Category: Northern Knights

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 Metro

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 Metro regions is next to go under the microscope, and there are plenty of prospects 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

CALDER CANNONS:

Jackson Cardillo | Midfielder/Forward
03/07/2002 | 186cm/78kg

One of the more unlucky players to miss out on a draft combine invite this year, Cardillo has plenty of traits which should appeal to recruiters. With explosive speed, great agility and a penetrating kick, the Calder midfielder showed a good amount of promise across 18 NAB League outings as a bottom-ager.

EASTERN RANGES:

Jack Diedrich | Ruck/Forward
17/09/2002 | 199cm/88kg

A developing ruck/key forward, Diedrich was included in this year’s Vic Metro academy hub on the back of just three NAB League appearances in 2019. The raw 199cm tall has some strength to build and production to lift, but has nice upside as he fares well both in the air and at ground level.

NORTHERN KNIGHTS:

Liam Delahunty | Tall Utility
13/02/2001 | 190cm/90kg

One of the 19-year-olds in contention, Delahunty was set to make the move to Victoria this year to suit up for Northern in the NAB League and North Melbourne in the VFL. He instead turned out again for GWS in the Academy Series, showcasing his athleticism and versatility as a tall defender who can also swing forward.

Lachlan Gawel | Forward/Midfielder
13/08/2001 | 187cm/79kg

Another who missed out last year and was set to switch to Northern, Gawel has the kind of upside recruiters like despite only having a small sample size to show. He has exciting athletic attributes and can make things happen on the ball both up forward and potentially from midfield in future.

Josh Watson | Midfielder
21/10/2002 | 182cm/82kg

A likely type who showed his wares in the back-end of last year’s NAB League season, Watson could have been one to really come on in 2020. He has shown his capacity to find a good amount of ball and get it moving forward with his booming left boot. Having played on the outer, he can also move to the inside of midfield.

OAKLEIGH CHARGERS:

Fraser Elliot | Inside Midfielder
05/07/2002 | 188cm/88kg

While he was squeezed out at the pointy end of the season, Elliot proved an important part of Oakleigh’s premiership midfield with his ability to extract and compete at the coalface. He is a big-bodied type who was forced to adapt in other roles at times, but would have been looking forward to permanent midfield minutes in 2020.

Lochlan Jenkins | Midfielder
23/02/2002 | 178cm/79kg

Another key midfield cog in Oakleigh’s stacked 2019 premiership side, Jenkins is a smaller type who finds plenty of the ball and goes about his business with intent. Along with Elliot, he shone in the absence of Oakleigh’s stars during the mid-part of the season and ended up registering 18 impressive games.

Sam Tucker | Key Defender/Forward
07/01/2002 | 197cm/87kg

A swingman of sorts, Tucker is one who was poised to make a big impact in 2020 with a full NAB League season. He is a solid marker of the ball who can impact at either end of the ground, but looked to be settling nicely into a key defensive role. He is already a nice size for it, too.

SANDRINGHAM DRAGONS:

Felix Flockart | Ruck/Tall Utility
05/11/2001 | 200cm/79kg

Another 19-year-old prospect, but one who has not gained a massive amount of elite-level exposure. After impressing for Brighton Grammar in last year’s APS season, Flockhart was set to join Sandringham’s NAB League and VFL programs, hoping to continue his steep rate of development as a lean and versatile tall with great upside.

Darby Hipwell | Inside Midfielder
15/08/2002 | 181cm/80kg

Having very narrowly missed the cut for this year’s AFL Academy intake, Hipwell took it in his stride and looked to prove his doubters wrong in 2020. Drawing inspiration from past teammates, the inside midfielder has worked hard on improving his outside game to better complement his contested ball winning ability.

Oscar Lewis | Outside Midfielder
13/08/2001 | 192cm/75kg

A bolter from last year’s crop who was set to go around once again, Lewis is a raw type with good potential. At 192cm, he is a prototypical athlete with strong running ability on the outside, whether that be carving off half-back or the wing. He would have looked to improve his production and contested work.

Charlie McKay | Midfielder/Defender
09/08/2002 | 186cm/80kg

McKay loomed as one to watch for Carlton fans in 2020 given his ties to the club as the son of 244-game Blues champion, Andrew. He remains father-son eligible and has some nice traits, including hardness at the ball and his ability to play both through midfield or in defence. Could come into greater contention with a full year in 2021.

WESTERN JETS:

Lucas Failli | Midfielder/Small Forward
14/09/2002 | 170cm/73kg

Failli may be small, but packs a punch as a zippy ball winner who can also impact up forward. His size, smarts and agility bode for more time in attack should he get to the next level, with his defensive work-rate also suitable for that small forward role.

Cody Raak | Tall Defender
08/11/2002 | 191cm/77kg

Another Next Generation Academy (NGA) prospect tied to the Western Bulldogs this year, Raak is a developing defender who reads the play well and shows sound composure on the ball. He may be building up to key position size and would prove a handy developmental type for the Bulldogs’ Category B rookie list.

2020 AFLW Draft review: Western Bulldogs

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 Western Bulldogs, a team that has an abundance of youth, and whilst they did not make finals in 2020, gave plenty of indication that they will be a team to watch in 2021 and beyond.

Western Bulldogs:

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

Western Bulldogs took three picks into the AFL Women’s Draft and managed to pluck out three elite talents in 2020, all of whom are top 10 players on value. They again continued their trend of Vic Metro talents who played under Bulldogs’ coach Nathan Burke last year, as he looks to build that familiarity around his line-up and one that will be a successful unit in the future.

Taken with Pick 2 was Northern Knights’ co-captain Jess Fitzgerald who became the second Knight of three to go in the first three Victorian picks. The skilful ball user can win the ball inside or outside and is a big-game performer having been named best on ground in the Knights’ premiership last year. Another natural leader joining the Dogs, she follows her 2019 Knights captain in Gabby Newton at the Dogs.

Coming in at Pick 11 is the best defender in the AFL Draft crop in Sarah Hartwig. A natural interceptor and great above her head, Hartwig offers terrific value at the pick and one who will slot straight into the lineup. Her clean ball use and reading of the play makes her a great player to slot in at half-back, but also know when to push up to the wing if required. She played in defence for Vic Metro in the championships, and will be hard to beat in the air or at ground level with he willingness to take off when given the opportunity.

Another Vic Metro defender who has joined the Dogs is Isabelle Pritchard. The Western Jets defender turned midfielder is a Bulldogs supporter and lived out her dream by being picked up at Pick 16. She moved into the midfield this year and starred in the couple of games she played, performing strongly at the contest and showcasing her versatility. Another player who is top 10 on talent, she is a great steal by the Dogs and one who will be a good player for a long time in the red, white and blue.

Overall the Dogs have added even more elite young talent to their line-up and will be hard to stop when they all get to their peak.

Picture: Western Bulldogs Women’s Twitter

2020 AFLW Draft review: Richmond Tigers

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 Richmond, a side that struggled in its debut season, going winless and chose to bring in more experience to bolster its stocks in 2021.

Richmond:

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

Boasting the top selection in the AFL Women’s Draft before a couple of later picks, Richmond had plenty of time to prepare for the draft. They ended up bringing in the standout choice of the 2020 season with Pick 1, before plucking a basketballer out of obscurity, and an over-ager talent who missed out on selection last year.

With Pick 1, there was not much doubt who the Tigers were going to select, picking up Northern Knights’ Ellie McKenzie. The second consecutive Northern Knights’ player at the selection after Gabby Newton last year. McKenzie is a readymade talent who will instantly step up and be one of the better players in the AFL Women’s competition. McKenzie has shades of Madison Prespakis in terms of her preparedness to tackle the league, but is taller and more athletic which makes her such a damaging prospect. She will play from Round 1 and be a crucial cog in the Tigers’ midfield or she can go forward and beat her opponents one-on-one there.

The second pick was completely out of the blue when the Tigers selected WNBL basketballer, Tessa Lavey. The Bendigo Spirit player will miss a portion of the preseason due to the Queensland hub for the WNBL 2020/21 season, but the condensed season has meant she will be fully available for the AFL Women’s one. A national representative, Lavey is raw potential and will be one to watch to see how she performs but no doubt will be fully utilised for her power and athleticism.

Finally the Tigers picked up Luka Lesosky-Hay, an overager who was a member of the premiership-winning Geelong Falcons outfit in 2018 and then again in the finals side last year. She was due to represent Richmond VFL Women’s this year after a stint with Geelong VFL Women’s, but the season was cut short. A hardworking midfielder who can win the ball on the inside then find space on the outside, she earns her chance after missing out last year.

Richmond had the most and least surprising picks of the draft with their first two selections, and have now brought in some athletes with power and strength to help try and turn the Tigers’ team around.

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)

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.

Capable Chaplin knows believing is achieving

HER coaches know it, her teammates know it, anyone who has observed her journey through the NAB League pathway knows it, but only now is Maeve Chaplin realising that she truly belongs among the best women’s football has to offer.

The Northern Knights defender has come a long way since starting football at age seven; originally playing alongside boys, then moving to girl’s sides at West Preston Lakeside and the Darebin Falcons, while also advancing through Northern’s elite talent program.

As a middle-ager, Chaplin was part of the Knights’ undefeated premiership team, shining across half-back with her mix of physicality and class on the ball. An injury in Round 3 of her top-age campaign was unideal, though it would matter little in the grand scheme of things as the season would eventually be scrapped amid a global pandemic.

By her own estimation, Chaplin was “travelling pretty well” and was as fit as she had ever been. She was in the midst of a move into the midfield, joining co-captains Ellie McKenzie and Jess Fitzgerald at the centre bounces and waxing well with the probable first-round draft talents.

While the 18-year-old and her teammates may have had plenty more to give in 2020, Chaplin says the break in play has allowed her to work on the mental side of her game.

“I definitely tried to use (the lockdown period) to my advantage and I really worked on myself mentally,” Chaplin said. “It was a big thing for me because I didn’t really have the time like I do now to just focus on myself. “It was a time for me to understand that I really do want to get far in footy and that I am prepared to play at a professional level. “In order to do that I really wanted to mature in those areas.

“I just wish I did believe in myself… but it’s something that I really want to work on and I have been working on throughout this isolation period. Just knowing mentally that I am good enough and I can get to that next level, it’s just all about pushing myself.”

The friendship of a Knight-turned-Bulldog who has also been part of the Darebin football family, Nell Morris-Dalton has helped Chaplin thrive. Chaplin says she has remained in constant contact with her former teammate throughout the lockdown period.

“A big (mentor) for me has definitely been Nell,” she said. She’s really helped, inspired, and guided me a lot throughout the season because we’ve got the same personality in a way. “I’ve been texting her quite a bit during isolation so she’s a really good friend.

“It’s pretty amazing to play with (the Northern Knights), they’re all so talented. “You really grow off each other and challenge each other, so it helps everyone get better at the end of the day. “Playing with them, you don’t really think about how good they are, they’re just more your friends.”

Maeve Chaplin moves through traffic

Northern’s cohesive team and a family-like atmosphere has certainly played a part in Chaplin’s rise. The aforementioned midfield move was one bought on by coach Marcus Abney-Hastings and talent manager Nat Grindal, allowing Chaplin to bring her defensive nous to a rather potent midfield group.

She says the move was somewhat of a natural progression from the defensive post she owned throughout 2019, though she still harbours hope of returning to half-back in future.

“It was kind of expected,” she said. “Nat and Marcus let me know that they were going to put me up into the midfield and get me a bit more of the ball which was good to have.

“I definitely brought some of my defensive traits into the midfield, using my bodywork, so that was a bonus. “I felt like in doing that, I helped Ellie and Jess play their best footy as well. “It was definitely a good move up the ground, it was fun.

“I would prefer to play on the half-back flank (at AFLW level) but playing in the midfield does come naturally to me just as much as the backline. “But I’ll obviously put my best effort in playing there and it’d be a really good opportunity.”

The versatile prospect, who models her game on Richmond defender Phoebe Monahan, has not only improved herself off-field, but has reaffirmed some of the improvements to be made through contact with AFLW clubs. While “feeding off” their directive, Chaplin has also put the onus back on the recruiters and coaches during their meetings.

“They have given me some things that I need to work on, or they’ve mentioned them and I’ve fed off them a little bit,” she said. “But I’ve been more self-directing, I’ve just told them what I feel like I need to work on and ask them how they’re going to support me and all that kind of stuff.”

“Obviously there’s a few things (to improve on). My aerobic endurance I definitely want to work on, I want to be the fittest that I can be because that was definitely me at the start of the year. “With the right support staff I can definitely get to that level again and even better than that.

“A few other things that I really want to work on are just my mentality, that’s a big thing for me. Just knowing that I am at that level physically to play, and getting myself there mentally as well.”

Outside of football, Chaplin is working through her Year 12 studies and hopes to move into either nursing or paramedicine next year. She sought to thank all the people at the Northern Knights for all the support and life lessons she has received from them, as well as her teammates Fitzgerald, McKenzie, Alyssa Bannan, Ash Snow, and Abigail Bennett.

“They’re all just really good teammates, I really love them.”

Sports mad McKenzie hoping to hit the ground running

SINCE bursting onto the scene with bags of goals as a bottom-ager in an impressive Northern Knights side, Ellie McKenzie has been touted as one of the leading AFL Women’s Draft prospects of her year.

Back then, in 2018, her performances were also tied to that of her older brother, Tom who spent a year on North Melbourne’s rookie list. The two would often run out on Preston City Oval within the same afternoon, donning the navy, black, and white in the formerly-branded TAC Cup competition. Their love of footy was moulded by a family “crazy about sport”, and McKenzie says her football has always been her “main passion.”

“I grew up being a pretty sporty kid,” McKenzie said. “My family loves sport so I grew up playing not just footy, but (also) cricket, I did some athletics as well, swimming, and gymnastics – just all over the shop really.

“Footy was always the main passion though. My brother Tom went straight to Auskick when he was about five and I looked up to him, I still do obviously. “I went along to Auskick as well, thought I’d give it a go and fell in love with footy from there.”

The potential number one pick started out in the Fitzroy Junior Football Club’s Under 10 boy’s team at just eight years of age, before moving into a girl’s team at 13, and eventually entering the elite talent pathway through Northern’s region. McKenzie says the experience of playing alongside boys has helped develop an edge in her skills, something which sets her apart to this day – along with a “peak” fitness level.

“I think the main thing that sets me apart is my kicking ability,” she said. “Obviously I’ve been playing for a long time and playing with the boys definitely helps that kind of skill. “I’ve been working really hard on my right foot too, I think that’s something that you don’t see much in AFL Men’s, let alone AFLW being able to kick on both feet. “If I keep improving that, I think that’s something that can get to an elite level as well.

“I think this was the first preseason that I’d been at the Knights where I didn’t have an injury. “I had gone through the whole preseason uninjured, I’d been training really hard, and I think that I’d gotten my fitness to a level that I’d never seen before, it was my peak level.”

While high flies and goals in bunches helped McKenzie gain early traction, she has since developed into quite the midfielder on the back of that fitness base. Clean hands, athleticism, speed, and penetration all also work to make up a well-rounded style, as the 17-year old looks to borrow the best traits from some of the game’s elites.

“I definitely mould my game on a few people,” she said. “Through the forwardline I’d probably say Katie Brennan. She’s just an elite kick, her leading patterns down forward are great, and her marking ability is something I try to emulate myself. “From the men’s I’d say Marcus Bontempelli. Just his ability to burst out of a pack and have such power and strength is something I also aspire to. “And Steele Sidebottom, his kicking ability on both feet is something I look up to and try to achieve myself.

“I like to say that I’m a pretty versatile player, that I can be thrown in almost all positions. “Half-forward has always been a spot where I feel comfortable at, where I can run up the ground and I think obviously the midfield this year I played well in as well. “I guess it’s up to the club that I get picked at.”

Speaking of, McKenzie has nominated the Vic Metro zone as her region of choice for the upcoming draft, allowing her to remain at home. The Hawthorn supporter says she has peaked at the draft order, but “just want(s) to get drafted” and make an immediate impact at the elite level.

“I definitely hope to be picked for the Round 1 game, that’s my aim,” she said. “I don’t think I’m looking to just ease myself in, I really want to hit the ground running and get straight into the team and impact it as well.

“Being able to play alongside people like Gabby Newton, Sarah (Sansonetti), Nell (Morris-Dalton) and Brit (Gutknecht), they’ve all been massive role models for me and I’ve really enjoyed playing alongside them. “I know that I can match the pace of AFLW because I’ve matched it with them, so it’s given me a bit of confidence there, and I guess the success that we’ve had was due to (having) such a strong connection.”

That connection continued into 2020, in a team which McKenzie led alongside good mate, Jess Fitzgerald. After an undefeated premiership season, the Knights co-captain says her side was on track for more finals success, while also putting her outstanding performances down to a mental “reset” after Round 1.

“I was happy with my first three games,” she said. “I think after the (Round 1) Calder Cannons game I had a really high expectation of what I wanted to get out of the game, so I had to kind of reset my mindset. “After that I was really happy with my Geelong Falcons game and my Dandenong game. I thought that I played well for the team and I showcased my skills at the same time. “I was happy with it and I know that the team were happy with the performances overall, obviously getting three out of three wins is something that you really want. “We were definitely on track to be in the Grand Final again this year and maybe even a premiership.”

Much of the Knights’ success has been put down by many, including McKenzie, to a culture of “family”. As much is clearly evident in McKenzie’s glowing reviews of fellow draft hopefuls Fitzgerald and Maeve Chaplin.

“They’re two of my best mates down at the Knights,” she said. “Jess (is) amazing, she’s really funny… but Jess is I think the most hard-working person I’ve ever met. “She’s so determined, she’s always there to pick up her teammates when they’re down, and I know for me she’s always been that positive kind of person on my shoulder, just making sure that I’m in a good headspace.

“Maeve, obviously she’s really charismatic and everyone loves her down at the Knights. “But I think something that a lot of clubs and a lot of people don’t see is that she’s really able to flip the switch and be serious when it comes to a game.”

The pair were among plenty of people McKenzie sought to thank.

“I’d love to thank my family, they’ve always been there for me over the last 10 years I’ve been playing footy,” she said. “They’ve always supported me and not really looked at me as a girl playing footy, but just a person playing footy, an individual.

Nat (Grindal), Marcus (Abney-Hastings) and all the coaches down at the Knights, they’ve been amazing for me and the club. I’m so happy we were able to achieve such success there.

“Everyone at my school has always supported me as well, and all my coaches throughout my junior career have been a massive help.”

The nervous wait until the first name in the 2020 AFL Women’s draft is called out comes to an end on October 6, with McKenzie right among the frontrunners to land at Richmond with pick one.

Knights star Bannan leaves it all out on the field

BUDDING AFL Women’s draftee Alyssa Bannan came into her top-age year looking to “put everything out onto the field with every game.” Little did she, or any of her fellow NAB Leaguers know that their season would be cut short to just three games, but an increase in work-rate, work ethic, and intensity certainly payed off for the Northern Knights key forward.

“I was actually very proud of how I went,” Bannan said. “Knowing that this was my last year as a top-ager and it was my opportunity to get drafted, I went out thinking that I had to play my best game, every single game. “How I felt coming off the field definitely made me think that I did myself proud, did my family proud, and did my friends proud with how I played.”

Nine goals in three outings, including a bag of five in the season-opening Grand Final rematch goes a long way to instilling such pride. It even saw Bannan shift her original end goal of being drafted, to being selected within the first round. But more significantly than simply being a great player on-field, the 18-year-old is determined to prove her worth as a quality person, off it.

“It’s definitely not so much about being a good player on the field, but also being a good person off the field,” she said. “I’ve found that clubs have been very big on not only being a very skilful player, but being kind, being caring, being motivated, and that’s what has been the focus throughout the year.”

Alyssa Bannan gets a kick away during this year’s NAB League season

The break from football has somewhat proven a blessing in disguise. While Bannan admits the early unknown was “difficult”, she says the time off has allowed her to find a greater balance in life.

“At the start it was definitely very difficult not knowing if we were going to be able to finish off our season,” she said. “But I think having this break has allowed me to develop individually on aspects of my game that I wouldn’t normally focus on, such as my mental heath with wellness sessions and being able to (practice) mindfulness. “Although it has been disappointing not being able to finish, I’ve definitely been able to work on those different aspects of my life to balance it out.”

Having played a key part in Northern’s unbeaten NAB League premiership last year, Bannan has risen through the ranks alongside some of the greatest players the competition has seen. Namely, 2019 captain and current Western Bulldogs rising star Gabby Newton has had a major impact on the Knights’ no. 6, helping establish a healthy and competitive environment to improve in.

In line with the standard such players set, Bannan says she also sought to become a leading figure in her side’s setup.

“Having played alongside Gabby Newton and personally getting to know her, her qualities and attitudes as a player have definitely been something that I look up to,” she said. “Her teamwork, her (desire) to do really well and continue to improve are definitely qualities that really strike home to me as ones I want to present.”

“The new role as a top-ager really made me want to lead and present myself as someone who people can look up to and can think ‘She’s a really good player, I want to aspire to be like her.’ That’s been my overall goal throughout, especially this season.”

The Northern Knights celebrate their 2019 NAB League premiership

Bannan, a Carlton supporter also looks up to AFL Women’s trailblazer Tayla Harris. If a player comparison is what you are after, an easy link can be made between the two high-flying forwards.

“Tayla Harris is a big player who I wanted to model my game style on,” Bannan said. “Playing in similar positions, having a similar style of play, she’s definitely been a player that I really look up to and who I would like to emulate when I hopefully get to play AFLW.”

Football has also impacted the youngster in terms of her other potential career options, too. As she completes her Year 12 studies, Bannan has one eye on a vocation in the sporting realm, helping athletes get the best out of their game. It is a theme she says her football career has helped bring out.

“Sport is definitely on the list,” she said. “I’d love to do anything to do with strength and conditioning, high performance, even if it’s performance analysis. “Just improving players and their performance, because that’ll definitely help me see how to improve my performance as well. I think footy’s definitely brought that side out in me.”

With her first round draft dream in tow, Bannan is seeking to hit the ground running once her shot at the big-time is sealed, out to prove not only to herself and clubs, but to fans that she is “on the field for a reason.” The Northern Knights graduate also sought to thank the “long list of people” to have influenced her footballing journey; from her supportive family, to her coaches, teammates, staff, and everyone in between who helped her get to where she is.