and through,” Strahan said. “I used to go to the footy all the time when I was younger, and I still love it now. I think it was always something that I followed, but obviously since I’ve started playing I’ve got a bit more into following it. “It’s definitely been a big part of me growing up.”

Strahan’s favourite memory was winning a flag on her birthday last year with Golden Square which was all the more memorable having lost to their opponents the year before. In terms of her NAB League career, her debut game against Murray Bushrangers was one of her favourites and personal best games she played.

Unfortunately for the top-ager, her season came to an abrupt end just as she was hoping to get going, which made it tough for her to believe the AFL Women’s was still a possibility. She said the announcement the season had been postponed and eventually called off was not a shock, but still a disappointment.

“I think at that stage we were all kind of expecting it I guess,” she said. “Everything was being cancelled but it was still up in the air and we were like ‘hopefully we’ll be able to come back and play’ so that was still in the back of our minds, we’ve just got to keep going on and training. “As it got further and further along it was kind of inevitable that it was going to get cancelled but I think the main thing was just being upset because I hadn’t played much footy so I thought ‘god no, it’s only three games not enough for me to get through with that’ but I guess footy just shows that people are always watching and so I think the biggest thing is just staying focused on that.”

“There’s lots of things to distract you from it but the easiest thing for me was just talking to my other teammates and just focusing on that if it does come back how we will get ready for that.”

Strahan said during the off-season she had tried to continue bulking up on her strength and conditioning by bringing some gym equipment home from her local gym to help with her goals. As for her skills, she said her mum would often head down to the local oval with her, but conceded that it was probably not the standard of teammate she was used to.

“In terms of footy, things were a bit more difficult,” Strahan said. “I had to go down to the local oval with my mum who doesn’t know how to play footy very well so I was getting kicks that were going everywhere but it really worked on my conditioning in a way that I hadn’t done before so that was quite an experience for me. “It’s just been like going down with my family and doing running on your own which is a bit harder than with the team. Just trying to stay focused and driven.”

Strahan thanked all those who had helped her along the way from her coach at Golden Square to her strength and conditioning coach and all her friends and family who had been so supportive of her journey.

“I think looking at those people you realise how important they are along the journey and how you couldn’t have got there without them,” Strahan said. “I think that footy’s just great in giving you all those people to rely on, but also to help you and push you to be the best player you can be.”

Now Strahan is edging towards achieving her goal after receiving an AFL Women’s Draft Combine invitation earlier in the month, something that she was a little surprised about considering her lack of on-field time.

“Yeah I think, not to sound like I’m not confident in myself, but only having not even finished my full season last season and I didn’t get to do the nationals, I just thought that I didn’t have enough of a resume for footy so to get that call-up was pretty crazy for me,” Strahan said. “I didn’t really think it was in my options but it just happened and things kept on happening which was pretty wicked.”

Now she knows exactly how far she wants to take her football with that chance of making the elite level in her sights.

“I think the whole thing for me is how much I’ve enjoyed footy and just looking ahead, you want to get drafted because you want to keep playing the sport that you absolutely love and that goes into you want to progress as a player and if I get to go into the AFLW, you get to play with the best players and you get to progress your footy that way and get to play with the best players there,” Strahan said. “So I think it would just be that building myself into the best player I can be and learning from all those star players who are in the AFLW.”

As for what it would mean to get drafted, Strahan said it would be “absolutely crazy”.

“I feel like every week in the past month has just been crazy and exploding for me,” Strahan said. “But I think it would just be very rewarding coming from basketball where things weren’t amazing, but footy I’ve just found has been so enjoyable and everyone has been so supportive, it’s just such a good environment.

“I think it would be really rewarding and also really exciting in terms of getting something to look forward to and really work hard on because the opportunity would just be amazing.”