Category: NAB League Girls

AFLWU18s to Watch: Olivia Barber (Murray Bushrangers/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 Murray Bushrangers’ key forward Olivia Barber who is one of the most talented players going around and is also a high-level basketballer

Olivia Barber (Murray Bushrangers/Vic Country)

Height: 185cm
Position: Key Forward
Strengths: Contested marking, scoreboard impact, ground balls, goal sense, athleticism

2020 NAB League stats: 1 game | 7.0 disposals | 3.0 marks | 3.0 tackles | 1.0 inside 50s | 2.0 hitouts | 1 goal

2019 NAB League stats: 6 games | 10.5 disposals | 3.7 marks | 3.0 tackles | 1.0 inside 50s | 2.0 hitouts | 7 goals

AFLW U18 Girls Championships: 3 games | 10.7 disposals | 3.3 marks | 6.0 hitouts | 1.7 tackles | 1.3 inside 50s | 5 goals

One of the most touted key forwards after last year’s AFL Women’s Under-18 Championships was Murray Bushrangers and Vic Country’s Olivia Barber. Coming from a basketball background and playing at the sub-elite Australian level, Barber shows how she can apply these traits to her football game as a key forward. Whilst the tall has also spent time through the ruck on occasion, she is predominantly a leading and marking key forward.

What makes Barber unique is the fact she has great athleticism and once she has the positioning, is hard to spoil given her height and reach. But even more so is her ability to win one-on-ones not only in the air, but at ground level. Unlike many talls, Barber immediately can switch into the role of a small and cleanly pick it up at ground level and dish it off or follow up her work inside 50 with a quick shot, not akin to an offensive rebound in basketball.

Last year Barber was ready to explode inside 50, but just lacked some accuracy on goal in the NAB League. Enter in the AFL Women’s Championships, and Barber was slotting them from everywhere, as if everything had come together. She has always been a terrific mark and has a high work rate, it was just rewarding herself with the finished product. She booted seven goals in six games in 2019, which is great, but could have had even more to apply scoreboard pressure.

Unfortunately a concussion in Round 1 this year ruled her out of the Bushrangers’ next game, and then COVID-19 forced her to miss the rest of the season. But when talking key forwards in this year’s draft, Barber is arguably the most talented of the lot, and coming from the Victorian-New South Wales border and playing her junior footy at Lavington (just north of Albury), no doubt it will be interesting where her football takes her. An All-Australian in her middle-age year, Barber is most certainly one to watch.

AFLW U18s to Watch: Olivia Meagher (Eastern Ranges/Vic Metro)

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 Eastern Ranges’ midfielder Olivia Meagher who was named captain at the Ranges for the 2020 season and always puts in a four-quarter effort.

Olivia Meagher (Eastern Ranges/Vic Metro)

Height: 157cm
Position: Inside Midfielder
Strengths: Tackling, strength, clean hands, leadership, work rate

2020 NAB League stats: 2 games | 21.5 disposals | 2.0 marks | 3.0 tackles | 2.0 inside 50s | 2.0 rebounds

2019 NAB League stats: 7 games | 15.0 disposals | 2.0 marks | 3.1 tackles | 3.4 inside 50s | 0.9 rebounds | 2 goals

A pocket rocket who despite standing at just 157cm, strikes fear into opposition midfielders with her tenacity and ability to just hunt the ball and the ball carrier. Meagher will fly the flag for her teammates and lead by example with her fierce determination to grab the loose ball or bring down an opponent. In our recent Final Siren Podcast with Northern Knights’ Jess Fitzgerald, the Knights’ co-captain described Meagher as “terrifying on-field, but one of the nicest people you’ll meet off it”.

Among her key strengths with her defensive pressure are her clean hands and her work rate, which sees her get knocked over and get straight back up again. Most of her disposals are won at either the coalface or because she has simply outworked her opponent to get to possessions on a wing or half-forward. She is able to spot up targets inside 50 and even hit the scoreboard in 2019.

Named Eastern Ranges captain in 2020, Meagher has that natural leadership ability too that stands out on the field. She is a player that teammates love to play alongside because not only do you know she will provide a four-quarter effort, but she will consistently dig in when the chips are down and continue to fight, which she continued to show this year like at Beaconsfield when the Ranges were losing to Dandenong Stingrays.

At her size, Meagher is the kind of player who will likely play as a pressure player around the ground, but you can imagine if she played as a forward, she would worry opposition defenders as they looked over their shoulders regularly. The fact she has the traits that can lend themselves to multiple positions – her clean hands and defensive pressure – means she is able to slot in wherever needed, which is a great ability to have when chasing your dream at the highest level.

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.

Favell’s sacrifices worth it for chance at AFL Women’s

WHEN talking about sacrifices made to play Aussie rules football, there is not much that Murray Bushrangers and Eastern Allies’ Abby Favell has not done to pursue her dream of playing AFL Women’s. 

AFLW U18s Ones to Watch: Abby Favell

“I started playing AFL in a primary school competition called ‘Paul Kelly Cup’ in year 5 and 6,” Favell said. “There was no outside of school competitions for girls in my area and there still isn’t today! “Once I got to high school I played in my school team, filled with girls that just wanted to give the sport a go or get out of school for a couple of days. In year 8 I was asked to go trial for CCC and was lucky enough to be selected.”

With significant road trips to and from not only games but also training, there is no denying that Favell is committed to making her dream a reality and has had a huge football journey that has led her to where she is today.

“During the pre-season and in-season, my parents drive me three hours (one-way) once or twice a week just to get to training in Wangaratta,” she said. “Playing in Melbourne meant a six-hour drive and an overnight stay which was taking a lot of time out of their lives just so that they could let me play the game that I love. “The travel for me isn’t so bad as I’m not the one driving and now with a few more girls from the Leeton area playing with the Bushies, the road trips are very eventful with weekly competitions on who could provide the best snacks. “The commitment wasn’t easy but many amazing people made it possible.”

“Football for me is just something different. “It is a game that allows me to run around with very few restrictions which is what I enjoy most. “With a lot of experience in other sports and other pathways, football has been the one that has made me look forward to going to camps and the one that has given me the best experience. I also love the bit of contact that you don’t really get in other sports.”

Like many, Favell has had her setbacks – missing out on selection and making tough decisions about other sports – but says that she has come out of it stronger, credit to her drive to continue to build her game but also fulfil her commitment to the sport.

“At the next level, trialling for NSW, everyone from my school that trialled was selected, except for my friend and I,” Favell said. “It was a setback in my football journey but it just made me stronger as I went away and trained harder to be selected in the team the next year. “After playing for NSW at the school nationals in Perth, I was certain that I wanted to play AFL.

“In 2018, I was selected through the Southern Sports Academy to play for NSW against VIC in under 16s. “The Bushrangers also asked me to play a few games for them at the end of the season. “In 2019, the Bushrangers asked me to join them for a full pre-season and I was honoured to be selected which resulted in the tough decision to give up the many other sports I was playing. “But luckily it was the right decision as this led to my selection in the NSW team and the Eastern Allies under 18 teams as a bottom-age player.”

When it comes to her footy journey, Favell’s consistency in the Murray Bushrangers saw her get a bottom-age berth at the AFL Women’s Under 18s National Championships, recording an average of 11.0 disposals, 2.7 marks and 2.7 tackles for the Eastern Allies and finding her footing against many familiar Murray faces who took the field for Vic Country. 

“Playing in the Eastern Allies team was an experience that I didn’t really know what to expect and it was one like no other,” Favell said. “The girls on my team were absolutely amazing and made the on field and off-field time fun. Playing against my Bushies team mates was actually really fun but very different.”

Playing against strong opposition from across the country, Favell proved that she could handle the pressure and used her clean hands and high work rate to impact both on and off the ball. Her efforts across both the NAB League competition and Under 18s Championships saw Favell entered into the AFL Women’s Academy, participating in training camps with the Academy squad.

“I remember the phone call and feeling very shocked,” she said. “I definitely thought that Ash (Moeller, AFL NSW/ACT Female Talent Manager) was just telling me he put my name in but nothing was certain. “The academy camp in Darwin was definitely not easy but overall it was a lot of fun and I learnt a lot that has and will help me along my football journey. “We had spent a week training with the GIANTS beforehand and that was certainly something that I am never going to forget as I was privileged to meet so many amazing players and people.”

Speaking of players Favell felt privileged to meet, GIANTS midfielder Alyce Parker has had a profound impact on the youngster, and is someone that Favell says she admires both on and off the field.

“She is an amazing player that is always working hard and trying to become better,” Favell said. “As a rural girl, she has shown me that anything is possible and it doesn’t matter where you come from, it’s the opportunities that you make. “Not only is she an absolute gun but she is also a wonderful person as she has also taken time out of her day to message me or stay in touch.”

A speedster with the ability to rotate through a number of positions – though ultimately looking most comfortable winning ball through the midfield – Favell also has clean hands to win the ball across the field and has great run and carry in transition credit to her endurance and never say die attitude.

“My strengths I feel would be my running and decision making skills,” she said. “I have been a cross-country runner and I guess a combination of all my other sports has enabled me to love to run and cover a lot of the ground… I’ve been focusing on doing the basics really well like taking the ball cleanly with my ground balls and giving it off on the up, hitting targets by both hand and foot. “I completed the NAB League training program we were all given and continued to work on the basic fundamentals, kicking, clean hands, ground balls etc along with playing netball and training with my local footy team.”

Favell said that while her commitment to her football dream has certainly impacted on her studies and other commitments, she has managed to balance it fairly well with plenty of commitment and strategies in place to ensure her schoolwork did not suffer.

“My strategy was to complete assignments and homework on the road between training or games as it was my only free time,” she said. “It was challenging when we were in the middle of nowhere with no service … but I managed to make it work and hand all my assessments in on time, just. “My family and friends mean a lot to me and they understand just as much as I do the commitment that I’ve made as I have had to miss my best friend’s birthday and my grandparents anniversary, just to name a few, due to playing or training. “I try my best to keep everyone happy but those that mean most to me understand the dedication I have made and usually save me a piece of cake.”

VFL and NEAFL to merge in “year of transition” as NAB League announces changes

STATE league football on the eastern seaboard will look vastly different in 2021 after a landmark announcement by the AFL today has seen the North Eastern Australian Football League (NEAFL) dissolved, with the NEAFL sides invited to join the Victorian Football League (VFL) next season. The choice to merge the two competitions was phrased as a “year of transition”.

Each club will have its own choice whether to form a standalone club, join an exiting club or split their AFL listed players over multiple clubs – like North Melbourne has in the past – including the non-AFL aligned clubs in Aspley Hornets, Canberra Demons, Redland Bombers, Southport Sharks and Sydney University.

The NAB League Boys and Girls will also look vastly different as it is set to become Under-19 and Under-17 competitions over the current Under-18 and Under-16 leagues. While the age groups will change, the AFL Draft eligible age – a hotly talked about topic – will not, as it remains at 18 in the calendar year of the AFL Draft.

With the VFL and NEAFL clubs aligning, it means the Northern Academy teams – Brisbane Lions, Gold Coast Suns, GWS GIANTS and Sydney Swans – will be able to compete in the NAB League as they have in past years. The fixturing for the competition and exactly how it will be structured is yet to be determined.

No changes have been made to the South Australian National Football League (SANFL) or West Australian Football League (WAFL) competitions.

AFLW U18s to Watch: Alice Burke (Sandringham Dragons/Vic Metro)

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 Sandringham Dragons’ midfielder Alice Burke who is a dual club best and fairest winner at the Dragons after consistency throughout her bottom and middle-age years.

Alice Burke (Sandringham Dragons/Vic Metro)

Height: 165cm
Position: Midfielder/Defender
Strengths: Footy smarts, tackling, leadership, accumulation, work rate

2020 NAB League stats: 3 games | 19.0 disposals | 2.7 marks | 4.0 tackles | 1.6 inside 50s | 2.3 rebounds

2019 NAB League stats: 8 games | 16.5 disposals | 1.9 marks | 6.1 tackles | 2.4 inside 50s | 1.8 rebounds

2019 Under 18 National Championships stats: 3 games | 7.7 disposals | 0.3 marks | 3.7 tackles | 2.0 clearances | 0.7 inside 50s | 0.7 rebounds

St Kilda fans lament not having many father-son prospects over the journey, but they will be able to enjoy that their first possible father-daughter selection will be worth the wait. Alice Burke is the daughter of St Kilda 300-game champion Nathan and there are certainly some traits that Alice has picked up from her famous father, but she also has a number of areas herself that make her standout in her own right.

As a bottom-ager a couple of years ago it was clear that Burke had talent, playing off half-back and using the ball with great consistency while providing some run and drive for the Dragons. In her middle-age year, Burke progressed into the midfield and had an equally damaging impact, backing up her Sandringham best and fairest with a second one. She has made our Draft Central Team of the Year both years thus far, and started the season in good form, averaging 19 disposals and laying four tackles per game.

The defensive side of her game and work rate is a huge area that sets her aside from a lot of other players. Often you will think she is out of the contest but wills herself to lay the tackle or bump to put pressure on the opposition ball carrier and just win her own ball. Much like her father, she just attacks the football at all costs and is a player that teammates can follow with her on-field leadership.

One surprising aspect about Burke is that despite her obvious link to the footballing world, she took up soccer instead and reached a national level in doing so. Then, she switched courses and went into Australian rules and has not looked back. While Burke has those defensive traits, she is able to use the ball well in a team sense and hit targets consistently going forward. With a team-first mentality, the talented Vic Metro representative is never far from the action.

While there are many unknowns about the AFL Women’s Draft at this stage, no doubt Saints fans would love to see another Burke running around in the red, black and white as their inaugural father-daughter selection just two years into the club’s establishment in the AFL Women’s.

AFLW U18s Ones to Watch: Laura Gardiner (Geelong Falcons/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 Geelong Falcons’ midfielder Laura Gardiner, one of the most prolific ball winners of this year’s cohort.

Laura Gardiner (Geelong Falcons/Vic Country)

Height: 165cm
Position: Midfielder
Strengths: Contested ball, accumulation, tackling, consistency

2020 NAB League stats: 2 games | 34.5 disposals | 2.0 marks | 11.5 tackles | 5.0 inside 50s | 3.0 rebound 50s | 0.5 goals (1)

2019 NAB League stats: 10 games | 13.1 disposals | 1.0 marks | 5.3 tackles | 1.7 inside 50s | 0.3 rebound 50s | 0.1 goals (1)

2019 Under 18 National Championships stats: 3 games | 11.7 disposals | 0.3 marks | 5.3 tackles | 2.0 clearances | 2.3 inside 50s | 0.3 rebound 50s

Like many prospects heading into their top-age seasons, Gardiner has thrived upon being unleashed in a more primary role for her NAB League side. After being utilised out on a wing and rotating through the engine room across 10 outings in 2019, Gardiner has blossomed into a bona fide elite inside ball winner – albeit from what a two-game sample size suggests.

Her form last year was enough to earn a berth in the Under 18 Vic Country squad, where she ran out thrice for the ‘Big V’ alongside a raft of fellow Falcons, averaging of over 11 disposals and five tackles per game. Again, with the likes of Lucy McEvoy almost permanently running through the middle of the park, Gardiner was made to find form in other positions.

In 2020, she and Darcy Moloney found their groove as the prime movers in Geelong’s side, returning dominant individual performances against good opposition. Gardiner’s two-way work rate was evident, able to dig in and extract her own ball, while ensuring the opposition would have little time in possession with her tackling pressure.

Against Gippsland in Round 1, the 165cm prospect racked up a round-high 38 disposals and laid 14 tackles, with a goal serving as the cherry on top as the Falcons got up by 33 points. The monster performance earned Gardiner the first Draft Central Player of the Week nod for 2020, and she backed it up with 31 touches against reigning premier, Northern in Round 3.

That kind of ball winning consistency is rare, especially within 15-minute quarters. While her ability to extract and release from the stoppages is terrific, Gardiner’s value does not just stop there, with a sound work rate and added dimension of outside accumulation making her a well-rounded midfield prospect.

Should the NAB League Girls get back on the park in 2020, expect Gardiner to be at the forefront of Geelong’s forward drive once again, picking up right from where she left off.

>> NAB League Girls Rd 1 POTW: Laura Gardiner

AFLW U18s Ones to Watch: Alyssa Bannan (Northern Knights/Vic Metro)

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 Northern Knights forward Alyssa Bannan, one of the leading key position prospects of this year’s cohort and a NAB League premiership player.

Alyssa Bannan (Northern Knights/Vic Metro)

Height: 177cm
Position: Key Position Forward
Strengths: Speed, scoreboard impact, marking/clean hands, versatility

2020 NAB League stats: 3 games | 14.3 disposals | 5.7 marks | 3.3 tackles | 2.3 inside 50s | 0.7 hitouts | 3.0 goals (9)

2019 NAB League stats: 9 games | 9.8 disposals | 2.2 marks | 3.3 tackles | 2.5 inside 50s | 1.2 hitouts | 1.7 goals (15)

2019 Under 18 National Championships stats: 2 games | 6.5 disposals | 3.5 marks | 1.5 tackles | 1.0 goals (2)

A position which has somewhat been lacking in dominance at the AFL Women’s level is that of the key forward. That trend could quickly change should Northern star, Bannan have a say in the matter, with her mix of aerial presence and speed at ground level making for a dangerous package at 177cm, heading into the 2020 draft.

As a middle-ager last year, Bannan was a steady contributor among the Knights’ stacked premiership side, averaging just under two goals per her nine games while also pinch-hitting in the ruck. She booted two majors from eight disposals in the Grand Final to cap off a consistent campaign, in which she also managed to bag two goals on five occasions and three goals, once. Bannan’s form was good enough to earn a berth at the Under 18 National Championships, where she claimed yet another two majors against Western Australia at Metricon Stadium.

In 2020, the athletically gifted forward has taken her game to new heights, upping her output inside 50 on all levels. Bannan has been dominant aerially with an average of 5.7 marks, credit to her height and clean hands, while continuing to utilise her speed across the ground to create diverse avenues to goal, apply forward pressure, and find more of the ball. She started the year off with a bang, booting a game-high five goals against Calder in Northern’s triumphant Round 1 Grand Final rematch, while carrying her form on to claim multiple goals in the following two outings.

Despite having assumed the role of Northern’s primary target inside attacking 50, Bannan’s ability to provide an outlet over the back and read the play as it unfolds means she isn’t merely a benefactor of the silver service her dominant side provides, but a bona fide star in her own right. Her versatility as a forward sets her apart from many other prospects over 175cm, and she is further developed than many of the raw products in the same category – certainly in her smarts and skills.

Should the NAB League Girls competition return in 2020, expect Bannan to pick up from right where she left off, as a spearhead for Northern and one of the more promising forwards of her draft class.

AFLW U18s Ones to Watch: Darcy Moloney (Geelong Falcons/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 Geelong Falcons’ midfielder Darcy Moloney who is a talented ball winner and progressed strongly through her middle-age and start of top-age footballing pathway.

Darcy Moloney (Geelong Falcons/Vic Country)

Height: 165cm
Position: Midfielder
Strengths: Accumulation, footy smarts, vision, skills

2020 NAB League stats: 2 games | 26.5 disposals | 1.0 marks | 3.5 tackles | 2.0 inside 50s | 1.0 rebounds

2019 NAB League stats: 10 games | 16.1 disposals | 1.8 marks | 3.6 tackles | 1.9 inside 50s | 4 goals

2019 Under 18 National Championships stats: 3 games | 13.7 disposals | 0.7 marks | 3.3 tackles | 3.3 inside 50s | 1 goal

A player who really came into her own as a middle-ager last season in the absence of the recently drafted Nina Morrison and Olivia Purcell. Moloney stepped up into the midfield, helping out captain Lucy McEvoy and teaming up with fellow bottom-ager Laura Gardiner, whilst providing a bit of dash and touch of class on a wing and half-forward. She booted the four goals, but it was her link-up work between midfield and forward – where she could hit up targets across her body and finding gaps inside 50 that really stood out.

Stepping up to represent Vic Country, Moloney was able to play all three games across the AFL Women’s Under-18 Championships, averaging almost 14 touches, as well as three tackles and three inside 50s per game. Her ability to get into space and run, and have an impact going inside 50 are among some of her top attributes. She only played the two games earlier this year, but brought her own football to the game, racking up a whopping 26.5 touches and still laying 3.5 tackles per game. She has an innate ability to provide an option and then look to get-and-go or switch up on the transition play to open up scoring opportunities for her teammates.

Whilst there is still plenty of unknowns about the remainder of the year, Moloney will undoubtedly be a key player in the Falcons last handful of games over the next couple of months, and be an important cog in the Country midfield should the championships go ahead as expected. She might be smaller than some other midfielders, but runs hard, finds the ball and uses it well, which sets her aside from a lot of her peers. She also has the capability of playing both inside and outside midfield, whilst resting at half-forward. She does not need a lot of touches to influence the contest, but she has no problems finding the ball.

AFLW U18s Ones to Watch: Jessica Fitzgerald (Northern Knights/Vic Metro)

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 Northern Knights’ Jessica Fitzgerald, a balanced midfield prospect whose NAB League head coach described as their side’s most important player.

Jessica Fitzgerald (Northern Knights)

Height: 166cm
Position: Balanced midfielder
Strengths: Inside/outside balance, run-and-carry, leadership, defensive pressure, accumulation

2020 NAB League stats: 3 games | 18.7 disposals | 1.3 marks | 3.7 tackles | 2.6 inside 50s | 2.0 rebound 50s | 0.7 goals (2)

2019 NAB League stats: 11 games | 14.1 disposals | 1.6 marks | 5.6 tackles | 3.5 inside 50s | 1.3 rebound 50s | 0.3 goals (3)

2019 Under 18 National Championships stats: 2 games | 14.0 disposals | 1.5 marks | 1.0 clearances | 4.0 inside 50s | 0.5 goals (1)

Fitzgerald and her Northern Knights teammates have known only one way over the last 18 months – winning. In an inspired 2019 campaign, the metropolitan region went undefeated en route to its maiden NAB League Girls premiership, and Fitzgerald was a key cog in the stacked squad as a middle-ager. Her form was enough to warrant selection in the Vic Metro Under 18 side, another team which Fitzgerald helped to go undefeated last year.

The elite talent pathways are not purely results-based, but it is nice to be able to boast such a record. Arguably the more pleasing factor over the course of Fitzgerald’s junior career has been her ability to impact each side she lines up for, and her rate of development – even from a high level to begin with.

There is no questioning the drive and penetration Fitzgerald brings to the table, able to carve up opposition sides with her line-breaking speed and long boot. While she spent a touch more time on the outside and up forward in 2019, the 18-year-old has thrived in a more permanent inside midfield role thus far as a top-ager. In obtaining the primary ball winning role, Fitzgerald has adapted her pressure around the ball and creative mindset to become one of the more balanced midfielders of her cohort.

It is that exact balance that yielded the ‘most important player’ comment from Marcus Abney-Hastings after Northern’s 2019 grand final triumph, where Fitzgerald was also named best afield. The 166cm goer was her side’s leading ball winner with 15 disposals on that day alongside eventual number one draft pick, Gabby Newton, with her ability to stand up at the important moments an invaluable trait.

Talent aside, it is that kind of form which saw Fitzgerald named the Knights’ co-captain with good mate and midfield partner, Ellie McKenzie for 2020. The pair proved their leadership qualities in Round 3 of this year’s NAB League Girls season against a red-hot Dandenong side; dragging the Knights over the line after trailing at half time with 28 disposals each, while Fitzgerald also bagged two goals.

That game-breaking ability not only makes Northern a fearsome side, but puts Fitzgerald right up there in the top five discussion for her cohort. Her speed-endurance combination, sharpened finish product, and ball winning attributes make for a rare package of talent, with those immeasurable leadership qualities the cherry on top.