Category: Queensland

Late boomer Ahwang making the most of her switch to Australian rules

COMING from a touch footy and track and field background, Tiarna Ahwang has well and truly found her feet within the Australian rules football system. Despite being a latecomer to footy, Ahwang has not taken a backwards step capitalising on every opportunity that has come her way.

“I didn’t start off with AFL, I started off with track and field,” Ahwang said. “So when I was young I was always in the jumps but I did all the events because I loved sport. Then when I got to like year seven and high school it was more touch footy and then in 2014 AFL.”

Inspired by a close friend, Ahwang was introduced to Australian rules football and decided to give the sport a shot despite her father playing it when he was younger.

“One of my good mates that is older, she has kids and stuff I went and watched one of her partners games and I was like ‘this is a cool game, do women play?’ Then I went and saw her game and it was really good and she got me into that and then I started representing all the NQ (North Queensland) and started making Peninsula and Queensland,” she said.

Overawed by the endless opportunities footy had to offer, Ahwang decided to dedicate her time to perfecting her craft and focus more solely on her footy hopes.

“Then I was like this sport is really good it’s taking me somewhere, whereas the other sports it takes a while to get there,” she said. “So then I kind of stopped doing all the other trainings and started to focus more on AFL and just left touch footy,” she said. “I’m focused more on footy and trying to get drafted by the end of the year.”

There are plenty of similarities that can be drawn between touch footy, track and field and footy given the free running and tackling nature making the transition between the sports relatively easier for the developing footballer.

“Track and field I love my running that’s one wing position because I love to run,” Ahwang said. “With touch footy all you do is step and like it’s a fast play. Whereas AFL there’s a lot of kicking, there’s more space, there’s more running to do.”

Before meeting former Brisbane Lions and now Richmond full-forward Sabrina Frederick-Traub, Ahwang did not have an AFL Women’s inspiration or know a lot about the football pathways available.

“She came to the North Queensland and showed us some stuff and showed us all the different pathways and stuff I can go to, because I’m indigenous I can take two pathways,” Ahwang said. “So I took the indigenous pathway as Queensland and also the other one so everyone else can do it which is really good.”

With a new inspiration on the field, Ahwang attributes a lot of her drive and support to her parents in particular her father who encouraged her to pursue her dreams while also crediting her coaches and staff at North Queensland for her progress.

“Mainly just my parents and all the NQ people, I still miss all my coaches up there that actually got me to where I am today at the Gold Coast,” she said. “If it wasn’t for my parents I wouldn’t be where I was today. It’s mainly my dad because he played AFL when he was like 13 years old and then he switched to rugby. “He [dad] just wants me to focus on footy and try and get drafted end of year and if that doesn’t happen still continue and wait for the next year and just progress on my footy.”

The 18-year-old has almost started a new trend in her family with fellow family members bucking the trend and picking up the footy instead of a rugby ball.

“So it’s a bit funny no one in my family, all my mums brothers they don’t play AFL – no one does,” Ahwang said. “But now I’ve seen since I’ve moved, I moved six months [ago] from Cairns to the Gold Coast I see my little cousins play AFL. “I’m like wow someone’s actually playing AFL in my family besides my dad when he was young.”

She made the difficult move down south from Cairns to Gold Coast leaving her family and life to pursue her footy dreams but the confident 18-year-old is happy she took the leap of faith.

“Like ever since I’ve moved there’s been way more training and like more intensity and I enjoy it more because there’s more people at my level,” Ahwang said. “In the NQ there’s not much like opportunities there. “As soon as I finished school there, one of my good coaches Jason Torney got me moving here and then once I got into everything it was just so enjoyable. “Like I didn’t want to go back home but then my parents were like you’ve got to come back home soon, like we miss you, we need you back. “It’s so good here I love it.”

Ahwang has a wealth of talents and uses her various sporting backgrounds as a backbone in her footy to have an impact across the field.

“So my strengths as a wing player, I like to run,” she said. “But in nice weather like someone will kick out wide and I’ll just run to the footy and just take it on and get it going. “My height, because I’m pretty tall as an 18-year-old when someone kicks the ball I like to jump on top of people and I just love it.”

She still has plenty of development left in her with the youngster highlighting her endurance and inability to adapt to the weather conditions as a couple of areas she wants to work on in hope to get drafted in the near future.

“I’m from the north so it’s mainly sunny but now coming here there is rain so I kind of have to adjust to that,” Ahwang said. “But other than that it’s mainly just work rate, like I’m pretty fit but you have to be really fit.”

All-Australian junior White returns to draft radar

TARNI White is a player who at the age of 16-years-old was identified as one of the nation’s top talents. In 2017, she was named in the All-Australian side after a terrific carnival for Queensland. To give an indication of how rare her achievement was, Geelong Falcons and Vic Country star Lucy McEvoy was the only other player to be named in the side as a 16-year-old – and now McEvoy is a candidate for the first pick in the AFL Women’s Draft. Aside from the pair yet to be drafted, all bar three players in 22-player team have made the AFL Women’s competition.

“I’ve been playing football since I was nine years old,” White said. “I’ve played with the boys for probably for over 100 games, then I transitioned into girls football under 15s, went through the ranks to Under 17s, through to QAFLW when I was 16, and now I’m finding my way through the Queensland team.”

But if anyone thought the journey was going to be easy, then think again. With a disastrous 12-month Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) injury ruling White out of the game during her bottom-age year. But, like any seasoned athlete and mature person, White was able to make the most of her year out of the game, building on her leadership.

“Going from the boys and I’ve played in the backline and I learnt really how to play it in a different way,” White said. “Boys is a different type of game to girls, I really had a really easy run through there, but now transitioning to the girls, I’ve developed the leadership just because it’s easy to go. “I’ve developed a sense of leadership, (especially since) I recently did my ACL so I made a comeback through that, and I planned on making my leadership as one of my biggest strengths and I’m definitely starting to fulfil those roles throughout the team and doing the team role.”

It was secret that White struggled during the recovery phase when all of her talented peers were hitting their strides and making serious in-roads into their future AFL Women’s careers.

“It was definitely huge rollercoaster ride,” White said. “I’d turn up to every training session and every gym session but some days were harder than others. “You’ve just got to grind through those and lean on your teammates when those darker days do come up, but yeah it was really hard but those 12 months came up really quick and I was able to get access to really good facilities from the Gabba and they helped me with my rehab.”

The injury may have been as mentally tolling as it was physically on White, but she has emerged the other side as a stronger person. After another AFL Women’s Under-18 Championships, this time in her top-age year with Queensland, White is a talent who has not been forgotten by recruiters – earning a draft combine invitation. The state representative said making the Queensland side is a difficult one with so much talent in the state and she did not take the honour lightly.

“It means everything to me,” White said. “This is a stepping stone through my journey and hopefully going into AFLW one day is my biggest dream. “To pull on a Queensland jersey, it really means everything to me. “I know some girls who missed out on these competitions and it’s really hard on them, so to do them proud really makes me happy.”

White is versatile after playing as a midfielder back in her All-Australian year, but transitioning into defence this year to ease her back into the game as she builds her match fitness with time. The tenacious, driven utility uses her determination on the field as much as off.

“Probably my (strengths are my) aggression on the ball, my tackling pressure, I’ve played on the half-back role and I’ve learnt just to shut down really quickly and keep my opponent out and do my role for the team that way,” White said.

As for her improvements, it is no surprise she just wants to get back to her peak fitness.

“Definitely my game fitness (is an improvement) really,” she said. “Just coming back from an ACL. “Everything’s still relatively new, but coming back now I need to work on this, and jump through all these hoops. “Definitely all these games help with fitness.”

White thanked her mum for her support over the years who she described as her “backbone” helping her through everything. On-the-field, it is a Brisbane Lions talent who she mirrors some of her traits on.

Emily Bates from the Brisbane Lions (is a role model),” White said. “She’s someone who is a go-getter and goes really hard at the footy and really tackles hard.”

Speedy Muir thriving in footy culture

A RELATIVE newcomer to the game, Annie Muir has loved the rapid rise to the AFL Women’s Under-18 Championships. She only first picked up a ball a couple of years ago, and has met all the challenges put to her, to the point she has represented her state at the elite junior level.

“My friend actually got me into football in 2017,” Muir said. “So I was in Grade 11, she made me go along to just a school football trial for the Hinterland team – the regional team. “We didn’t even have enough numbers for a team, so everyone made it and then I went to the South Coast trials and I made the South Coast team and it all started progressing from there. “Once I made South Coast team, I decided to play club footy and I never really played footy before but I decided to go down to Broadbeach Cats and I started playing there and I basically haven’t stopped since.”

She came for the fun, she stayed for the culture.

“Just the atmosphere (has kept me playing),” Muir said. “Playing in a team, I came from a sprinting background so transitioning from an individual sport to a team sport was quite a big difference and I love playing in a team environment and having those girls to rely on and having that support network around me as well.”

Coming from a sprinting background, Muir said her speed is what sets her apart from many others, which she uses to her advantage and try to create separation from her opponents and bring teammates into the game. She knows she still has a long way to go however, often competing with players who have had the background knowledge of Australian rules football for a lot longer.

“There’s a lot of areas for improvement, I haven’t been playing for very long so just learning my positions – I predominantly play on the wing so just getting those setups right and then obviously continuing developing my skills and my communication and leadership on the skills,” she said. “We have such a good support network, and especially a lot of the girls are more experienced than me so there’s so many people I can turn to and ask for advice which is really handy in this environment.”

The quick rise to the Queensland state team has been lost on Muir considering how tough it is for any player to make a state representative side.

“It’s such an honour to be here and in this environment,” Muir said. “It’s an amazing support network, and we have so many people and it’s really an elite environment that it’s great to be a part of and develop our skills.”

Muir credited her father as being her biggest inspiration, but her whole family have been supportive of her decision to play football.

“My dad’s probably been my biggest inspiration, he grew up with football and he loved it,” she said. “I think he loves now having me play it. “He definitely keeps it going and keeps me passionate. “I have a such a support network. “Everyone, my friends and family have been very supportive.”

Now with the Under-18 Championships done and dusted, Muir is aiming to keep developing her game and hailing from the Gold Coast she “luckily” has not had too much travel to progress her career. She knows she still has a way to go to become the best player she can be, but has her eyes on achieving that goal.

“Just basically developing and learning, this is my first sort of experience at this high of a level,” Muir said. “I’ve already got a lot out of it playing one game so just continuing to learn and develop my skills and as a player. “(I) just (want to) keep developing, keep continuing, see how far I can go.”

O’Grady overcomes ankle injury to push into state team

QUEENSLANDER Sara-Jane O’Grady is both honoured and humbled to don the maroon jumper, finally taking her chance to star on the big stage after being sidelined with an ankle injury early on in her footy journey.

“It’s a great opportunity, there’s a lot of talented girls in the AFL and Queensland but not all get that opportunity to be able to show their talent at this level,” she said. “Unfortunately I got an ankle injury playing another sport so I was out for most of 2018 but then I came back at the end and continued playing onto this year.”

Although the injury set her back a few steps, O’Grady worked tirelessly to get her body back to full strength.

“First off it was a bit of a shock because it was my first serious injury and it was a couple of days before I was supposed to go away for rep for AFL so that was a little bit disappointing,” she said. “I just made sure that I was doing everything that the physio said and didn’t push to try and get back. “Now I’m back and my ankle is probably stronger than the one I didn’t do.”

Football was not her first sport of choice, with O’Grady an avid netball player but the lure of Australian rules football was too great. Tempted with the chance to pull on the boots and go for a run along the boundary line the 18-year-old relished the opportunity to broaden her horizons.

“I actually got into it [football] through school,” O’Grady said. “My school team went to states the year before and they came second and then the following year I started and thought I might give it a try. “So I started through school and I joined a club that year which was 2017 so I could get more experience at the game. “I decided that I loved it and chose to continue it,.”

Dedicated to furthering her skills and becoming a prime mover on the footy field O’Grady toiled hard to hone in her craft noting that her “effort to get to contests and chase down (her) player,” are her biggest strengths. While acknowledging that she may not be the biggest possession getter it is her endurance and ability to track her player across the field that makes her such a damaging prospect. Like every young player she still has plenty to learn with her kicking under pressure and game awareness noted as a focal point by the teenager.

O’Grady has made a lot of sacrifices to play the sport she loves. Living up in Rockhampton she spends a fair bit of time in the car travelling down to games and training which can take a toll on any player.

“I know there was like one month where I was in Brisbane every week trying to get to training and games but I guess you get used to it over time,” she said.

With school also a factor it is not easy for the year 12 student managing the balance between her studies and footy.

“It’s quite difficult I’ve had to miss a few school days which has put me behind in school work but I just had to try and catch up and guess juggle it as best I can,” she said.

But the positives far out way the negatives for O’Grady who hopes to one day make it into the AFLW.

“The ultimate goal is to be drafted, that’s probably every girls dream but if that doesn’t happen I’m just hoping to just improve my game and improve my skills,” she said.

Sunny future for speedster Whap-Farrar

WHEN Gold Coast SUNS announced a trio of Under-18 players as pre-signings ahead of next year’s AFL Women’s competition, they covered all bases. With Charlotte Hammans covering the defence and Ellie Hampson being the inside bull, it was the third signing of Kitara Whap-Farrar that added the extra pace and X-factor on the outside. The Cairns talent with an athletics background was injured during her bottom-age championships, but it was clear what she offered to her Queensland side and the SUNS saw it too, showing no hesitation in guaranteeing her future with the club. It was quite a journey for Whap-Farrar, but now the elite level is edging ever so close.

“I’m an Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander,” Whap-Farrar said. “I’m from Cairns, I recently moved down to the Gold Coast about seven months ago for AFL. “I started off as a sprinter, so I wasn’t an AFL player the whole time. “I was a sprinter since the beginning I guess. I was introduced to AFL by my dad. “I needed a time through sprinting, I was at that point where it was just track, so my dad said try and do a team sport. “So him having the AFL in his blood, he said try AFL out. “I guess I tried AFL out a bit. “Wasn’t competitive until about four/five years ago. I guess I just fell in love with it the moment I played.”

Growing up in Cairns, it was not the most convenient place for the growth of future AFL Women’s players with the Academies being developed down south, but Whap-Farrar was not deterred by the travel.

“I wasn’t born in the Torres Strait,” Whap-Farrar said. “I was bred and born in Cairns. “But I guess the transition from Cairns to Gold Coast, it was all new. “I only just recently graduated. “My family and everything I know is all up in Cairns so I kind of came down to Gold Coast from scratch. “(It is) all kind of nerve-wracking, finally being out in the world. “It was all nerve-wracking, but I guess I just took it day-by-day.”

Her love for the game from that first moment has not wavered and helped her adjust to the ever-changing landscape of her life which has seen her move down in search of her AFL Women’s dream, something that has been achieved with the hard work still in front of her ahead of pre-season. Crossing over from athletics, it was difficult at first, but the discipline required at an individual level helped Whap-Farrar maintain standards for her team sport.

“I guess for me coming from an individual sport, it was more having a team,” Whap-Farrar said. “So being individual I was training, making myself accountable. “Making sure I eat right, I trained right. “It was all about just me. “But coming into the team sport I loved it more because being on the camps, you met more people. “Some of my best friends are from the other side of Australia. Some of my closest friends are from WA and South Australia. “I guess just making the bond around Australia and just meeting new people and knowing that when you train you just don’t keep yourself accountable, but your teammates keeping you accountable as well.”

It is no surprise that speed is her greatest weapon in her game, and she knows she is able to exploit opposition players with it.

“If there’s an open space and I see the opportunity, then I definitely do take it with both hands and just take the ground,” Whap-Farrar said. “I like to think my ground balls, not on a wet day, but obviously on a nice, hot day. “My ground balls are pretty good through the contest.”

Her next focus is her endurance, which is something she will strive to improve ahead of the AFL Women’s 2020 season, as well as her aerial contests. Her rise to the top of Queensland football has not been without a massive amount of support, from her football-loving father through to her whole family and coaches.

“There’s obviously my family,” Whap-Farrar said. “My mum, my sister, my two little brothers and Brett Kennerley was one of my first coaches. “He kind of introduced me to it. “He’s one of the people who’s not in my family that I should be thankful for, because he saw the talent in me when my family didn’t see it in myself. “He’s probably someone outside of my family that I’m thankful for, that has been a major part of my AFL.”

As for a mentor or inspiration that is currently running around in the AFL Women’s, Whap-Farrar knew just who came to mind.

“I love Leah Kaslar,” she said. “She was one of our coaches last year for Queensland and she’s also a great backliner. “Just the way she carries herself on and off the field she’s a great leader. “She’s just someone I really look up to.”

Starting from scratch no problem for Heslop

PLENTY of AFL Women’s draft hopefuls move to further their Australian rules football career, but not too many do so unknowingly, which is what makes the story of Queensland’s Dee Heslop so unique. The versatile utility hails from New Zealand, with the Kiwi having no idea what the rules were when she first started, having to adjust to things like handballing when she kept throwing it to teammates.

“I’m originally from New Zealand,” Heslop said. “So I moved here in 2012, and started playing footy at Grade 7 at school. “It was just a little cup I ended up playing and I just progressed from there through club and a few more teams. “Then I also used to play netball, then that started to clash as well, but otherwise just kept going on playing more footy and more footy and then getting into more teams and really enjoying it so I ended up having to choose one of the sports, so I ended up choosing footy over netball and honestly I would never go back to it.”

Heslop admits when she first took up the sport, she was pretty naive when it came to rules or the way it was played.

“I thought it was more like touch, really,” she said. “But otherwise, we played nine-a-side. “That’s how we started it off, and then they were teaching me how to handball instead of throwing it. “But obviously I didn’t have any clue what it was back then.”

Her choice to pick football over netball was mostly due to her ability to run across the open field, rather than have limited boundaries where you can move such is the case in netball.

“I think you just go from running around on a massive field and you’re on a field with heaps more people where on a netball court you’ve only got seven on a side so that was a bit different and not having boundaries where to run,” Heslop said. “Where in AFL you can run wherever you want which is a big difference.”

Despite picking up the sport and achieving dreams of representing her state that few could imagine in such a period of time, Heslop understands the journey is far from over.

“It’s obviously been a really hard journey,” she said. “Being here in my final year is obviously really exciting. “Going through all the programs and year-by-year and now it’s my draft year, it’s the biggest year for an 18-year-old and it’s just really exciting to see how it pans out.”

Heslop said the pressure was on for her, but she was “going okay” with it.

“I’ve just been focusing on 18s as much as I can and going by each game, by each day,” she said. “After this obviously don’t know what’s going to happen so just see how that goes, so otherwise really good.”

While the Gold Coast SUNS Academy member has played in multiple positions, her preference is the midfield given her strengths, but she admits she is happy to play anywhere.

“I think the biggest strength that I have is maybe my work ethic and making the second and third efforts and tackling pressure,” Heslop said. “I’m very lucky to be a versatile player, I can play through the mid, forward or back wherever they need me.”

As for her biggest inspiration on her journey from New Zealand to the elite levels of Australian rules football, it was a no brainer.

“My mum and dad,” Heslop said. “We would not have moved over here without them thinking – the reason we moved was mum and dad wanted a better lifestyle for me and my older brother – so that was a massive help. “But otherwise, Craig Starcevich was a big help. “He looked at me when I was very young like five years ago and he’s obviously pushed me through the programs and also through Suns. So Michael Gugliotta, Tim Searle, so just coaches like that have been really helpful as well.”

On-the-field, Heslop’s role model is a player who loves the contested work as much as her.

“Definitely on a Queensland level, it would be Emily Bates,” Heslop said. “I played club with her as well and she helps me through my games and she tells me where to go and I just look up to here and try and do what she does I guess and even when I verse her, I try and match up on her and see how I go against her.”

Now with a National Draft Combine invitation and two Queensland clubs in the running for the top draft talent, Heslop is close to achieving her dream of running out for an AFL Women’s side.

Competitive Hampson shines on the Gold Coast

WHEN you are a pre-listed AFL Women’s player heading into the Under-18 Championships mid-year, there are a lot of eyes watching to see just what spectators can expect next year at the elite level. For Gold Coast SUNS’ signing Ellie Hampson, she not only ticked the boxes expected of her, but she went above and beyond, collecting the Queensland Most Valuable Player (MVP) award, as well as All-Australian honours and being the dominant inside midfielder at the carnival. It is hard to believe that such a performance could come from a player who, just a few years ago, was not even playing the sport.

“This year’s my third year of footy for club,” Hampson said. “I never really played too much footy, I was always a soccer player ever since I was five-years-old. “Then one of the directors in Queensland, Kath Newman who was up in Townsville at the time, really helped me with my footy career and introduced me and told me to come down and have a kick at one of the school comps and really just took off from there. “She got me into a Peninsula side, which isn’t actually my region but they needed players and that was where I first got selected in my first Queensland side and then just started playing footy from there. “Played for Queensland for the past two years; this will be my third and final year and I’m aiming to move down (to Gold Coast) at the end of the year as I’ve been listed as Gold Coast SUNS signing.”

Hampson said despite receiving the news that the SUNS were going to sign her for the 2020 AFL Women’s season, she refused to rest on her laurels, and instead put her head down to focus on her football as best she could. She admitted it was not feeling like a reality until she ran out in the red and gold next season.

“Yeah, I’d still think that it’s (AFLW future) not set,” Hampson said. “It honestly hasn’t… there’s times where I’ll be with my friends in Brisbane and they play for the Lions and they’ll be like ‘we’re just going to go to the Gabba to the gym, a gym session’ and I’ll be like ‘oh yeah okay’ and then I’m like I can’t actually go in the Gabba, like it’s a rival club, I can’t actually go in there. “So stuff like that is kind of like ‘wow this is real’ and then the next day I’ll be at Queensland training and I’ll be like ‘wow I still have a massive journey to get there’. “It definitely hasn’t set in and I don’t know how long till it will. “Hopefully first debut game and that’s when it will hopefully set in.”

Despite the SUNS being a new side in the competition next year, the Academies have been in place for some time and the banter between the new team on the block and the established Brisbane Lions, has already started.

“I have friends in both sides and there’s a lot of jokes and banter that goes on behind the scenes, but on the field we all take it very professional as with the Winter Series games,” Hampson said. “Play hard against each other and then best friends again after the game and that’s my favourite thing, there’s no bad blood between the teams, I just really enjoyed the experience before it’s even started.”

Hailing from Townsville, Hampson has had to make a lot of sacrifices for her football, and it has not been easy to get some continuity in her living arrangements either.

“I spent pretty much the last two months (prior to championships) flying in and out constantly,” Hampson said. “I think I’ve been at home probably two days, and I’ll be away for the next two weeks, be home for three days and then be away for the next two and a half weeks. “Definitely spent a lot more time down here than back home for this last two month period.”

It has meant her schooling has also been a challenge, but something that Hampson has worked through thanks to the support of her family, school and football clubs.

“It’s been really difficult with school,” Hampson said. “But I have a really good support system. “Got my family, everyone at footy. “My school supports it a lot as well. “I’ve got through it. It’s school holidays now and I’ve just got to push through next term, I’ve got two terms to go.”

Her goal for the Under-18 Championships?

“I just want to play the best footy I can play and improve and help other people improve and just play for my team and really just make the best of the opportunity and get around the girls because this is the last one we have so I’ll really miss it,” Hampson said. “(I) just want to take it with both hands and go as hard as I can.”

It is fair to say she eclipsed the goal and now will focus on working on her game ahead of the AFL Women’s 2020 season. The humble midfielder finds it easier to talk about her areas of improvement rather than her strengths.

“I hate this question (of strengths). I think my ability to just push through and my strength,” Hampson said. “My love for the game and I have a very strong competitiveness so that often pushes me through.

“I have a lot to improve on,” she said. “I just can’t wait to clean my hands up and get my handballs out quicker and hit my kicks. “I’ve got so much to improve and I’m just so excited to see how far I can go.”

As for her idol in sport, it comes from another cross-coder who dealt with challenges along the way.

“I’ve had so many actually,” Hampson said. “But my main one who’s always been an inspiration would have to be Ellyse Perry. “When I was 12 she was my idol just between the two sports, coming through and having a lot between all the clubs and there’s a lot of controversy that went on in the background, and pushing through it and coming out on the other end. Now she’s living a great life.”

Eller keeps it simple

QUEENSLAND’S Georgia Eller has reached the elite level of her junior Australian rules football career, but she is intent on keeping it simple – improve and have fun. While the AFL Women’s Draft approaches, Eller has tried not to let it worry her, with her goal on maintaining fun and focus the number one priority. Especially considering she has come from another sport.

“I started playing soccer when I was a young age,” Eller said. “My dad’s from Melbourne so he’s grown up playing footy all his life, and my brother played for Queensland when he was Under 15s. “So I started playing at school and trialled for the Sunsets team in Under 14s and made that, and been playing since.”

It was not the easiest transition going from soccer into Australian rules, and the timetabling or scheduling made it even more difficult.

“It was hard because games would be on the same day and I’d have to choose which one I’d have to play,” Eller said. “It did come with some consequences I guess because I did some stuff for soccer. “But in the end, I just loved AFL more and stuck with that.”

Since making her choice to pick the oblong ball over the round one, she has not looked back, praising the inclusiveness of the sport’s culture.

“Not at all (missed soccer),” Eller said. “It’s such different culture. “AFL is so much more… everyone is like more friendly and everything, it’s really good.”

Being a stronger body running around the football field, Eller said her strength over the football and her disposal by foot were among her top areas that she was pleased with. However she has a clear goal for her improvement.

“Definitely my fitness,” Eller said. “Wanting to play onball in the midfield, you need to get fitter. “And probably contested marks overhead.”

When asked about which player she idolised, it was not a current AFL Women’s player, or even a current international sportsperson, instead, she looked a lot closer to home with teammate, Serene Watson being Eller’s pick.

“Serene’s been a massive impact on my mentality as such,” Eller said. “I’ve played with her my whole junior career since I started. “So she’s had a massive impact, so’s my dad, coming from a footy background so he’s had a massive impact on myself.”

Now Eller is keeping her focus ahead of her and her goal remains the same.

“Hoping to obviously get drafted, but just have fun with it as well, and just play as high possible level as I can,” she said.

Martin leans on Stanton for football journey

WHEN you are new to a sport such as Australian rules football, you always look to find a mentor who can fast-track your development. When your football coach at your high school is an AFL Women’s player, then it is even better. For Haze-Lee Martin, that was exactly the situation she found herself in when she decided to take up the sport.

“Someone who has had a really big impact on my footy journey so far has been Jamie Stanton,” Martin said. “She was my coach at school and then she’s helped me through what I’ve been like through footy so far. “Even though she’s moved to Melbourne to play with North, she still keeps in contact and makes sure I’m staying on track and getting to the goal, which everyone else is, which is the draft.”

Stanton has since returned to Queensland for her AFL Women’s career, announced as a signing for the Gold Coast SUNS. A nice coincidence that the pair might cross paths once again with Martin a member of the SUNS Academy.

“I’m very new to football, I started off playing touch and netball,” Martin said. “So AFL is pretty new to me. I’m a year in to footy. “I started here at the (Southport) Sharks, it’s my first time playing. “Then I played through Sunsets, and I was fortunate enough to make the SUNS Academy and then from there I was fortunate enough to get into the Queensland side, and I’m here now.”

The choice to switch from netball to football was a tough one, but Martin admitted she had fallen out of love with the round ball game.

“I was very passionate with netball,” she said. “I always said I wanted to play that sport and I wanted to continue to play and what not, but I just kind of lost the passion and then I had mates who played footy and were like ‘come have a go’ and played at school.”

There there was another sport that took up her time and added another element to her Australian rules football journey.

“On the side I play Rugby Sevens, so I had the running game different, the tackling’s so different,” Martin said. “It was all something I had to get used to. “I picked it up fairly quickly I’d say given I’m a year in, but I’m still learning.”

Her ability to move down the ground – something she learned in Rugby Sevens – and her fierce attack on the ball are among her strengths out on the football field.

“Definitely my run and carry (is a strength),” she said. “I’m actually playing in a new position in this carnival. “I’m playing off the half-back and off the back, so taking on the game through the mid, running with the ball, taking a bounce, that’s definitely my strength. “Of course. I normally play midfield, I started off playing mid and now getting pushed to the backs and having to learn that mentality, having the mongrel, but still having the drive to want to attack. “It’s difficult, but it’s do-able.”

Martin said she hoped to improve her cleanliness at ground level and go hand-in-hand with her strengths to be able to give herself extra time with ball-in-hand if she was able to pick it up cleanly. All these areas she brings up with her mentor Stanton, someone who no doubt will continue to be a wealth of information for the aspiring AFL Women’s player.

“There’s not one thing we don’t talk about,” Martin said. “We talk about everything. “There’s some things I do well in a game, things I could improve on, just anything. “She’s had a major impact on (my game) and she’s also a mid player, she’s played down back as well so I feed off what she gives me as well.”

Family support inspires Zanker-Close to footy pathway

HAVING so many footballers in the family certainly helps. It is even more beneficial when one family member has reached the elite level of AFL Women’s football. For Queensland AFL Women’s Under-18 representative, Emmii-Lee Zanker-Close, she has been surrounded by footballers and always seemed destined to cross into the sport from her chosen code of netball growing up. That transition became all but certain when her cousin, Eden Zanker was drafted to Melbourne ahead of the 2018 AFL Women’s season.

“Definitely my mum and dad have always been very supportive,” Zanker-Close said. “But also my cousin Eden Zanker. “The pathways she’s taken definitely a different pathway to me, but just talking to her – she’s at the elite level and just seeing what the differences are like – having that extra support of someone who has been at the top level and know what it’s like is just awesome to have.”

So just exactly what is it like having a relative playing at the elite level?

“It’s really good, it’s kind of scary though because there’s always the expectations because it’s a family member, you’ve kind of got to live up to that but it pushes you harder I guess,” Zanker-Close said. “To try and reach that level and be with them.”

Zanker-Close was a late bloomer to football, not taking the plunge until halfway through high school. When she finally did get out on the park after choosing to chase her dream, the unthinkable happened.

“Footy’s always been a sport I’ve always wanted to play,” she said. “My dad played, my brother’s played, but I never really had the opportunity. “In Year 9 I started playing school footy, I was then drafted into the Sunset team, however after playing my first club game of footy, I did my ACL, and that was a massive step back so I missed my first year of footy technically.”

That injury caused plenty of frustration for Zanker-Close, having worked hard to get to her first competitive game, only to go down with a year-long injury. But despite many suggesting the sport might not have been for her or worth having a second crack, she decided to knuckle down and throw everything at a return.

“It sucked a lot,” Zanker-Close said. “I saw a lot of my friends making Queensland, travelling the state, it really upset me. “But it never crossed my mind to quit, like I always thought I’m going to play again. “So many people questioned ‘you’ve played one game, why would you want to keep playing after you hurt yourself so majorly?’ but it never even crossed my mind to quit. “I was always determined to play footy.”

While Zanker-Close has made it to state representative level, she still knows there is a long way to go, identifying both her strengths and areas of improvements for the future.

“I feel like my height is definitely an advantage, it helps me on my one-on-ones,” Zanker-Close said. “Especially playing in the backline, being able to out-body my [opponent], aim to spoil. “But things I want to improve on is looking to switch and just staying composed. “I’m really hard on myself, so just overcoming things a lot quicker and that’s about it.”