Tag: feature

Lachlan Carrigan – The dashing Dragon no longer flying under the radar

LACHLAN Carrigan has enjoyed a steep rise in draft stocks this year, and he hasn’t even registered an official game of footy. The Sandringham Dragons speedster is a prospect billed with the increasingly popular buzzword, ‘upside’. A December birth, Carrigan is one of the youngest top-agers available in this year’s draft pool and has seen his rate of development climb rapidly since making his NAB League debut in Round 11, last year.

The most promising part? He still has plenty of growing and improvement left.

“I guess just the potential that I have with my body being a December birth, the upside of me growing (is a trait recruiters value),” Carrigan told Draft Central. “My grandfather is 6’6″ and my uncle’s 6’4″ so I’ve got a lot of growing left in me and I’ll fill out obviously.”

While his growth has hardly been stunted, Carrigan’s on-field feats were limited to a couple of big preseason performances which built upon the promise shown in five outings for Sandringham in 2019. The 17-year-old not only grew to 189cm, but was also able to showcase his expanded athletic base with outstanding preseason testing results.

His speed-endurance mix was on full show; registering a 2.91-second 20-metre sprint, 21.6 score on the yo-yo test, and even running vertical jumps of over 80cm off either foot. It meant on top of his eye-catching returns on-field, recruiters also had some data which jumped off the page, keeping Carrigan’s name fresh in their minds.

While he had hoped to really press his case to be drafted in 2020, Carrigan says he had not been particularly “fazed” by garnering perhaps a little less attention than some of his highly-touted teammates, at least coming into the year.

“It’s something you get used to, just going under the radar,” he said. “Unfortunately I couldn’t play this year, I was really excited to showcase what I can do (and earn) the team success we thought we could achieve. But always going under the radar hasn’t really fazed me, I’ve put in the hard work that needs to be done and achieved things.”

Lachlan Carrigan on the move for Sandringham | Source: Supplied

Carrigan’s motivation is far from waning either, even in the face of Melbourne’s Covid-19 restrictions. The Hampton Rovers junior was able to set up a home gym with equipment from his former club, while also doing touch work and running throughout the week. With Year 12 studies at St. Bede’s College also thrown in the mix, there is plenty on Carrigan’s plate, though he says life has been “pretty cruisy” of late.

“I’m pretty much kicking every day, just with mates doing whatever we can do,” he said. “On top of that I’ll also be out (at the) gym four to five times a week and then just running as well. But it’s pretty cruisy, lots of study too.

“Dad works at Hampton Rovers so we went in and got a lot of their gym equipment. We set them all up in the backyard and in the lounge room so that’s been really good. And then just using the facilities around in the 5km (radius) I guess.

“The motivation is always there for me when it comes to footy. Maybe not as much with school but definitely for footy. Training, whether it’s in the weight room, running or just doing the extras, I think the motivation comes easily.”

The AFL hopeful has also been in contact with around a dozen clubs throughout the year and is beginning to gauge how the next few months, or even year may pan out. A Carlton fan, Carrigan hasn’t spoken to the Blues just yet but is planning for multiple outcomes by the end of 2020. With the NAB League extended to an Under 19 competition, the chance to prove himself at that level remains should he be overlooked in this year’s draft.

“(Discussions with clubs) have been really mixed,” Carrigan said. “I don’t think many clubs have delved into the talks about where they’d pick me up. We get a few, but it has been a mix of ‘we’ll pick you up in the late rounds and take a punt’ or ‘we want to see you play more footy’.

“I’m pretty academic… after school, I’m still deciding if I go back to the Dragons. I just want to put in all my effort there and maybe if I’ve got enough free time around halfway through the year I’ll pick up a (university) course. The courses I’m looking at are probably accounting or commerce, and also sports management.”

The running wingman also does a fair bit of footballing study, moulding his game on the likes of Hugh McCluggage for his inside and outside balance, as well as Josh Kelly and Isaac Smith.

“I love footy so I watch a lot of it,” he said. “I think I’m very versatile (but) my favourite position is probably the wing, just because I’ve played there the most and I know how to play it.

“I’ve been working hard on a lot of areas. I think my main areas over the summer, this preseason, were just my contested work and my ability to hit the scoreboard. You can get better at everything I guess.”

While much of his journey, especially of late, has been carried out among the unknown, Carrigan says he has had “a lot of great coaches and mentors” to lean on throughout the experience.

“(Sandringham assistant) Jackson Kornberg‘s been really good this year, Simon McPhee and (Mark) ‘Bomber’ Reilly too,” he said.

Carrigan’s next point of call will be at the Vic Metro Draft Combine on Saturday, though he will not participate in the testing. Draft day looms on the week of December 7.

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.

Late blooming Buethke leans on dual-sport edge

IT was a move that took great courage.

Tahlita Buethke had played netball since she was six years old, but after some deliberation, made the transition to high-level football with South Adelaide. Despite a rollercoaster year for budding AFL Women’s draftees, the 18-year-old has not looked back.

“It took me a long time to actually have the balls to go out to South,” Buethke said. “When I started playing I always got so much joy out of the game. I definitely want to get somewhere in footy but still have lots of work to do yet.”

Having made her SANFLW debut for the Panthers in 2020 and played seven games, the athletic midfielder has in large part justified the faith shown in her as she entered the South Australian junior talent pathway. Described by SA talent manager Robbie Neill as having a “big future”, Buethke’s rate of development has been steep.

She says the elite pathway has aided her growth despite a pandemic-effected season, combining well with the already-present sporting base which has seen her transition to the level seamlessly. It has her dreaming big.

“The South Adelaide Under 17s program helped ready me for the seniors,” she said. “They have developed me so much within this short season due to Covid-19. “The South Australian pathway, with both of them helping, worked so well and this year I have learnt so much about the sport.

“My speed is very helpful and with me playing netball, my marking is pretty good. (I am still) needing to improve on knowing when to take the game on… (but) I like a fast game.”

“Having the opportunity to play for a team like South (was a big achievement), in the next coming years I’d like to to try get drafted.”

Buethke sees the wing as her best position at senior level, and an impactful showing during this month’s AFLW Under 18 All-Stars showcase undeniably boosted her stocks. The raw prospect supports the Adelaide Crows’ women’s side, but says if given the chance, she “would definitely move away” to play top flight football interstate. With a part-time job as a painter in tow, Buethke is also kept reasonably busy during the week – often enjoying a “quick nap” before scooting off to training.

The South Australian’s next major point of call will hopefully be at the AFL Women’s National Draft on October 6.

Featured Image: South Australian All-Star Tahlita Buethke gets a kick away | Credit: Daniel Kalisz/AFL Photos via Getty Images

What’s in a name? Alex the newest Ballard with big dreams

THE ‘sister of’ tag is something which could easily irk a budding AFLW prospect when repeated over time, but Alex Ballard, the proud sister of Gold Coast defender, Charlie gladly accepts the “compliment”.

“I don’t mind it, I think it’s a bit of a compliment if I’m compared to him because he is a good player,” Ballard said. “I think I’m a slightly different player to him, he’s more of a third tall or a second tall, whereas I would like to be that loose defender. But it’s a compliment, I don’t mind it at all.

“We’ve been playing footy in the backyard ever since we were young so I probably got a bit of my skills from him. “He’s the main reason I started playing footy in the first place.

Fresh off an impressive display in the South Australian Under 18 All-Stars showcase, it’s clear Ballard needn’t look far for inspiration on her own game, with her ever-improving older brother and a certain SUNS star making for the perfect defensive archetypes.

“In particular, (I mould my game on) Jack Lukosius from Gold Coast,” she said. “He’s got a really good kick, so he’s able to get it out the backline really easily and go through the middle which creates a lot of opportunities going forward. “And probably my brother’s intercepting, he’s really good at marking and getting into good positions.”

The 17-year-old is clearly cut from the same cloth as Charlie, boasting outstanding marking ability, a sound kick, and shrewd reading of the play. While she plied a lot of her trade up forward for Sturt in this year’s SANFL Women’s season, Ballard enjoyed a return to more familiar defensive pastures during the recent All-Star dig.

“I think my best position is the half-back flank (as) that defender that drives from the backline and through the middle,” she said. I played a bit of forward at Sturt but that got a bit difficult at times… my greatest strength isn’t my one-on-one play but I am able to read the ball and see where it drops. “Then from there I can look for a short 45 or a long kick to hopefully break through the barriers instead of going down the line all the time.”

Stepping up to senior football, as well as pandemic-related disruptions earlier in the year have seen Ballard also identify some areas of improvement. Among them, Ballard says “everyone can always improve their fitness”, while also alluding to some small fundamental tweaks.

“At the moment my fitness would probably be one (improvement area),” she said. “Hopefully then I’ll be able to do a lot more running throughout the game and maybe spend some time in the midfield if the opportunity comes up. “My ground ball gets too, just being clean off the ground and handballing on the up.

“This season I probably struggled a little bit against the big defenders and just having opportunities to score goals. I’m not really a physical player so I’m not always going to win a marking contest one-on-one against a big body, but I’ll leave my player and intercept the possession.”

The limited training circumstances played into sharpening those ball skills, as well as serving as a much-needed motivation boost amid a difficult period.

“Having to keep up the fitness throughout the break, not being able to train with our teammates and keep up those skills was a bit difficult,” she said. “But as we started to train in small groups, I remembered how fun footy was and it really drove my motivation up.

“Getting out to training was the first step in getting that motivation back, and just seeing your teammates and remembering the bond you have with them. At trainings we weren’t doing contact, so it was mostly just improving our skills and I think that worked really well.”

Having lived and breathed football from all the way back to her backyard kick-arounds with her brother, to junior footy with the Mitcham Hawks, and a long journey with Sturt, there are only a couple of weeks left until the all-important draft day for Ballard. The ultimate goal is clear, and the Double Blues prospect is still doing the “little things” required to realise her big dream.

“Being able to play at the highest possible level would be amazing, so that’s definitely the ultimate goal,” she said. “But obviously you have to do little things before that… you’ve got to take it one step at a time and hopefully that reflects in my game at Sturt, and then hopefully that leads to an AFLW opportunity.

“I’m open to go anywhere at the moment, just because, why not? Queensland would be amazing because Charlie’s there so I’d get to be with him, South Australia too. But at the moment you can’t be picky so I’m happy to go anywhere.”

Ballard will hope to hear her name read out at the AFL Women’s National Draft on October 6.

Picture: Daniel Kalisz/AFL Media

Sprinting ace Grubb takes a tough year in his stride

KEEN South Australian draft watchers may remember him as the winner of last year’s SANFL Grand Final sprint, but Central Districts speedster Lachlan Grubb has more in his locker than pure straight-line speed. Sprinting and football run through the 17-year-old’s veins, with his father a former Reserves player at Norwood, while his uncle took out the 1970 Bay Sheffield meet. It makes his pedigree hard to shake, but the youngster is taking it all in his stride, with his genes helping form many of his most damaging traits.

The draft prospect’s pace, agility, and goal sense makes for an exciting package forward of centre, and Grubb has impressed across the senior grades in his top-age campaign.

“Speaking with ‘Bangers’ (Tony Bamford) and my coaches from Centrals at the start of the year, I think the plan for me was to play predominantly in the position where I was likely to get drafted, if I do at the end of the year,” Grubb said. “So playing that small forward role really suits me well with my goal awareness, speed, and being able to evade people with my agility.

“Last year I played six Reserves games when I was 16 so I guess I had the confidence from last year as well. “Especially with the speed of the game and the sort of player I am, I like to move the ball quicker, get out and use my legs, and I think that’s allowed me to show my weapons.

“It was awesome to play two League games (in 2020). “I was pretty disappointed to go back down into the twos but we’ve got a really good team and culture at the club at the moment so our twos are flying, top of the ladder. “Hopefully we can keep that form up heading into finals.”

After a wildly successful reign between 2000-2011, the Bulldogs have not returned to the final game of the League season since. But Grubb, and the Reserves side he has played most of his footy in this year looks primed for a premiership tilt in 2020, having won more games that the League and Under 18s teams combined to remain one game away from a minor premiership. Grubb is relishing the opportunity to play senior football, and at a “pretty good” standard, no less.

“There’s a really good spirit around the club at the moment and obviously heading into finals, we’ve only lost one game this year,” he said. “I’m very fortunate to be able to play finals footy, obviously not many people in Australia are getting to play footy, and it’s all eyes on SA so it’s a really good opportunity we’ve got and hopefully we can go forward and win a flag.”

But the journey hasn’t been completely smooth sailing thus far, with the obvious early setback of a delayed season compounded by injury, the feeling that people are overlooking the Reserves grade this year and most recently, missing out on a National Combine invite.

“We had just done the whole preseason and found out that the season had stopped, and we didn’t know when it was going to come back,” Grubb said. “It was obviously a bit of a stab in the foot, but I guess everyone across Australia was suffering with it.

“Then starting off the season, I missed the first four games with a syndesmosis injury in my ankle. I did all my recovery pretty quickly, thought I was pretty professional with the way I went about that and just tried to get back as soon as possible.

“I played two League footy games, then went back down to the twos and I’ve been in some pretty good form, but I guess it’s just a bit frustrating because not many people are looking at the Reserves this year.

A breakout game of three goals, and bag of five in Round 12 would have caught plenty of eyes, though, with Grubb garnering some attention from AFL scouts. Having spoken to a couple of clubs recently, the youngster is also moulding his game on a couple of speedy Richmond favourites. Although, he doesn’t support an AFL club at the moment.

“I actually don’t (support) an AFL team,” he said. “Everyone did when we were growing up with the Crows and stuff, but it’s a bit weird, I don’t actually support an AFL team at the moment. “Dad goes for the Pies, they have a bit of a special spot in my heart.

Shai Bolton from Richmond, I mould my game on him. “Just his speed and his pressure – pressure has been a massive improvement for me this year, obviously that’s been the main feature to use my speed to get to players quicker. “At the start of the year I was more of an offensive player rather than a defensive player, so really just trying to hone in on that pressure role as a small forward. “Shai Bolton is definitely one I mould my game on and players like Jason Castagna as well, who can also roll through the forward and wing position.

“The main feedback (from AFL clubs) for me has been just that defensive pressure. “At the start of the year, it wasn’t as good, but it’s been really improving over the past few months of games.”

With help from manager Michael Doughty, a 231-game player at the Crows, Grubb has also taken on extra craft sessions throughout the week. Along with school, sessions at his local JT Performance Centre gym, training with his athletics coach, and regular commitments with Centrals, it makes for a pretty packed week. But as a “laid back” character by his own assessment, Grubb has been able to use each opportunity to his advantage.

“Life’s pretty good in SA,” he said. “School’s been pretty easygoing this year, I’m a laid back sort of a guy so I don’t get stressed over too many things. “The coronavirus hasn’t really effected me too much, I think I really bounced back from it pretty well… (it has been) pretty hectic but I don’t mind it.”

Nearing the end of his top-age campaign, there remains one big goal for Grubb to tick off, but a series of smaller ones come first.

“Obviously the main goal at the end of the year is to get picked up by an AFL club, that’s my dream since I was a young kid,” he said. “But (I am) just setting little goals and trying to play some consistent footy. “I guess I haven’t really been seen much over the last couple of years, last year was my breakout year. “Obviously all the other guys have played a lot of state footy, so I guess I’ve been coming from behind of everyone.

“I’ve just been trying to put some consistent games of footy together to really showcase what I can do to all AFL clubs. “Tackle numbers every game, trying to get that down pat, and then obviously finishing off my goals, because there was a couple of games where I kicked a few points this year.

“If footy doesn’t work out, there’s a lot of things that I can look to. “I do pretty well at school, I’ve got good grades this year and have really honed down on my Year 12. “I’m pretty good at psychology, so maybe just some sort of sports psychology at Uni. I like teaching the younger generation so maybe PE teaching at uni or something like that, too. But I’m really open to anything at the moment.”

Grubb sought to thank his family for their ongoing support, as well as his Centrals coaches for their help throughout the season, and his manager for the effort and time put into him this year.

Featured Image: Lachlan Grubb gets a kick away | Source: (Retrieved from) Central District Football Club

Fast and fierce Huynh embodies Centrals’ spirit

SHE may be small, but packs a punch. Central District forward Laitiah Huynh is a prospect who personifies everything great about her side’s style; pace, an attacking mindset, and ferocity in the tackle.

The 17-year-old has cut her teeth throughout the South Australian pathway, rising the ranks via her state’s Under 16s, and Under 18s squads over the past three years. She has proven a perfect fit for Bulldogs’ senior side since debuting in 2019, harnessing her competitive edge with help from her Centrals family.

“I used to be really hesitant for the ball but with Centrals, they just go for everything so I’m in everything now – or I try to be,” Huynh said. “It made me a more fierce player. “(My coaches and teammates) always help me. Most of them are like my family now, I love them all… at the start it was really nerve-racking because I was the youngest one in the whole team, but they supported me and helped me through it.”

In such a tumultuous year for budding AFL Women’s draftees, the theme of family has helped Huynh come out the other side a better for it. With her release, football, taken away from her amid a global pandemic, the youngster sought to connect the best support network possible.

“I just surrounded myself with my family and friends, mainly my family because I couldn’t really see anyone else,” she said. “But it was hard because I didn’t really have anything to do and footy is usually what I did to get my mind off other things.

“I thought it was going to impact my performance when we came back. I wasn’t sure how well I’d perform because we didn’t really get to train as a team. “My dad’s crazy about my football so he’s just the biggest support ever. (Mum and Dad) come to all my games, they took me everywhere before I had my licence so it’s been really good.”

The lingering unknown was compounded by Huynh’s juggling act of high-level football, Year 12 schooling, casual work, and interests outside all those realms, forcing somewhat of a squeeze on her priorities. But not for long, as she hit the ground running and prospered upon a return to normality.

“I did miss a few trainings because of school, because I was just trying to keep on top of everything,” she said. “But it’s gone better now, I’ve almost finished. “The season came back (during) the important part of school, so I was just a bit stressed out but I just cut my casual work a bit and just did school and footy. “I bought heaps of things off Gumtree and just trained at home. “We had a group chat so we all sent in different activities (and) exercises to do at home, rather than a gym.”

The improvisation paid off, as Huynh impressed throughout her second South Australian National Football League (SANFL) Women’s campaign, while also recently running out in her state’s Under 18 All-Star showcase. Having already proven her worth as a forward, the speedy small was utilised further afield late in the season, and during her representative hitout.

“I’m a bit smaller so I’ve mostly stuck to the forwardline this season,” she said. “I was also chucked on the wing for a couple of games and everyone thinks I’d be better on the wing because I’m fast. “With practice I think I’ll get better at it, I do want to learn the wing more.

“I think I did alright (in the All-Stars game). “I got put on the wing and I went forward for a little bit but the ball wasn’t really coming down when I was there. “But it was heaps fun because all the girls were obviously the best talent in SA, so we were all skilful and it was a good experience.”

The opportunity to play at such a high level against her peers somewhat made up for a lack of a national carnival in 2020, which Huynh says she wishes she could have experienced again in her top-age year. Having transitioned into football at around age 12, she has also observed the expansion of such pathways.

“It was my last year so obviously I would have wished to have a National Championships,” she said. “All in all, you can’t really help what happened but it was a good experience. “Most of my SA friends were in the All-Stars game anyway, I’d played with them for the last couple of years, so it was a good experience to be alongside them again.

“When I started I don’t think there was an AFLW team (in South Australia) but I think when everyone heard that there would be, they just jumped straight into footy and ever since then, with all the different pathways and activities that are put on for everyone to join in, they’ve really gained the skill and experience from all of that.”

As a supporter of the Adelaide’s successful women’s side, Huynh admits playing for the Crows “would be the dream” come draft time, but is happy to move anywhere given she has family all around Australia. Looking forward, Huynh is working on her contested game, especially marking, while also seeking to build her fitness and strength to suit AFLW level.

Should the ultimate dream not come to fruition this year, the fast-developing prospect is happy to hone her craft with help from the Central District family.

Featured Image: Huynh representing South Australia at the 2019 Under 18 National Championships | Source: Dean Martin/The Advertiser

Two from two – NT gun Brodie Lake helps Centrals break through

SIX rounds into the 2020 SANFL Under 18s season, Central Districts sat seventh at 1-5. To that point, the Bulldogs had only bettered winless cellar dweller West Adelaide in Round 2. Over the past fortnight, they’ve improved to 3-5 and remain just one game off the top four.

Across that very same two-week period, Northern Territory (NT) native Brodie Lake has settled into the side having moved south to pursue a greater wealth of opportunities in his top-age AFL draft year. It may be a coincidence that Centrals are two from two with Lake in the lineup, but it’s clear the Top End talent is making his mark.

Having arrived in South Australia on the first Monday of August, Lake was able to get straight into training and make his debut for the Bulldogs just five days later.

“This is my second week here. Our season is not on (back home) and NT Thunder got cancelled with the NAB League so I made the decision to come down, get my name out there and play some games,” Lake told Draft Central this week.

“I didn’t have to quarantine coming from Darwin but I had to get a test just to make sure. It was good to get straight into training and playing. I had training on Wednesday and Thursday, and then played on the weekend and got the win.”

Central Districts’ Brodie Lake celebrates a goal with teammates | Picture credit: Hannah Howard/SANFL

The daunting factor of living away from home at just 18 years of age is somewhat aided by the fact he has experienced it all before. Lake lived with a host family in Western Australia while representing Peel Thunder during last year’s WAFL Colts competition, making eight appearances. While he has the distraction of football and is currently rooming with older brother, Keenan in South Australia, the youngster still leans on his prior travels to push through.

“(Moving to WA last year) definitely made it a lot easier, knowing I can live away from Mum and Dad… I’m living here with my brother so that’s good.

“For the first couple of months I don’t find it hard because I’m doing stuff and training, but towards the end when the season is about to finish I start missing home a little bit more.

“Mum, Dad and my brother are big helps. They just push me and encourage me to do stuff and they say ‘It’s up to you, it’s your dream, but we’ll help you and support you through it.'”

That dream of playing AFL football has been at the forefront of Lake’s mind since first representing the Thunder at Under 16s level in 2018. He did so once again in 2019, earning his side’s Most Valuable Player (MVP) award for his efforts across the three-game Division 2 carnival.

“I started getting serious about it at Under 16s, my first year (with NT). I was like ‘Yeah, this is something I want to do.’

“I enjoyed playing with the boys back home, getting into the state side with them and getting to know them a bit more. It was good, especially to get All Australian, I was pretty happy with that.”

Congratulations to Brodie Lake who topped off his family affair during the NAB AFL Under 16 Championships by being named…

Posted by AFL Northern Territory on Friday, July 12, 2019

 

Having grown up in the Darwin zone, Lake is tied to the Gold Coast SUNS, though opted to continue his southern venture rather than represent the Queensland-based program in the current Academy Series.

“I went down (to Queensland) and trained with them for two weeks in the off-season with Joel Jeffrey, Brandon Rusca, and Tyrell Lui. I enjoyed it, they’re a great bunch of boys.

“I haven’t heard much lately because of the virus obviously, but a couple of the boys are down there training with the academy now. I didn’t end up going because I talked to ‘Roey’ (NT Thunder Academy coach, Jason Roe) and Dad, we had a chat and they reckon it’s better for me to stay down here and get some game time.”

The medium-sized utility has had plenty of mentors to aid him as he traverses a path less travelled by, as well as teammates who have made each transition as smooth as possible. Lake played senior football alongside former AFL midfielders Ed and Michael Barlow at Southern Districts in the 2019/20 NTFL season, with senior coach Matt Cannard also playing a hand in his development as a midfielder.

Through the Palmerston Under 12s and the NT system, he played both with and against Jeffrey, and also got to know a bunch of other AFL draft hopefuls when selected in last year’s Under 17 Futures All Star showcase. One of them was current Centrals League gun Corey Durdin, while fellow Bulldogs Austin McDonald and Kobe Wilson have partnered him well through midfield at Under 18s level. Another Palmerston product, Jonty Patrick, who was set to join the Calder Cannons this season, has also made the trip down with him.

While there are a bunch of great minds and players alike to feed off, Lake also takes inspiration from GWS GIANTS midfielder Lachie Whitfield, who he models his game on. The similarities are there; the ability to accumulate on the spread, play on either side of midfield or off half-back, and run all day. Lake enjoys watching Whitfield so much, he even jumped ship from supporting Carlton to embrace the ‘Big Big Sound’ in Western Sydney.

As he blazes his own trail, the 18-year-old sees himself slotting in at half-back among an AFL side, with a good bunch of traits to help stamp his case as a genuine draft chance.

“(I’d fit in) at half-back I reckon… with my running off the backline, I use the ball well and read the play,” he said.

“I enjoy playing inside mid or outside, I love midfield.”

Of his strengths, Lake listed speed, agility, marking, and tackle pressure, while he is looking to improve on his timing and getting to as many contests as possible.

There have been many adjustments to be made too, from the cooler weather, to playing a different brand of football than he’s used to.

“It’s freezing. I just warm up in a jumper, and warm up extra obviously because my muscles are a bit colder… on-field here there’s more structure and (it’s played) in-close with bigger bodies. They move the ball faster too by hand and foot.”

As he further acclimatises across the second half of the SANFL season, Lake is looking to move up the grades and simply put his best foot forward in hopes of realising his ultimate dream. Should it fail to come to fruition in 2020, Lake says he is committed to putting in a full campaign down south next year in between duties with Southern Districts. With his current online Year 12 studies in tow, there is always a Plan B, too.

For now, it’s full steam ahead with exposure and time on the park paramount to his chances of reaching the elite level.

Lake sought to thank his parents, brother, Nan and Pop, aunties, uncles, and cousins, for all their support during his journey.