Category: Gippsland Power

High stakes training: Vic prospects take the field ahead of draft day

VICTORIAN AFL Draft prospects hit the track one last time before draft day, strutting their stuff at Highgate Reserve in a one-off training session on Wednesday. The meet served as a final chance for recruiters to survey the talent available in this year’s pool, just a week out from draft day on December 9.

Players who earned Draft Combine invites in September were split into two major groups, initially separating those from country and metropolitan regions, before being divided even further into small drill groups of five to seven participants. Among those on display were potential number one picks Jamarra Ugle-Hagan and Elijah Hollands, the latter of which participated in a running program amid his recovery from a preseason ACL tear.

Draft Central analyst Ed Pascoe was on hand in Craigieburn to recap all the action and give an insight into how things panned out.

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RECAP:

By: Ed Pascoe

A sense of irony came over me walking into Highgate Reserve, the same ground I last got to watch a lot of these young players back on March 15, right before Covid derailed the Victorian football season. It was a Northern Knights vs. Oakleigh Chargers trial game on that day and the ground was bustling with keen onlookers, many the same faces I would see today and it was great to see the development of some of these players. One of the big matchups in March was Nikolas Cox vs. Jamarra Ugle-Hagan which looked to be a clash we would see if the National Championships went ahead. Fast forward a few months and both players have bulked up, looking as sharp as ever in the lead up to the most important time of their lives.

To start the day it was the Vic Metro based players who were split into four training groups with the following participants:

Group A

Ewan Macpherson
Reef McInnes
Bailey Laurie
Archie Perkins
Will Phillips
Conor Stone

Group B

Cody Brand
Nikolas Cox
Josh Eyre
Liam Kolar
Ollie Lord

Group C

Jake Bowey
Josh Clarke
Connor Downie
Max Holmes
Finlay Macrae
Corey Preston

Group D

Matthew Allison
Lachlan Carrigan
Luke Cleary
Eddie Ford
Liam McMahon
Fraser Rosman

Injured Group

Max Heath
Campbell Edwardes

Vic Country players would later take the field and were split into three main groups:

Group A

Cameron Fleeton
Zach Reid
Josh Treacy
Jamarra Ugle-Hagan
Henry Walsh

Group B

Ryan Angwin
Will Bravo
Jack Ginnivan
Charlie Lazzaro
Zavier Maher
Blake Reid
Harry Sharp

Group C

Dominic Bedendo
Sam Berry
Tanner Bruhn
Clayton Gay
Oliver Henry
Seamus Mitchell
Nick Stevens

Injured Group (Laps)

Elijah Hollands
Charlie Ham
Noah Gribble

There were four main drills conducted after a warm-up; with ground balls, marking, kicking, and handballing the respective focus areas. The ground ball drill involved taking half volleys, running towards the loose ball coming from behind them, taking on the bump bag and finally working in pairs to pick the ball up cleanly under pressure from a teammate.

The marking drill was changed slightly as the day went on but the main focuses were receiving a high ball before getting called to a certain colour cone to run to, turn, and then meet at the drop zone of the ball. Contested marking was the final focus, with two players coming from either the back or front to contest a mark. This drill was certainly the most competitive and one of the drills players had the most fun in, with plenty wanting just ‘one more go’.

The kicking and handballing drills were fairly standard with a three-man weave, and a short to long stationary handball among the handball drills. The kicking drills consisted of kicking to a stationary target often 45 degrees to another player, and finally a drill which involved kicking to a leading player which really separated the better kickers on the day – especially in the notoriously windy conditions at Highgate Reserve.

Overall, it was a great day for the players to get a run while bonding with some former teammates and potentially future teammates. It was also a nice little refresher for scouts and recruiters as well, who got to see how some of these players have progressed both in their football and in their body. It is hard to gauge who would be considered the ‘standouts’ from this training session but most players put in the effort required and it was also good to see some really get involved with coaches and looking for advice in certain drills, showing their commitment to getting the best out of themselves.

In Contention | Outsider AFL Draft prospects to consider: Vic Country

COME the end of a year like no other, there is likely to be a greater amount of hard luck stories and near misses than ever before, especially after the recent cuts to AFL list sizes. But for all that doom and gloom, the 2020 AFL Draft intake is also poised to provide some of the best stories of positivity as elite level hopefuls rise from the adversity this year has put forward.

In Draft Central’s newest series, we take a look at some of the draft prospects who remain in contention to fulfil their draft dreams despite missing out on invites to their respective states’ draft combines. These combine lists are often the best indicators of clubs’ interest in players, with at least four nominations required for those who were not selected in the two national Under -17 showcase games last year. Outsider talent from the Vic Country regions are next to go under the microscope, and there are plenty around the mark despite missing a full year of football.

Below are pocket profiles of some players to watch, which will also feature in our upcoming annual AFL Draft Guide.

>> 2020 AFL Draft Pool
>> AFL Draft Whispers: 2020 Edition
>> Power Rankings: November Update

BENDIGO PIONEERS:

Sam Conforti | Midfielder/Small Forward
15/03/2002 | 174cm/72kg

The diminutive mover quickly established himself as a mainstay in Bendigo’s lineup last year, going on to average 17.3 disposals across 16 games. He played mostly on the wing but was looking to develop as a hard-running, creative small forward.

Aaron Gundry | Ruck
17/02/2001 | 200cm/84kg

A player who could have benefitted greatly from another year in the NAB League system, Gundry is a mobile ruckman who has also enjoyed stints up forward. The 19-year-old’s clean hands and upside are his strengths, but he has some filling out to do.

Jack Tillig | Half-Back
07/03/2002 | 186cm/84kg

Tillig could have been one to surprise this year with a full NAB League season, set to return to the Pioneers after representing GWV while boarding at St Patrick’s Ballarat for school. He is a solid rebounder who also intercepts well at half-back.

DANDENONG STINGRAYS:

Henry Berenger | Key Defender
31/01/2002 | 193cm/86kg

One who contributed a solid bottom-age campaign consisting of 15 games, Berenger showed he was capable of playing a key defensive role. His athletic profile does not jump off the page, but the 18-year-old is a readymade and versatile rebounder.

Blake Kuipers | Key Defender/Ruck
25/07/2001 | 197cm/82kg

A former high-level volleyballer, Kuipers is a player with plenty of upside who featured at last year’s Under 18 National Championships. He is quite raw, but very athletic and can fill key position posts at either end or in the ruck. Was poised for a big 2020.

Deakyn Smith | Outside Midfielder/Forward
22/08/2002 | 179cm/68kg

Part of Melbourne’s Next Generation Academy, Smith is a lightly-framed outside midfielder who can also rotate forward. He has good speed and plenty of raw talent, but is working on adding polish and consistency to his overall game.

Bayleigh Welsh | Midfielder/Forward
19/01/2002 | 180cm/82kg

Dandenong players and staff alike rate Welsh as a talent who was poised to make a real impact in 2020. He averaged a tick under 12 disposals across 14 NAB League games last year and was set for a more permanent midfield role.

GEELONG FALCONS:

Gennaro Bove | Midfielder/Small Forward
14/01/2002 | 177cm/78kg

One of two Geelong Falcons co-captains for 2020, Bove is a clean and agile small midfielder who can also get his hands dirty on the defensive end. His size and smarts bode well for development as a small forward in future.

Darcy Chrigwin | Inside Midfielder
25/07/2001 | 191cm/89kg

Another player who was poised to shift back to his native region in 2020, Chirgwin was also unlucky not to be picked up last year. The 19-year-old has grown to 89kg and would be a readymade choice as far as inside midfielders go.

Jay Dahlhaus | Small Forward
21/05/2001 | 172cm/71kg

Currently plying his trade with Southern Districts in the NTFL, Dahlhaus is an exciting small forward who brings terrific creative energy and defensive pressure to the forward half. Injury curtailed his top-age season last year and he was set to impact as a 19-year-old in 2020.

GIPPSLAND POWER:

Jai Newcombe | Inside Midfielder
02/08/2001 | 184cm/85kg

Was poised to stake his claim as one of 2020’s feel-good stories, having finally made the cut at Gippsland after being overlooked in multiple preseasons. He is an inside bull who proved hard to tackle at this year’s trials and the Power were certainly high on his potential as an over-ager.

GWV REBELS:

Isaac Wareham | Outside Midfielder
24/12/2001 | 186cm/77kg

Another who was unlucky to be overlooked last year, Wareham looked set to put injuries behind him and build on a top-age season which saw him represent Vic Country. He has plenty of development left as a December birth and makes things happen with ball in hand, playing into his overall upside.

MURRAY BUSHRANGERS:

Ethan Baxter | Key Defender
31/01/2002 | 193cm/82kg

A Richmond Next Generation Academy member, Baxter was an Under 16 All Australian in 2018 and had some development left to make in 2020. He is a strong key defender who can hold his own in the back 50, especially in one-on-one and aerial contests.

Kade Chalcraft | Outside Midfielder
28/03/2002 | 182cm/79kg

Chalcraft was touted for some more time on the inside this year having already showed his worth as a creative outlet on the outer. He is an evasive small-medium type who played 16 games as a bottom-ager.

Sam Durham | Balanced Midfielder
09/07/2001 | 185cm/77kg

One of last year’s state combine invitees, Durham missed out on being drafted as a top-ager but garnered interest with his speedy adjustment to the code as a multi-sport athlete. He moves well and has good skills, but would be working on his game sense and consistency.

2020 AFLW Draft review: Melbourne Demons

NOW the AFL Women’s Draft is over, we take a look at each club, who they picked and what they might offer to their team next year. We continue our countdown with Melbourne, a team that made finals for the first time in the Demons’ history last season but have looked to rebuild through the draft.

Melbourne:

#5 – Alyssa Bannan (Northern Knights/Vic Metro)
#15 – Eliza McNamara (Sandringham Dragons/Vic Metro)
#17 – Maggie Caris (GWV Rebels/Vic Country)
#35 – Megan Fitzsimon (Gippsland Power/Vic Country)
#41 – Mietta Kendall (Eastern Ranges/Vic Metro)
#48 – Isabella Simmons (GWV Rebels/Vic Country)

Melbourne’s draft hand was perhaps the most unique of the lost, with no two players the same in terms of their role or style. In some cases there might be some cross-overs in roles or styles, but the uniqueness of the haul makes the Demons a real unique group that can fill some important holes around the field.

Picking up Alyssa Bannan at Pick 5, the Demons get a readymade key forward who can also roam through the midfield. Expect her to start deep and cause all sorts of issues for defenders with her athleticism, overhead marking and goal sense. While many tall forwards are out of the contest after the marking contest, Bannan can also play the role of small forward and create something out of nothing from ground level.

Eliza McNamara is a hard-nut through the middle who can play in multiple positions. Traditionally the pocket rocket is an inside midfielder, but spent time on the outside and even up forward at times to increase her versatility. Possessing terrific athletic capabilities and a fierce attack on the ball, McNamara will be a player Dees fans can’t help but like.

Another midfielder brought into the club is Gippsland Power’s Megan Fitzsimon. The balanced midfielder can also play at half-back or half-forward, but has that elite burst and is able to use the ball well going inside 50. She is so balanced and can win the footy and distribute it by hand or foot out of a stoppage and is taller than McNamara. Clean and precise is a way to describe Fitzsimon.

Also likely to front up onball is Maggie Caris, although the 189cm-odd talent will be tapping it down to her teammates. The standout ruck in the AFL Women’s Draft class, Caris is good around the stoppages with clean hands and a strong work rate. She is developing some areas of her game coming from an elite netball background – that she still competes in – but has some unique traits thanks to her size and skillset.

Caris’ junior teammate in Isabella Simmons is not much smaller at 184cm, but instead she is predominantly a half-forward who can push up onto a wing. She might seem like a key position forward at that size, but her mobility and desire to run in transition makes her a perfect role for further up the ground. She is someone who has one of the highest upsides in the draft with very few players of her height able to move the way she does.

Finally, Eastern Ranges’ Mietta Kendall joined the club with the reliable defender having a consistent 2019 and a really strong start to 2020. She loves the contested one-on-ones, able to win the ball in close and distribute out, and can play an anchor role in defence, or even a shutdown role if required. A no-frills player, Kendall is one who you can guarantee will play her role each and every week.

Melbourne fans should be excited by the players the club has brought in, filling quite a number of holes across the field and setting up the red and blue for the future.

2020 AFLW Draft review: Club-by-club picks

THE dust has settled on the exciting 2020 AFL Women’s Draft. Over the next week we will be delving into each club’s selections and detailing more information about those players who earned places at the elite level. Below we have listed each club’s selections from last night’s draft if you are waking up to check out who your newest stars are.

Adelaide:

#4 – Teah Charlton (South Adelaide/Central Allies)
#45 – Rachelle Martin (West Adelaide)
#47 – Ashleigh Woodland (North Adelaide)

Brisbane:

#8 – Zimmorlei Farquharson (Yeronga South Brisbane/Queensland)
#37 – Indy Tahau (South Adelaide/Central Allies)
#38 – Ruby Svarc (Essendon VFLW)

Carlton:

#12 – Mimi Hill (Oakleigh Chargers/Vic Metro)
#28 – Daisy Walker (Sandringham Dragons/Vic Metro)
#36 – Winnie Laing (Sandringham Dragons/Vic Metro)

Collingwood:

#19 – Tarni Brown (Eastern Ranges/Vic Metro)
#25 – Amelia Velardo (Western Jets/Vic Metro)
#26 – Joanna Lin (Oakleigh Chargers/Vic Metro)
#31 – Abbi Moloney (Sandringham Dragons/Vic Metro)
#33 – Pass

Fremantle:

#14 – Sarah Verrier (Peel Thunder/Western Australia)
#30 – Mikayla Morrison (Swan Districts/Western Australia)
#46 – Tiah Haynes (Subiaco)

Geelong:

#10 – Darcy Moloney (Geelong Falcons/Vic Country)
#20 – Laura Gardiner (Geelong Falcons/Vic Country)
#21 – Olivia Barber (Murray Bushrangers/Vic Country)
#27 – Stephanie Williams (Geelong Falcons/Darwin Buffettes)
#39 – Carly Remmos (Geelong Falcons/Vic Country)

Gold Coast:

#7 – Annise Bradfield (Southport/Queensland)
#23 – Sarah Perkins (Hawthorn VFLW)
#50 – Maddison Levi (Bond University/Queensland)
#54 – Janet Baird (Palmerston Magpies)
#57 – Lucy Single (Bond University)
#58 – Elizabeth Keaney (Southern Saints VFLW)
#60 – Daisy D’Arcy (Hermit Park/Queensland)
#61 – Wallis Randell (Bond University)

GWS GIANTS:

#9 – Tarni Evans (Queanbeyan Tigers/ACT)
#29 – Emily Pease (Belconnen Magpies/Eastern Allies)
#42 – Libby Graham (Manly Warringah Wolves)

Melbourne:

#5 – Alyssa Bannan (Northern Knights/Vic Metro)
#15 – Eliza McNamara (Sandringham Dragons/Vic Metro)
#17 – Maggie Caris (GWV Rebels/Vic Country)
#35 – Megan Fitzsimon (Gippsland Power/Vic Country)
#41 – Mietta Kendall (Eastern Ranges/Vic Metro)
#48 – Isabella Simmons (GWV Rebels/Vic Country)

North Melbourne:

#13 – Bella Eddey (Sandringham Dragons/Vic Metro)
#22 – Alice O’Loughlin (Oakleigh Chargers/Vic Metro)
#44 – Georgia Hammond (Darebin Falcons VFLW)
#49 – Brooke Brown (Launceston)
#55 – Amy Smith (Aberfeldie)

Richmond:

#1 – Ellie McKenzie (Northern Knights/Vic Metro)
#43 – Tessa Lavey (WNBL)
#52 – Luka Lesosky-Hay (Geelong Falcons/Richmond VFLW)

St Kilda:

#6 – Tyanna Smith (Dandenong Stingrays/Vic Country)
#24 – Alice Burke (Sandringham Dragons/Vic Metro)
#34 – Renee Saulitis (GWV Rebels/Vic Country)
#40 – Jacqueline Vogt (Southern Saints VFLW)
#51 – Pass

West Coast:

#3 – Bella Lewis (Claremont/Western Australia)
#18 – Shanae Davison (Swan Districts/WA)
#32 – Julie-Anne Norrish (East Fremantle)
#53 – Andrea Gilmore (Claremont)
#56 – Pass
#59 – Pass

Western Bulldogs:

#2 – Jess Fitzgerald (Northern Knights/Vic Metro)
#11 – Sarah Hartwig (Sandringham Dragons/Vic Metro)
#16 – Isabelle Pritchard (Western Jets/Vic Metro)

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.”

Former soccer star Fitzsimon rises through footy pathway

A JUNIOR star at the world’s game, Megan Fitzsimon is one of a number of talented footballers who crossed into the code after a friend referred her back to the sport in her later teenager years. In just a short time, the Gippsland Power best and fairest winner had quite the impact and played Vic Country at Under 16s level, and earned a place in the 2020 AFL Women’s National Academy.

“I probably started playing football in Auskick and then sort of progressed through to Under 11s in Bairnsdale Junior Football League with the boys,” Fitzsimon said. “I shifted to soccer for a bit. “I played a lot of soccer from Under 11s to Year 9. “Then I shifted back to football because a friend from school was also playing at Gippy Power, so she took me down for a couple of trainings and I’ve been there ever since.”

Fitzsimon noticed the difference upon returning to the code between playing local football and NAB League Girls footy.

“The girls are all better, more skilled and just the standard’s a lot higher,” Fitzsimon said. “You’ve obviously got to lift to compete with that, but that’s probably the biggest difference I’ve noticed.”

Fitzsimon said her strengths are her ability to use either side of her body by foot, making the right decision by hand and her finishing ability. The latter of those, the Power star noted had been a real focus for her and hitting the scoreboard had improved over her time with the club. As for her areas of improvement, Fitzsimon said she wants to improve her contest work in terms of her tackling and her explosiveness out of congestion.

Last year was a good year for Fitzsimon who progressed well to be adjudged Gippsland Power’s best player in the 2019 NAB League Girls season, even if the humble midfielder did not think so.

“I wasn’t really wasn’t expecting it because I didn’t probably have the year I would have liked,” Fitzsimon said. “But it was a great honour.”

A few months later, Fitzsimon ended up hearing from her Female Talent Manager, Chelsea Caple about another achievement – earning a place in the AFL Women’s National Academy.

“Yeah I was very surprised,” Fitzsimon said. “I wasn’t expecting it at all. “I was very surprised, but very grateful for the opportunity.”

Having reached state level with her soccer and represented the Gippsland region on a number of occasions, Fitzsimon was a relative late-comer to the game. She has hardly put a foot wrong over the past few years as she quickly earned a place in the Under 16s Vic Country team.

“It was a great experience to play with very skilful, talented athletes and football players,” Fitzsimon said. That was a great experience and opportunity.”

Fast forward a few years to 2020 and the reigning club best and fairest winner was determined to have a good year. Unfortunately for her and the Power, the season was cut off prematurely, but it has not stopped her looking at making the most out of her time away from the on-field action.

“Obviously we would have liked to play a couple more games but that is what it is,” Fitzsimon said. “I probably had my short-term goals more, just try and improve each game, each training session, trying to get the best out of myself and improve on areas I needed to a bit more. “I want to become a better player, so just those really short term goals are to try and keep me motivated throughout the year.”

“I was a bit disappointed because I feel like I had a lot more to show this year, but I think it’s been a great opportunity to develop more as a player and as a person,” Fitzsimon said. “It’s really helped me to become more flexible with moving in and out of school, but also improving my skills and my running and my strength. “It’s really helped develop my resilience as well, so it hasn’t been too bad.”

As a Richmond fanatic, Fitzsimon was lucky enough to be at the 2019 AFL Grand Final which she describes as her favourite football memory because she could see her team go on and win the flag, live. As for her favourite player, they do not wear yellow and black, but they did use to wear the same colours she did a good 15 years ago.

“I really idolise Scott Pendlebury,” Fitzsimon said. “He’s a Gippy boy obviously, but he’s got great football smarts, he’s a very skilful player and I really admire his attitude and the way he plays the game, he’s really unselfish and a team-first player.”

Now the time has come for the 2020 AFL Women’s Draft, and much like most of the past couple of years, Fitzsimon has not wanted to build up too many expectations, but said if given a chance, she would make the most of it.

“I think it would be quite unreal,” she said. “I wouldn’t be expecting it at all, but it would be a great opportunity. It would be a great honour as well. “I’m really looking forward to the opportunity if it arises.”

Surprised McRae loving footy journey

WHEN she first started football, Grace McRae and her father had to “sneak around” behind her mother’s back in order to play the new sport. Eventually her mother caught on and everyone was on board, and now it is hard to keep it a secret after the Gippsland Power midfielder was invited to the AFL Women’s Draft combine. Whilst the combine will not go ahead due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it showed there was enough interest in the teenager that her father made the right choice.

“My friend, it was a local club in Inverloch and they didn’t have enough players and she was playing with them currently, so I asked my dad because I knew my mum wouldn’t let me play,” McRae said. “So I asked my dad if I could fill in for them and play for them for a few games.”

“So me and my dad, he was sneaking me around to go play footy, then eventually my mum found out and then my local coach said ‘hey do you want to play? You’ve been nominated to go play interleague’ and then I went and played interleague that my local coach was my interleague coach and he said ‘Gippsland Power are looking at you’ and then I got an invite to Gippsland Power.”

Having come from a basketball and netball background, McRae enjoyed juggling the sports up until recently, representing Dalyston in the netball right until the most recently completed season, and basketball up until she started at Gippsland Power. It took some work to manage her time, but McRae got it done.

“Netball would clash on the same weekend as Gippsland Power. My local football club, which was Dalyston,” McRae said. “They, the netball club let me (play football) if I had a football game on the same day because Gippsland Power varies from Saturday to Sunday. So if Gippsland Power was on Saturdays, I just said sorry I couldn’t play that game. I’d give them a lot of time, like a heads up so they could find another player to fill in.”

“But luckily for me, most of the games where on Sunday. “So my local club, I just have to give them a lot of notice of what games would be clashing. “And then, yeah, they were happy for me to go play footy because they know that’s sport. I really, really love.”

As for juggling other commitments such as studies or work, McRae said it was all about time management and sticking to it.

“You have to definitely designate your certain times like you have trainings at certain times for different sports,” McRae said. “So you gotta make sure like I have free’s at school. “I have to make sure I really use them if I need to stay in at lunch time at school. “That’s what I had to do. “I designate, like, after school times that I know I didn’t have training or work and all games, and I’d make sure I sit down and do that.”

Looking back on her journey through the junior elite pathway, McRae said she has loved every moment and would not change a thing.

“The pathway has been amazing,” she said. “I didn’t expect it. “Honestly, I thought I was just going to play local footy. “So to actually go through the ranks of interleague and then Gippsland Power has been awesome. “They clearly show that you can have a pathway as well, like they say you can from Gippsland Power. “You can get nominated or you go play these kind of like the pathways and they are clearly highlighted to players, which is absolutely awesome.”

McRae is a predominant midfielder who showcases clean hands and hard running, but most of all a competitive spirit. In recent times she has been thrown forward and back throughout games to increase her versatility, but the inside midfielder loves being at the coalface of the contest. Still hoping to develop her kicking – after all she has only 10 games at NAB League level – the AFL Women’s Draft hopeful still has a chuckle about the first training session she had with the Power.

“I was holding the football wrong apparently the whole time when I came into Gippsland Power,” McRae said. “So they helped me fix that. “And yeah, my kicking definitely has improved, but I know I can approve it further.”

An honest conversation with Gippsland Power Female Talent Manager Chelsea Caple and senior coach Scott Armour helped lift McRae’s intensity in her draft year as she set her sights on the elite level.

“I wasn’t expecting like, named into the combine or anything, but I had a chat with Scotty and Chelsea at Gippsland Power and they asked me what I wanted to do and I said, ‘I definitely want to give getting drafted a crack’, but I’d mostly just wanted to have fun. “Enjoy it because it, like it, just goes too fast. “So my goal is definitely to get drafted. “But also just to have fun.”

Having reached the national championships for basketball, won a couple of Most Valuable Player (MVP) awards in the sport, as well as a league best and fairest in the Under 17s despite being two years younger in the age group, it would have been easy for McRae to see her potential in those codes. Instead, she looked to another former netballer who has made the transition into Aussie rules as her inspiration.

“I’m going to say Sharni Layton just because she’s been in netball pretty much a whole life,” McRae said. “And then just to do a 360 and go into footy and just like challenging yourself, I think that that really inspired me just because she she wasn’t 100 per cent sure of footy but she just gave it a crack. “And she’s, she’s loving it, and I I feel like that’s what I look towards as well.”

McRae certainly is loving her football and remembers her debut fondly, marking it as her favourite football memory. In scorching heat at Frankston Oval, the Power went down to Oakleigh Chargers by 50 points but McRae went on to have nine touches and lay an equal game-high eight tackles in the process. She went from strength to strength and has loved the journey.

“The playing group at Gippsland Power, through both years have been excellent, and I think that’s what’s really helped me,” McRae said. “(I) really enjoy … that environment of Gippsland Power and the players I was playing with, we got along as well and it was amazing.”

AFLW U18s to Watch: Megan Fitzsimon (Gippsland Power/Vic Country)

IN a new series focusing on the up and coming AFL Women’s Draft hopefuls, we take a look at some names who would be among their respective states’ top draft prospects for the 2020 AFL Women’s Draft. Next under the microscope is Gippsland Power midfielder Megan Fitzsimon who has the versatility to play inside or outside roles, as well as apply defensive pressure and hit the scoreboard.

Megan Fitzsimon (Gippsland Power/Vic Country)

Height: 169cm
Position: Balanced Midfielder
Strengths: Accumulation, tackling, scoreboard impact, versatility, clean

2020 NAB League stats: 2 games | 19.5 disposals | 2.0 marks | 6.0 tackles | 4.0 inside 50s | 1.5 rebounds | 2 goals

2019 NAB League stats: 9 games | 16.8 disposals | 1.4 marks | 4.6 tackles | 2.0 inside 50s | 2.3 rebounds | 2 goals

Midfielders often try and strike a balance between offensive and defensive capabilities, and Megan Fitzsimon is one player who does that quite nicely. Making the jump into the permanent midfield after rolling through the middle and half-back last year, the Gippsland Power talent is one who can just about do it all. She has shown through representing Vic Country at Under 16s level that she can win the ball and use it well on a consistent basis.

One of her best attributes is her competitiveness and defensive pressure, where she laid a massive 4.6 tackles per game across nine matches last season, and started this year in the same vein with 12 tackles in two games. Often players who lay tackles do not always have the same forward half impact, but that could not be further from the truth for Fitzsimon. She is able to win the ball on the inside or outside and get it forward, kicking a couple of goals last season, then booting two goals this year coming from midfield.

Fitzsimon is able to win the ball in close or spread and win it on the outside, and when the Power had such a young midfield, she was able to stand up, particularly in Gippsland’s second game, and really have an influence on the contest. She showed in her bottom-age year she is a player with development left, and the fact she can play off half-back or inside and outside midfielder, she will be able to plug holes in any side.

As a whole, Fitzsimon generally makes the right decisions going forward and is able to put pressure on opposition defences by winning it out of the stoppage and executing by hand or foot into space or inside 50. While she did not get to play a proper season this year, she showed in those couple of games some glimpses of what she can offer.

Shanara Notman – Grasping opportunity through adversity

GIPPSLAND Power prospect Shanara Notman is somewhat of a coach’s dream; versatile, raw, hard-working, and made of leadership material. The 19-year-old narrowly missed out on being drafted last year, and had pegged her 2020 campaign as one which would help garner the experience and game sense required to make the step-up to an AFL Women’s list.

Setbacks have come thick and fast for Notman and her fellow draft hopefuls in a rollercoaster year, but the talented tall has formed a habit of making good on each opportunity to arise across her young footballing career.

She hyperextended her knee five minutes into last year’s NAB League season, but recovered in time to warrant selection in the Vic Country Under 18 squad. It was during the weeklong carnival in Queensland where Notman thrust her name into draft contention, swinging up forward and even through the ruck after cutting her teeth off half-back for Gippsland.

Being overlooked from those dizzying heights would have put many AFLW hopefuls on the back foot, but not Notman.

“Straight after the draft I quickly contacted Chelsea Caple, our talent manager at (Gippsland) Power,” Notman said. “Less than an hour after the draft, my permit for the 2020 season had been approved for Power, so I was going to go in as a 19-year-old. We had an awesome preseason this year and I put in so much effort to get there.”

The effort looked to be paying off, as Notman, with VFLW and representative experience under her belt, returned a couple of outstanding performances at the start of this year’s NAB League competition. But with that season, along with every other league across Victoria written off in due course, Notman found herself facing yet another hurdle.

“We got two games in this year, we had an awesome camp run by our coach, Scotty (Armour)… but since the news about not playing anymore, then hopefully playing later in the year, which obviously got cancelled too, it’s been a bit heartbreaking,” she said.

Notman (left) in action for Vic Country during the 2019 AFLW Under 18 National Championships

Notman is a talented multi-sport athlete, though the art of hurdling has become more of a mental battle in such “chaotic” times.

“To stay motivated, it’s been full of ups and down this year,” she said. “I’ve been fully committed to going to the gym or going for a kick with a few mates who are local and play VFL with us (in line with COVID-19 lockdown regulations of the time). “But it’s an incredibly difficult time, especially because you’ve got to rely on yourself, not your teammates and coaching staff to keep you motivated.”

With lockdown restrictions eased in regional Victoria in mid-September, Notman says she “can’t wait” to get back to some form of normality and group training as soon as possible.

“I find it easier to train with a group of girls than to train by myself, it just keeps you more motivated,” she said. “I’m lucky enough to have one of my best mates, Breanna Pratt, she plays with me at VFL and she lives really close-by so I can go for a kick with her. I’ve got a home gym set up just to keep fit, too.”

“I’m a really social person… I always chat to the Power girls, just helping out the younger ones. “I’m looking forward even in the future to going back down to Power, helping out there and doing whatever I can to help the girls out.”

As the second-eldest member of Gippsland Power’s current squad, Notman has naturally become a leader among the group – despite only featuring in the elite footballing pathway for two years. Having leant on the likes of Daisy Pearce and Gippsland Power graduate, Tyla Hanks during her time at the Casey Demons, the youngster was especially driven to set an example at the start of her over-age NAB League campaign. Earning the vice-captain tag only made it official.

“I was lucky enough to be named the vice-captain of Power this year alongside Grace McRae, who was our captain,” she said. “I was really putting in with that leadership role as I was (one of) the oldest girls on the team – me and Leyla Berry were the over-agers. I was putting in the effort to lead the girls because we’ve got some 15-year-olds and a pretty young group. It was a really exciting time.”

“Girls like Tyla Hanks from the Power, she’s awesome… I trained with the Melbourne girls at the start of the year, with Daisy Pearce and that. They’re great leaders and they help all the NAB League girls come through. They’re just amazing.”

Shanara Notman in action for Gippsland Power. Source: AFL Media

Given Casey’s ties to Melbourne’s AFLW side, Notman has jumped on the Demons’ bandwagon in support of her VFLW teammates, as her beloved Hawthorn does not yet lay claim to a women’s team. But it’s not just players who have mentored Notman throughout her path less travelled by, as the aforementioned Caple, Armour, and former Gippsland Power stalwart, Peter Francis have also played big roles in seeing her through to this point.

“I’m always in contact with Chelsea Caple and Scotty Armour,” she said. “They’re really good mentors for me, they’ve always been there for the last two years and they’ve really encouraged me to be my best… staff like Peter Francis really helped me get into footy, he was a big help at (Gippsland) Power.”

“At Casey I’ve got our assistant coach Troy Hemming, he’s from Warragul so I’m always giving him a call to go for a kick here and there and just catch up.”

As for the ideal path forward, Notman is looking to harness her versatility and play as high a level of football as possible. There lies somewhat of a Plan B as well, as the 19-year-old plies her trade full-time as a support trainee at Drouin Secondary College in the PE and sport and recreation realms.

“The ideal path will obviously be to start playing footy again next year. But my overall goal will be to one day just play footy at the highest level possible and just enjoy footy,” she said.

“I feel like my best position would be running off half-back. Especially at the Power this year, that really benefitted me… (but) it’s really exciting to be versatile and just play wherever the coach wants you to play.”

“If the draft doesn’t go as I hope this year, hopefully VFL actually goes ahead next year and I’ll just keep playing at Casey because I’m really enjoying that.”

At the time of writing, the 2020 AFLW combine testing and All-Stars game in Victoria were cancelled, leaving the October 6 draft as Notman’s next major point of call.

Draft Central All-Star Team matchup: Gippsland Power vs. South Adelaide

OUR next All-Star Team battle is one between a Victorian region in Gippsland, and a South Australian club in South Adelaide. The two captains voted in by the public as the All-Star Players of the AFL Draft era were Scott Pendlebury (Gippsland Power) and Simon Goodwin (South Adelaide).

TEAMS:

These clubs are seeded 14th (Gippsland Power) and 19th (South Adelaide) respectively, forming another Round of 32 clash in our second half of the draw. The winner will qualify for the Round of 16 stage, set to face the victor of our Port Adelaide Magpies vs. Peel Thunder tie.

STRENGTHS:

The midfield is undoubtedly South Adelaide’s strongest line, boasting over 650 games of AFL experience through the centreline and a star quartet at the centre bounces. Captain Goodwin is at the heart of it all, alongside fellow Adelaide Crows champion Mark Bickley, Ryan Griffen, and ruckman Brendon Lade. A couple of small defenders also complement Nigel Smart down back, in Michael Doughty and current Western Bulldogs gun, Caleb Daniel.

Gippsland’s midfield is also quite talent rich, with its skipper in Pendlebury also on-ball, joined by Collingwood premiership teammate Dale Thomas and Essendon captain Dyson Heppell. The star trio even pushed Brendon Goddard out onto the wing, alongside Richmond fan favourite Greg Tivendale. The Power’s proposed forwardline is also handy, laying claim to another current AFL captain in Sam Docherty, who would provide great rebound with the likes of Robert Murphy, Jason Gram, and David Wojcinski.

WEAKNESSES:

Mark Stevens is a slightly undersized choice at centre half-forward for the Power, although the height of Leigh Brown and marking power of Tim Membrey should make up for it alongside Jarryd Roughead. The team doesn’t particularly hold any glaring weaknesses otherwise, which is why it’s so solid.

Conversely, South Adelaide’s squad perhaps lacks the bench depth of Gippsland’s. Jason Torney is also undersized at full back, while the forward six lacks a bit despite the presence of Luke Darcy and Alwyn Davey.

SUMMARY:

For its wealth of pure depth and class across the board, we have Gippsland getting up in this clash. The midfield battle would be interesting, but the Power simply boasts greater firepower up either end of the ground and on the bench.

Which All-Star Team are you picking?
South Adelaide
Gippsland Power