Category: Feature Articles

Running Clark eyes constant improvement

NOTING her steep improvement from her 18th to 19th years, North Adelaide’s Julia Clark is always looking to add strings to her bow. The South Australian state representative at the AFL Women’s Under 19 Championships has developed through the pathway, and, under the watchful eye of North Adelaide coach Krissie Steen and Adelaide Crows star onballer Anne Hatchard, Clark has really worked hard on her game.

“There’s been quite a few,” Clark said of her mentors.” My parents, school teachers, yeah lots of different people. I think inside of footy, definitely Krissie Steen, my North Adelaide coach at the moment has been a big motivator for me.”

The Adelaide fan has benefited from having Hatchard around the club, with the Crows midfielder sharing the 2020 SANFL Women’s Best and Fairest award in the split season last year. An astute watcher of both the women’s and men’s games, Clark said she draws inspirations from both competitions.

“Anne Hatchard. Her running is great,” Clark said. “Then in Round 1 of the AFL I watched the Carlton game and I really liked Adam Saad’s game and I based my Round 3 game off him. “He really inspired me that round.”

Clark’s football journey started six years ago, and the defensive utility stepped up from the Roosters’ juniors to the senior side, where she played in the North Adelaide premiership last year. Fast forward to 2021, and Clark was one of a number of 19-year-old talents to earn a place for South Australia.

“So I started in 2015 in the Under 14 North Adelaide junior program and then from there I went onto Hope Valley in 2016 and then continued through North and now I’m at state, which is cool,” Clark said. “My goal for this year was just to play better than I did last year, and I came out in the first three rounds and I absolutely felt like I was doing that pretty great. “I was really happy with how I was playing.”

Clark regards her strength as being able to run up the ground, work hard and support her teammates, something she is always looking to improve on to maximise her running capacity. Having played predominantly as a defender in past years, Clark moved further up the ground this season, which is a role she enjoyed adding to her CV.

“I have been training a bit everywhere actually,” Clark said. “I think I’ve mainly been on the wing and in defence. “I enjoy both I think. “I feel a lot, I get the ball a lot more on the wing, but I definitely enjoy the backline as well.”

Whilst her football is coming along nicely, Clark is also heavily focused on her studies, which she balances with her sporting commitments.

“I am at uni studying mechanical engineering and that’s a big chunk of it at the moment,” Clark said. “So just trying to push through that at the moment with footy is a struggle but I’m getting there.”

Development always the key for whole club Cats

GEELONG fans have had quite the contrasting seasons when comparing the AFL Women’s 2021 campaign with its VFL Women’s counterpart. After winning just the one game – and that coming in the final round of the season against an equally winless Gold Coast Suns – the AFL Women’s side headed into the AFL Women’s Draft and Trade Period to plug holes and develop players to step up to the next season.

The VFL Women’s side was perfect platform to not only develop readymade players, but give further exposure to the Cats’ younger players only a year or two into the system. Fast forward to the end of the season, and they have not only ticked that box, but drafted three mature-age players from the program, and reached the 2021 Grand Final.

“That’s the exciting thing I think for the whole club is that you know, a lot of the first year players of AFLW have got a huge amount of experience this year,” Geelong VFL Women’s head coach Andrew Bruce said ahead of the VFLW Grand Final. “To get to play a finals series, against really good opposition, you know both teams have AFLW talent in it so going up against really good opposition and it can only benefit going forward.”

When asked what it meant for the younger players who had stepped up to AFLW level, but the season had not gone to plan, Bruce said it was great to see them getting more confidence at state league level, and the influence the likes of Darcy Moloney, Laura Gardiner, Sophie Van De Heuvel and Rene Caris had on the group was profound.

“We came in this year, and we were all about our biggest thing is development and making sure that you know, the girls are better at the end than they were at the start, and we really wanted to enjoy the experience,” Bruce said. “So that’s been a big thing for us. “Yeah, the AFLW girls didn’t get the season that they wanted. “But, you know, when they’ve been in our group, they’ve been absolutely brilliant.”

Geelong picked up ruck Olivia Fuller, and versatile talents Claudia Gunjaca and Annabel Johnson through the compensation pre-draft selections for Fuller and Gunjaca, and with its last selection in the AFL Women’s Draft in Johnson’s case. The trio entered the VFL Women’s finals series as VFLW listed players, and will run out on Grand Final Day as AFLW listed ones. For Gunjaca especially, the moment will be extra special as the acting captain of the Cats in the big match.

“Nothing has changed for them,” Bruce said. “You know, they’re super excited to get on the list and really deserving of that opportunity. All three of them have been brilliant in our group this year. “We’ve been lucky enough since the AFLW season finished to have a good connection with the AFLW team. “The three girls have been great all year and were great on the weekend and we expect the same this week.”

Bruce said the weekend’s hard-fought win over Essendon hard the Cats well placed to take on a Collingwood outfit that would have not played in 29 days since winning their semi-final over the Bombers. While Bruce said it was hard to say whether the extra game, or the extra long rest would be more beneficial, the Cats coach said he was backing in his players – just like opposing coach Chloe McMillan was for the Magpies – to get the job done.

“Yeah, we’re feeling really good,” he said. “We had one training session last Thursday. “It was probably our best session for the year. “Chloe said the same thing, which is fantastic. “And obviously the game against the Bombers on the weekend. It was nice and physical and the girls got a lot out of it. “So now we get an opportunity this week.”

The teams are ranked first and second for defence through the year, which is something that the sides have prided themselves on. Bruce said statistics meant little on game day, especially with both forward lines “dangerous” if given enough time and space. One such player in the Cats forward line is Georgia Clarke, who slotted three goals in the win over the Bombers, but came off with soreness prompting some worries. Bruce clarified she copped a knock to her back but would be right to play this weekend.

Now the challenge for Bruce is being able to turn around the three losses to the Magpies – albeit all tight contests – and make it fourth time lucky on Sunday.

“I think our last game in that very first final we had a really good game,” Bruce said. “We’re really confident that our best football, is very close to Collingwood’s best football and l think it will be a really tight game.”

Magpies coach “confident” despite unusual lead-up to final

IT is a given during most finals series there is often a bye for a team, rewarding them for finishing higher on the ladder and therefore making the path to the grand final a road less travelled. But no one would expect that break to be 29 days. That is the length between games for head coach Chloe McMillan and her Magpies, who are eyeing off back-to-back Victorian Football League (VFL) Women’s flags this Sunday.

The Magpies are a VFL Women’s regular season powerhouse, having now won three consecutive minor premierships. In 2018, Collingwood finished on top, only to bow out with back-to-back losses, including a painful one to Geelong at the very venue they will run out at on Sunday – ETU Stadium. A year later, the Magpies were able to atone for the disappointing finals exit by going all the way, knocking off the Western Bulldogs in the decider.

Fast forward two years – including a write-off in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic – and the Magpies are back at the pinnacle, this time seemingly stronger than ever having not dropped a game during the season. Though McMillan said whilst technically they might be classed as back-to-back premiers should they get up on the weekend, she described it as potentially having an “asterisk” in between given the personnel changes across the competition with the missed year.

“It’s pretty exciting, it’s a bit of an asterisk between sort of back to back,” McMillan said. “I would think just given the time frame in between both, but the group’s worked pretty hard to get to this point. “So we’re just excited for the opportunity as a few haven’t had a crack at it.”

Just a trio of VFL Women’s listed players who tasted success in 2019 are likely to run out in the black and white; new captain Caitlin Bunker, recently drafted Jasmine Ferguson, and Katelyn Lee who all became premiership players. In a unique twist, Alana Porter was a VFL Women’s listed player in 2019, but was drafted to the Magpies at the end of the year, and is now set to win her second flag as an AFL Women’s listed talent.

Key forward Imogen Barnett is one who can relate to Porter, except instead of seasons, it was games. Entering the semi-final against Essendon, Barnett was a VFL Women’s listed player. A month and an AFL Women’s Draft later, and Barnett is on the AFL Women’s list. Both she and Ferguson – who was picked up by North Melbourne – can look forward to stepping up to the next level next season, though McMillan admitted they were focused on the game and play as they have all season.

“(It’s) really exciting and obviously seeing the girls who have worked really hard to get the opportunity to become AFLW players is unreal,” McMillan said. “And that’s sort of part of the reason of the VFL competition, is to develop those players and give those girls opportunities. “So while it’s going to be sad that Jazz (Ferguson) is obviously playing her last game for the Pies on the weekend, we’re super thrilled that she gets the opportunity at North and I can’t wait to see what she can do there. “It’s amazing for the group and it builds a lot of confidence and belief of what we’re doing is the right thing, especially for the whole club.”

The plethora of Magpies who have a chance of winning their first flag on field are not the only ones who could have their name etched into history. McMillan took over the senior coaching reigns from Penny Cula-Reid after the 2019 premiership, and has not dropped a game in her debut season as head coach, a feat that is not lost on her.

“Yeah, it’s been a really good unit that I’ve learned so much about coaching,” McMillan said. “The break obviously wasn’t ideal, it’s something that no one has sort of had any experiencing so we’ve sort of been planning as we go and we’ve been able to build some really good synergy between our group so it’s really exciting now that we actually, you know, have had a season to play and worked really hard to get to where we are now.”

Now just one game stands between the Magpies and history, though the huge variable and question mark is the month-long gap between their semi-final win and the 2021 VFL Women’s Grand Final. Has the preparation been ideal? McMillan admitted it was not, though she said she was confident the team was able to follow through and keep to the standard they had set all year.

“It’s been a good sort of break, we’ve been able to connect as a group really well,” she said. “Obviously it hasn’t been an ideal sort of the preparation leading into the match, but we’ve had training Thursday night and then we had a little bit of a scratch match on Saturday to try and replicate sort of what would have been a similar path to Geelong. “Yeah, we’re feeling pretty confident and we’re really looking forward to it.”

Roberts rises up the ranks with skills, smarts, and composure

SOUTH Adelaide teenager Matty Roberts likens his best traits to that of Western Bulldogs superstar Marcus Bontempelli, and appears set to be among the first handful of midfielders selected in November’s National AFL Draft.

A consistently prolific ball-winner with clean skills and a high work rate, Roberts’ ability to hit the scoreboard has set him apart from those around him in recent years.

“I would say I’m skilful, smart, composed and have the ability to go forward and impact the scoreboard,” Roberts said. “I look at Marcus Bontempelli to model my game off, I’m not as tall as him but I feel we have similar attributes, such as being a left footer, a good ball user and decision maker and being able to impact up forward.”

Roberts, who has boarded at Adelaide’s St. Peter’s College since Year 10 but lives on a farm between Langhorne Creek and Strathalbyn, reinforced his first round credentials by averaging 32 disposals, 7.7 tackles and 1.7 goals in three Under 18 matches earlier in the year.

“I’ve really enjoyed my season so far,” he said. “It was really good to spend the full pre-season with the senior squad at South and then start the season really strongly in the Under 18s and school football at St. Peters.”

He didn’t stay at the Under 18 level for long and bypassed the Reserves entirely en route to making his SANFL league debut in Round 6, where he gathered 14 disposals and kicked a goal alongside fellow gun teenager Jason Horne.

“I loved being able to play up in the seniors,” he said. “It was really good to play alongside the senior boys that I’ve looked up to at South from when I was coming through the ranks, so that was really good experience. I found the speed definitely quicker, but as long as you were clean and made your decisions quickly I found it fine.

“I learnt a lot from Bryce Gibbs and Joel Cross regarding where to run and set up and how to use you body to give yourself the best chance to get the ball and use it well,” said Roberts, who turns 18 on July 31.

Image credit: Nick Hook Photography

While the ascent was steep, it hasn’t been all smooth sailing for the consistent midfielder, who has spent the past two months nursing a syndesmosis injury sustained whilst playing college football.

“I hurt my right ankle in a school game against Rostrevor,” he said. “It got stuck underneath in a tackle and rolled over inwards. But I’ve been back running now for around four weeks and have been doing change of direction (drills) for about three weeks.

“I’ve been trying to build my fitness back up over that time. I was hoping to be back playing this weekend but due to (South Australia’s) lockdown I’m hoping to be back next week, as I need to do a full week of full training before I get back to playing. So that will make it 10 weeks since (sustaining) the injury.”

Roberts is a natural sportsman, who is just as comfortable on the cricket field as he is on the golf course.

“I like to play pretty much all sports but my main get away from footy would be to go out and play golf,” he said. “I’ve had some pretty competitive matches with my dad, brother and mates. But I also enjoy spending time with my girlfriend and mates, going away with family up the river with the boat or heading down to the beach,” he said.

2021 is an important year for Roberts who, like many draft hopefuls, has had to juggle footballing commitments with Year 12 studies.

“Sometimes it gets a bit tricky, especially at the start of the year as I had cricket finishing up and footy getting underway, but I did a Year 12 subject last year so this year I’ve only got four subjects, so I have more free lessons,” he said. “I try to do most of my homework in those free lessons so after school I’m free to focus on footy or the gym. I feel like I’ve managed things pretty well so far this year.”

Along with his obligations to South Adelaide and St. Peters, Roberts also spent a week rubbing shoulders with the AFL Academy squad in April. While the elite Under 19 group was beaten handily in their showcase outing, Roberts says he learned plenty from the overall experience.

“It was really good to spend time with the best players in the country and see what kinds of things the other players do to get themselves ready for games, how they recover and all that kind of stuff,” he said. “The game (against Geelong’s VFL side) was not too bad, but we lost by 130 points which was the biggest loss I’ve been a part of. I learned you just have to be clean, make good decisions, always talk as a team to help each other out and just hit the easy kicks,” said Roberts.

Heading into the second half of the season, with the National Championships approaching, Roberts highlighted South Adelaide teammates Jason Horne and Arlo Draper, Port Adelaide father-son Jase Burgoyne, smooth-moving utility Nasiah Wanganeen and North Adelaide ball magnet Hugh Jackson as the South Australians to watch. He also made mention of potential bolter Isaac Birt, who Roberts said has “worked really hard and has been really consistent” in his role on the wing.

Featured Image: Matthew Roberts gets a kick away during the 2021 SANFL Under 18s season | Credit: Nick Hook Photography

Evolving Evans interested in improving “everything”

2020 GREATER Western Sydney draftee Tarni Evans is a name you may already be familiar with. In 2021, her younger cousin Sally Evans is looking to join her in the top flight come AFLW Draft day, on Tuesday. The 17-year-old Queenslander represented her state this year, while also developing through the Gold Coast SUNS Academy and at QAFLW level.

Akin to her established cousin, Evans has good speed on the outer and moves forward well. With the similarities evident, she says Tarni has been a key source of inspiration along her own journey.

“Watching her journey from where she started to where she is now (has been inspiring),” Evans said. “She played nearly every position, they’ve thrown her around and she’s adapted so well. She had a really great season.

“I would say my speed is a strength as I predominantly play along the wing, and my ground level movement – especially crumbing in the forwardline.”

Evans started out in Australian football five years ago, playing all of her juniors at Coolangatta Tweed before eventually cracking the senior grade. After getting a couple of QAFLW games under her belt for the Blues, she transferred over to Bond University and added a few more outings before season’s end.

While Queensland was beaten handily to the tune of 54 points against Vic Country in its sole Under 19 championships match, Evans could not fault the team for effort. She was also glowing in her review of the SUNS Academy.

“Obviously we didn’t love the outcome that we received, but I think we tried our hardest,” Evans said. “We probably could’ve gone in respecting them a little bit more knowing how good of a team they were, but I think we did our best.

“I love the academy. Our head coach Sam (Iles) is awesome, he’s always wanting the best for us and always trying to give us as many opportunities as possible. All the girls are fantastic.”

Being drafted “for the SUNS or any team” is Evans’ end goal for this year, but she also has her sights on simply improving “everything” in her game. Learning game structure and sharpening her marking skills are top of the list, and would add to the promising arsenal of weapons she hopes to wield at the top level.

Versatile Clifton converts on each line

THERE’S hardly a position Lauren Clifton hasn’t played over the years. The South Australian prospect transitioned from her usual wing role to be utilised down back, and even at full forward between her SANFLW and Under 19 National Championships campaigns.

While she was “quiet” in the early stages of the season, by her own humble estimation, Clifton rode each challenge and enjoyed being able to link up with her Panthers teammates at state level.

“Last year I played a bit more of an on-ball role, on the wing. They’ve moved me around a little bit to the backline this year and still on the wing,” Clifton said. “I’ve been moved into full forward for a couple of games, then against the Allies I played full back.

“(South Adelaide teammates) are probably my closest friends outside of school and footy as well, so it’s good to be away with them.”

At 171cm, the 17-year-old fits the mould of a hybrid type. Clifton’s versatility and outside run are strengths, but she is working on bringing more “aggression” and grunt to her game in contested situations.

“I’m not a very aggressive person, I’m a lover not a fighter,” she said. “I just try and be skilful on the ground or up high… (I’m improving) my aggression, to be more aggressive and work on my tackling because I’m not the strongest build.”

The Willunga junior came through the elite talent pathway in development squads and Port Adelaide’s Next Generation Academy, where she played against Adelaide’s Academy. Current AFLW star Chelsea Randall was among the Crows’ coaching set-up, and is a role model for many of SA’s budding draft prospects.

For Clifton, a Crows supporter, Randall’s versatility and courage are key traits she aspires to implement in her own game. There is plenty of time to work on just that, though the Year 12 student is also juggling her studies and work during the week.

While working towards Randall’s standard, Clifton also has some valuable mentors in her corner. She cited her parents as a “huge support”, as well as the South Adelaide coaches, including Ryan Skouborg who has been alongside her from back in the development squad days.

Draft day (July 27) will have proven a longer wait for Clifton than many others, considering she did not return to the SANFLW fold after Round 8. She is was of many South Australians vying for higher honours, in a talent-stacked pool.

Draper more than the third wheel in promising Panthers trio

THE South Adelaide Panthers boast the most promising junior footballing trio in South Australia in 2021.

Pick one candidate Jason Horne has spent the past couple of seasons matching it with the SANFL’s best at League level and ball-magnet Matthew Roberts appears a strong chance to join him in the first round of the National Draft.

But Arlo Draper has been on the radar of AFL recruiters for as long as Horne and Roberts, with the teenaged Panthers standing out at club and state level since bursting onto the scene as Under 16s.

Hailing from the Willunga Football Club in South Australia’s acclaimed McLaren Vale region, Draper has compiled an impressive resume of his own.

Recruiters and scouts from across the country have high hopes for Draper, whose class, one-on-one strength and considerable upside has seen him also pegged in as a likely first round selection.

“I’m a fairly unique type of player,” Draper said. “I move well and tend to make good decisions and I also have the ability to play anywhere on the ground.

“I think I have some similarities with Connor Rozee in regards to his speed, agility and forward prowess.”

Away from the footy field, Draper describes himself as a “relaxed kind of guy” who loves watching a good movie.

“I like to consider myself somewhat humorous, but that’s debatable I’m sure,” said the on-baller.

Although he has spent the past month sidelined with a high ankle sprain sustained whilst training in June, Draper earned a promotion to the Reserves earlier in the year after proving a class above the Under 18 competition.

“I’ve really enjoyed the season so far, I’ve been playing pretty consistent footy with the Under 18s which has been great,” Draper said.

A consistent ball-winner throughout the year, Draper’s standout game of the season to-date came in South Adelaide’s narrow three-point triumph over Central Districts at Flinders University Stadium, in Round 4 of the SANFL Under 18 competition.

Draper started the game in the centre square, winning his fair share of contested ball and proving a handful at stoppages, before coach Mark Clayton shuffled the magnets and sent him to the goal-square.

He flourished up forward, easily outmuscling his direct opponent and reading the flight of the ball well to take a couple of strong marks in attack, finishing the game with 24 disposals, three goals, four marks (two contested), six clearances and five inside 50s in a match-winning display. It saw him elevated to the Reserves just a couple of weeks later.

“I’ve loved getting a bit of exposure to the senior program,” Draper said. “I’ve found that I transitioned pretty comfortably. I know a fair few of the boys in the ressies so having those connections has helped.

“Some of the seniors guys have been really good with getting me adjusted to the structures and what not. I think I adjusted to the speed and bigger bodies fairly quickly and felt really comfortable in the midfield role I was playing.”

Image Credit: Nick Hook Photography

Draper credits much of the recent success of the South Adelaide junior program to former Panthers Centre of Excellence and current SA pathways coach, Tony Bamford.

“I think the change of culture especially in the junior levels started with Tony Bamford,” Draper said. “Although I never got to play under ‘Bangers’ at South, he’s regarded as the one that got our programs going and then that’s been followed on by Mark Clayton who runs it all now.”

“Mark does more work than anyone and is extremely passionate about the junior footy at South,” added Draper.

Given South Adelaide’s willingness to blood their talented juniors in the club’s league side, Draper has his sights set on a potential senior debut in the later stages of the season.

“I believe I have what it takes to play in the league side,” he said. “The head coach ‘Boofa’ (Jarrad Wright) is really good with communicating with me about where I’m at and what I need to work on and I feel I’m building really well.

“Obviously our league team is pretty strong this year, if I get the call up at some point I’d be really excited and ready to go,” added the teenager.

Although the AFL faces an uphill battle to stage the Under 19 National Championships, Draper looks set to play a pivotal role for South Australia, should the carnival take place.

“If I’m lucky enough to get into the playing team I think I’d see myself running through that midfield/forward type of role, but I can also move down back if there’s a specific role I can play down there on the day,” he said.

Draper is one of the standout prospects in a South Australian team which looks capable of matching it with the highly-fancied Victoria Metro and West Australian sides – at full strength.

“Obviously Jason Horne and Matty Roberts have been doing alright for themselves so far, but I really like how (Sturt’s) Morgan Ferres has been playing this year,” Draper said.

Despite missing out on selection into the AFL Academy, Draper has pieced-together a consistent season for South Adelaide and has demonstrated his ability to dominate games through the middle and up forward. His talent may well spark a bidding war between the top flight’s two South Australian sides, within the first 15 picks.

Featured Image: Arlo Draper fires off a kick | Credit: Nick Hook Photography

Rising Sun Davies learns from the best

NOT everyone gets the chance to talk footy with AFLW stars in between classes at school, but Gold Coast Academy prospect Giselle Davies is taking plenty of learnings out of that exact opportunity. The 18-year-old tall defender attends Southport State High School, where current Suns midfielder Jamie Stanton teaches.

While the two are quite different players, Davies says the mentorship of Stanton has been a valuable peek behind the curtain of what it takes to cut the AFLW grade.

“(Stanton) has been a teacher at my school for a few years now so I’ve definitely looked up to her,” Davies said. “I’m always talking to her about her games on the weekend and how she went. Obviously I watch a lot of her play and even though we don’t really play similar positions it’s good to have a mentor who you can talk to.”

The link is one of Davies’ many ties to the senior-listed Suns, having also come up through Gold Coast’s academy and initially being introduced to Australian football by a certain 2020 draftee.

“I started playing footy a few years ago, my best friend Annise Bradfield got me down to play,” she said. “I was playing heaps of touch football (and) netball, I went to a footy session and it was just a perfect mix of both of those sports. I loved it from there.

“I have loved every single part of playing with the Gold Coast Under 19s Academy. We did heaps of work in the off-season after last year – pre-season training in the heat, gym, running, just loving it.

“I’m really grateful that we have the academy that looks after us so well. There’s all this new talent coming through the pathway, it’s just amazing that they really give you a perspective on what you could have and what you’re working towards.”

Through her work in the pathway and form for Bond University in this year’s QAFLW season, Davies was also selected for Queensland representative honours in 2021. While the Maroons’ Under 19 squad went down by 54 points against Vic Country in their sole carnival outing, Davies took plenty away from what was “the highest level of footy [she’s] ever played.”

“It was probably the best weekend I’ve ever had,” she said. “Just playing with a bunch of girls that you don’t usually play with, people who want to be there and played as hard as they could. Despite the loss, it was such a good game of footy to be a part of and see the different ways that Vic play their game and how I can improve mine. It was really good.”

At 180cm, Davies is aware of her strengths and areas for improvement, with her decision making by foot already sound and her ability to utilise said size on the incline. Clunking more contested marks and having the confidence to take the game on are among the next steps to take, by her own assessment.

She is one of many Queensland talent hoping to end up on an AFLW list in just a few days, with the 2021 draft set to go down on Tuesday, July 27.

Tenacious Tonon shows “massive” development

SO impressive was Brooke Tonon‘s form in 2021, she earned a call-up to the illustrious AFLW Academy. She was fresh off an impressive Under 19 National Championships campaign with South Australia, and en route to SANFLW premiership honours with Glenelg – showcasing a rapid rate of development across both competitions.

The SANFLW team of the year half-back proved more than capable at senior level, flicking a switch once past the white line with a blend of aggression and skill. After debuting last year, Tonon says she has “learned so much” in a variety of roles.

“My game has developed massively since I started playing,” Tonon said. “I’ve learned all positions. I started off forward, played on the wing, and now in defence so it’s been really good.

“I’m really loving half-back right now. I don’t mind the wing and I love playing forward, obviously kicking goals, but it’s a really hard position to play and I feel more naturally suited to the backline.”

The 17-year-old has truly found a home at half-back, a position which suits her strengths, but also allows her to properly assess key areas of improvement.

“I feel like I have the ability to read the play really well,” she said. “I can position myself in spots where I can impact the game and with my execution by foot, I can see where to kick to and hit targets.

“I need to learn when to not attack as much and kind of stay back, or settle myself and be more composed rather than rushing and playing on. It’s just switching between attack and defence as I’m playing half-back.”

Tonon’s game has grown throughout the junior talent pathways too, having been mentored by the likes of AFLW star Chelsea Randall in the Crows Academy, and eventually ending up among South Australia’s Under 19 squad. Having travelled over to Melbourne for the second National Championships leg, Tonon lauded the experience as “awesome”.

“Coming (to Melbourne) and playing against so many more talented girls, the competition’s amazing,” she said. “Then learning off everyone (in the SA team), I’ve never met a more talented group of girls ever. They’re amazing.”

Amazing is right, and competition for spots at the next level will be tough in 2021 for the South Australian crop as Adelaide is the state’s sole AFLW side. Tonon hopes to be one of a predicted four talents drafted in that bunch, but says she will remain optimistic if things pan out differently.

“I really hope to get drafted, but if that doesn’t happen I’d love to keep playing really good SANFLW footy and hopefully make my way up through there,” she said.

The 2021 AFLW National Draft is set to be held on Tuesday, July 27.

Draft hopeful Harmer looks to find “the best of both worlds”

IN the air and on the ground. Intercept marking combined with run-and-carry. That’s the kind of impact Maroochydore prospect Maggie Harmer aims to make across half-back. The versatile talent is in line to become one of the first Brisbane Lions Academy products called out on draft night, and has a pair of senior defenders to look up to.

Come July 27, Kate Lutkins and Nat Grider could go from idols to teammates for Harmer, who is hoping to harness their respective strengths in order to get “the best of both worlds” as a player.

“Kate has such a good intercept mark and Nat has also got that run-and-carry which is really good, so it’s the best of both worlds between them,” Harmer said.

With the long-term goal of simply improving as a player in mind, the 18-year-old recognises her strengths, but also her areas for improvement.

“Across half-back, (my strengths are) reading the play and taking intercept marks when the opposition is looking for those forward 50 entries and trying to cut off those long kicks,” Harmer said.

“I’m more of an (aerial) player, so my ground balls are always something I’ve wanted to work on, just clean pick-ups. Also my one-on-one contests, holding my own up against those bigger girls.”

Harmer has earned a raft of opportunities since being introduced to Australian football in her final years of primary school, culminating in AFLW Academy honours, Under 19 All Australian selection, and the opportunity to represent her state throughout 2021.

Harmer kicks Queensland forward during this year’s National Championships

Above all else, Harmer says the opportunity to test her skills and be challenged by the nation’s best talent provided some valuable tests and lessons.

“I didn’t think it was going to be that much of a flogging (against Vic Country),” she said. “But the score didn’t really represent the contest.

“(AFLW Academy training) is big challenge because it’s another step to what we’re used to at club training and even academy. But I think it really pushes you to be the best player you can be and try to keep up with those older girls that are playing at such a high level.”

In their only National Championships dig for 2021, Queensland’s Under 19s went down to Vic Country by 54 points down in Melbourne, but Harmer was able to showcase some of her best traits with 15 disposals, five marks and five tackles.

Her ability to turn attack into defence with that aforementioned intercept game, as well as positive forward running makes Harmer a productive type. Queensland talent manager Mark Browning also gave a glowing review, boding well not just for draft night, but for her impact on the game in years to come.

“She’s probably the one that excites me the most when she trains,” Browning said. “It hasn’t quite transpired to games yet, but I think she’s got the most natural running out of all of them.”