Category: Feature Articles

Bourne eyes team success with Devils

ZOE Bourne enjoyed her experience with Tasmania Devils in the NAB League Girls last season, however brief it might have been. The team lost both its games, but it was a memorable time for the talented teenager who now has a team-oriented goal for the 2021 season.

“As a team goal I think just to win some games,” Bourne said. “Obviously we didn’t get much of a chance last year, but I think we have a really strong team this year so hopefully we can get over there and win a few.”

The top-age player has come through the development pathways in the Apple Isle, following her brother into the code, and making her way all the way to the Devils’ program at the elite junior level.

“I started footy when my brother played a lot of football when he was growing up and I sort of got around it then, and then I started playing for North Launceston Juniors,” Bourne said. “So this will be my fourth season of footy. “I played for them for two years, and then went to North (Launceston) TSLW for a year, and then unfortunately that collapsed. I started playing Devils last year, and this year obviously Devils and playing for Old Scotch in the NTFA.”

Predominantly a pressure high half-forward, Bourne is a fierce player who is clean at ground level and eyes off crumbing the tall forwards when inside 50. Using her speed and agility at ground level, Bourne is able to create scoring opportunities through separation from her opponent. In 2021, the North Launceston now Old Scotch-aligned talent is looking to improve her fitness in a more challenging competition.

“Being able to get the ball a lot more, then using it a bit more and using it a bit more smarter with the ball,” Bourne said. “It’s (pathway) definitely been a big change, last year playing Devils was a lot different to playing club football. “The standard is very different, I find it a bit more challenging, but it’s a good challenge. “It’s really eye-opening and you get to know that kind of standard so it makes you a better player.”

Her brother has been someone she has looked up to throughout her football journey and now as she enters her top-age year, she is looking to perform to her best to just see where her football can take her.

“He’s the one I’ve watched playing footy and I wanted to get into it because of him, and he taught me all the foundations and skills that I’ve been able to bring to club footy,” Bourne said. “I guess I’ll just see how far I can go through the Devils program and maybe the draft and see where that goes.”

Gaffney follows pathway into Devils

INITIALLY not having the ability to play local Australian rules football in her younger years, Meghan Gaffney tried her hand at soccer. When a pathway finally did open up in Tasmania’s North West, she took the plunge and has not looked back.

“When I was about 12 I started playing soccer at a club level,” Gaffney said. “Then from there as football wasn’t on the North West Coast, it wasn’t really established as female football pathways for anything. “So I started playing as soon as that came which was when I was 13. “I’ve been playing for four years with Ulverstone. “Last year I was lucky enough to get selected into the Devils squad and I played the two games that we had before COVID. “This year I’m in the Devils as well.”

Gaffney said making the switch – which then included travelling to not only different parts of the state but also interstate – was made possible thanks to her father, who she said has been her inspiration throughout her football journey.

“He’s really helped me with that, really supportive and taken me to trainings before I had my licence, just little things like that, it’s been really helpful to have someone there,” Gaffney said.

In 2021, Gaffney is looking to improve a number of aspects of her game, but is among the more powerful athletes when it comes to a combination of her strength and endurance.

“(I) Probably (want to work on) more of my skill work so kicking and hand work and just being quick to pick up the ball, clean,” Gaffney said. “My strength and endurance (are strengths). It helps me to get to the contests and just be an option for other players.”

Coming through the local junior teams and state league, Gaffney noticed the difference in quality when it came to the Tasmania Devils program.

“I think the standard’s a lot better, and also the girls, their mindset towards it,” Gaffney said. “It’s really good to have teammates that are like-minded and want to improve and get around each other, (they are a) really supportive group of people I think.”

Her goal in 2021 is to “just keep improving” and see how far she could go. Whilst her dream is not unlike many other talented teenagers aspiring to get to the highest level, Gaffney is just enjoying her football and looking forward to an uninterrupted season this year.

“Obviously it would be really cool to play in the AFLW, but I mean only a few people get selected,” Gaffney said. “If I did get selected it would be awesome, but otherwise just playing footy for fun, I really enjoy it.”

Defender Blair manages to juggle dual-sport commitments

A TALENTED dual-sport athlete, Australian rules football defender Jemma Blair knows the toll that travel takes on someone expected to hit the road multiple times a week. Having taken up the sport in the Northern Tasmania Junior Football Association (NTJFA) with East Launceston, Blair balanced her fledgling football career with a netball one that took her all across the Apple Isle.

“I’d have two or three netball games a week, and one or two football games a week, so that would probably be about five trainings a week as well,” Blair said. “On the weekend I’d always be around the state with netball and footy.”

Blair’s football journey began five years ago, and soon she moved through the pathway in the NTJFA, then joined North Launceston, and was selected for Tasmania Devils.

“This is going into my fifth year of football, so I was fortunate enough to start my second year when the junior and NTJFA started up in Launceston so I joined East Launceston Football Club,” Blair said. “Then played there for a few years, my dad ended up coaching there as well, so I was fortunate enough to have my dad there as well.

“I grew to love the game and also played a bit of netball as well, so playing side by side with those two sports. “Then last year I was fortunate enough to start with Devils, and also North Launceston Football Club in the TSL, which has unfortunately collapsed so I’ve now gone to Old Scotch this year as well.”

The travel was “quite difficult” for the teenager, with the sports often clashing, and Blair having to pick between training sessions for both sports.

“A lot of the time I had to choose between which training to go to because it did clash a bit, and both playing at state leagues as well, it was a bit of travelling as well,” Blair said. It was all across the state.”

Having tasted NAB League Girls action last year for the Devils, Blair has enjoyed running out of defence and creating plays in transition down the field.

“I like looking around the ground, getting to know the play, reading the play, just repelling the ball back into our forward line,” Blair said. “My strength is around the ball. “My composure and definitely reading the ball as well. “Definitely leadership, I love getting the voice around the girls, helping them, direct them.”

In 2021, Blair is eyeing off improving her skills and hitting targets more often, as well as becoming a more consistent mark. Her goal is to play more games and become an established player at NAB League Girls level.

“Last year we didn’t have much, it was quite a quick season with Devils, so hoping for a longer season this year and to get a few games over in Melbourne,” Blair said. “And definitely meeting new people and seeing how far I can go.”

Blair’s father has been her inspiration over the years, and the teenager considers him her idol. Looking forward, Blair is aiming to achieve everything she can in the sport and just go as far as possible.

“My dad has definitely supported me and pushed me to start football so he’s definitely my idol,” she said. “I just enjoy the sport really, so as far as I can get, to reach as far as I can go, just keep pushing and take every opportunity that I have.”

Versatile Prokopiec enjoying team vibe of football

A FORMER state league soccer player who competed overseas at a tournament, Tasmania’s Amy Prokopiec has found her home with the Australian rules football code. Representing Tasmania Devils over the past two season in the NAB League, as well as Eastern Allies and her home club Clarence, Prokopiec has swiftly moved through the pathway since crossing from the round ball game.

“I played soccer from when I was five-years-old and took that pretty far,” Prokopiec said. “I was in the state teams and went to America for a tournament. “Then sort of hit a dead end with that and started playing footy socially about four years ago with my friends. “I really enjoyed it and started getting picked up for rep teams and travelling a bit, that was when I sort of thought ‘I can do this, this is what my calling is essentially’ and I found my skills from soccer transferred over to my football skills just with my ball use and ability to read the play. “Since then I’ve just been playing footy for the past four years and really enjoying it.”

Having predominantly played in defence for the NAB League Girls’ Tasmania Devils side, Prokopiec has been thrown all over the field in her junior career, also settling forward for the Roos’ in the Tasmanian State League Women’s (TSLW) competition.

“I’ve played all around the ground at club level and Devils,” Prokopiec said. “I’ve played in the backline last year, but I’ve been moved up to the forward line, so it’s very rewarding when you get to kick a goal which I really like, but I’m new to that position and I do know the backline, but at this stage I’m probably preferring the forward line.”

One of Prokopiec’s greatest strengths is her kicking ability, which is why she has been so reliable on the last line, or as a marking target inside 50. Able to take overhead marks and read the play well, the teenager said she was hoping to improve her off-the-ball work.

“My impact on the contest, and being more present on the ground, and making an effort and getting into the contests and helping my teammates out even if it is defensive or attacking,” Prokopiec said of her aimed improvements in 2021.

Having played in the United States for soccer then making the choice to switch to the oblong-ball game, Prokopiec said it was the “team vibe” that she could not get enough of in the sport.

I definitely think the team vibe is different to any other sport that I’ve played and the girls you play with are really awesome,” she said. “It’s a very competitive environment but so worthwhile and so rewarding when you do something well, everyone gets around you. “The pathway for girls is so clear especially in Tassie with the football now.”

The Tasmanian talent has been able to follow her dreams thanks to the support of her family, who she said were her biggest inspirations along her sporting journey.

“My parents have both supported me through everything, driven me to training, and pushed me to be the best I can be through soccer and football,” Prokopiec said. “They’ve driven me up here today and just said ‘ just give it your best shot and keep going with it because you can go as far as you want to’.”

Prokopiec’s goal for the upcoming season is to perform at her best and see where it takes her. Whilst AFL Women’s is the goal at year’s end, she is focused on what she can control in the now.

“Just to play at the highest level I can and the Devils is a great way in the NAB League, and it gets great recognition before we come back to regional competition,” she said. “Absolutely, that’s (AFL Women’s) most people’s goal here, to play AFLW and be up and amongst those girls and create a lifestyle up there.”

Confident Chargers looking sharp despite preseason disruptions

OAKLEIGH Chargers regional talent operations lead, Jy Bond says his troops are “looking sharp” ahead of what is set to be a whirlwind 2021 NAB League Girls season, starting February 6. The Chargers have undertaken a changing of the guard with Bond now overseeing both the girls and boys programs, and new coach Jason Davenport tasked with the same duty. Despite an elongated break and some disruptions during preseason, Bond says he is happy with the progress shown ahead of season proper.

“It’s been pretty interesting, obviously coming back after COVID having hired a coach (Marco Bello), then that coach left then we had to hire a new one (Davenport)… so that was pretty disruptive,” he said. “Having said that, the boys and girls still had a pretty good preseason and they’ve been working hard. “The girls looking really sharp, which is great. They’ve been training well, we’ll probably have a pretty competitive team again with a fair few top end talents running around so we’re pretty confident.”

With no time for practice matches, each region is relying on match-simulation and intraclub hitouts to help bring their players back up to speed after nearly a whole year away from competitive action. Expectations are being tapered, but after a promising 2020 campaign was cut short, the Chargers are hopeful they can compete at a high level once again.

“We’re putting no pressure on the girls,” Bond said. “We’ve said from the start it’s about enjoyment, developing and having fun. We’re not really worried about the score, we’re more worried about the girls getting out there and having a having a crack because they haven’t played in around 10 months.

“We’re not really expecting them to come out and play at their best straight away, but we’re hopeful that with a few weeks they’ll be back at sort of the level where they left off last year.”

“We’ve just got to make sure that we look after the health and well-being of the girls and we’re not really prepared to put them into that sort of match situation so early, but we’ll do a lot of match simulation and small-sided match practice at trainings to make sure they’re right for Round 1.”

While on-field success was difficult to measure in just two games, albeit with an average winning margin of 76 points, Oakleigh can still put a sizeable tick next to 2020 given its presence at the draft. Three Chargers were selected within the first 26 picks of the AFL Women’s draft, adding to the six graduates taken within 23 picks on the men’s side. In the modest words of Bond, it made for a “pretty good result” overall.

Alice (O’Loughlin) was a bit of a surprise packet, we knew that she was definitely capable,” he said. “I know (former coach) Luke O’Shannessy was a big wrap for her, she’s definitely got a great athletic profile and it seems like she’s going really well down at North Melbourne. “We were obviously pretty confident of Mimi (Hill) going quite high. She’s just been an exceptional player for us over the last two years and then Joanna Lin, I think I was quietly confident about Joanna and I know Luke and I we do really love the way she went about it. “I watched a couple of games last year and I was really impressed with her courage… she’s definitely got something to offer so for her to go to Collingwood was a great result.”

Despite the turnaround of top-age guns the departure of some promising multi-sport athletes, Oakleigh is well-stocked across the board. Arguably atop the region’s talent pool is Charlie Rowbottom, the sister of Sydney midfielder James. She is one of many draft-eligible prospects Bond identified as promising after putting in strong preseasons.

“We’ve got Charlie Rowbottom, probably one of the most talented girls on our list at the moment,” Bond said. “Kalarni Kearns is another one who’s thereabouts, Amanda Ling is strong midfielder that we’re hopeful that will develop this year, Stella Reid is another player who has shown an exceptional amount of skill and ability to read the play over summer, Taylah Morton we’re looking to play in a few different roles this year, (and) Eliza James is definitely up there, she’s had a great preseason. “So we’ve certainly got some talented girls running around, we’re pretty excited with the girls to be honest.”

Others on the radar, albeit not yet of draft age include some potential father-daughter selections. 2004-births Gabriella Rawlings (daughter of Jade) and Jemma Rigoni (Guy) are part of the program along with Jasmine Fleming, the daughter of former Australian Test cricketer, Damien. Another middle-ager, Ruby Vanden-Boom is a developing tall who the Chargers will also look to utilise this season. She is quite “raw” according to Bond and also competes as a high-level rower.

Fleming, a promising cricketer, is one of a few players who will be rested for this weekend’s preseason testing event, but Bond says there are no glaring injury clouds over the squad heading into Round 1. The leadership group has been voted on by the players, set to be announced at the club’s jumper presentation night shortly.

Featured Image: Charlie Rowbottom in action last year | Credit: Solstice Digital & Photography

Crooks loving the football journey

TASMANIAN talent, Aprille Crooks “definitely would take it with two hands” if presented with an opportunity in the AFL Women’s competition, but her main goal for football is to just have fun and push herself to be the best player she can be.

The Launceston Football Club talent is into her second year at the Tasmania Devils, having played Australian rules football for four seasons now. With a family heavily invested in the sport, it was only a matter of time before the midfielder decided to follow her father and sister into the oblong-ball code.

“I watched my dad play football all through my life so for 17 years I watched him play,” Crooks said. “I watched my sister get into it, and I left my dancing and netball to play football. “I’ve had amazing opportunities with it and everything playing at Launceston Football Club and this is my second year here at Devils.”

Crooks played both of the Devils’ games last year before the NAB League Girls season was cut, running through the midfield. Averaging 5.5 disposals a game, Crooks showed off her unbelievable defensive strengths, laying a whopping eight tackles per match, including a game-high nine tackles against Eastern Ranges.

It it then little surprise to hear that the defensively-minded Crooks “loves to lay a good tackle”. She also rates her speed as a strength, and combined with her tackling pressure, helps her be aggressive towards the ball both to win it, and win it back from the opposition.

“I really want to improve hitting my targets in my kicks and everything,” Crooks said of what she hoped to build on in 2021. “Looking for my best option and really getting in there when there’s a stoppage.”

Crooks thrives on getting in and under through an onball role, but she is equally able to play off a wing, a role she has a familiar understanding of from when she first started her football journey.

“I am a midfielder, it’s a good role and everything, I do love to play the wing as well,” Crooks said. “Generally because that’s what I played my very first year of football and that’s what I got drilled into me, is how to play that role. “But coming into the middle I love it, and it’s a really good time.”

Having come through the pathway over the past four years, Crooks immediately noticed the step up when she took on Oakleigh Chargers and Eastern Ranges in the NAB League Girls.

“It’s definitely such a step up from Launceston to Devils, the work rate and the intensity and the talent from all these girls here is just incredible,” Crooks said. “I had a really good transition through my football. “My dad was my coach and he really pushed me and everything, I had good connections through Devils and everything, it was really smooth but definitely a step up from your club football.”

While the journey itself has been enjoyable, it is the social connections that have kept Crooks around.

“Definitely all the girls I’ve met through the sport (are what’s kept me around),” Crooks said. “Having my dad as motivation as well, he’s really pushed me to go with my football, and it’s just so much fun, why wouldn’t you want to come back?”

Crooks said her father was “definitely” her greatest inspiration in the sport.

“Yeah he is my idol in football, what he’s done and everything is absolutely incredible and I aspire to be like him,” she said.

As for her goals this season and long-term, Crooks said she “honestly just wants to play football” after such an interrupted 2020 season.

“I really just want to get out there and play as many games as possible with Devils and really show them what we’ve got,” she said. “Just go as far as I can, I’m not necessarily striving for AFLW or anything, but if that was an opportunity, definitely would take it with two hands and go for it, but just to have fun with it, really push myself and go out there.”

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”.