Tag: Gippsland Power

2021 NAB League team preview: Gippsland Power

GIPPSLAND Power talent pathways coach Rhett McLennan says his Under 19 boys side is back up to speed after over 550 days away from competitive action, ahead of their Round 1 NAB League meeting with Dandenong Stingrays on Saturday afternoon. Having created a spark though strong preseason performances and the girls’ first win for 2021 last week, the Power have some good momentum heading into this weekend’s clash.

“We were really impressed with the way the boys have turned out athletically given there’s been very little structured training,” McLennan said. “For us to test really well in regards to speed, agility and endurance was really pleasing. It shows that our boys athletically have a really good mix this year and if we can translate that to footy ability then we’ll be really exciting.

“We had a couple of boys there watching (the girls’ win) and it was like a grand final for the girls. For them to win their first game in two and a half seasons and still remain positive over that period of time, it’s just really good to be part of it because those girls have taken any little victory they can along the way and continued to improve.”

The Power have already met their weekend adversaries this year, having competed in a preseason scratch match in blustery conditions at Garfield. McLennan says it was difficult to get a proper reading on either side, but has taken some good learnings away from the game. Given the profile of Gippsland’s list, expect some hard work on the inside to be complemented by good speed on the outer in 2021.

“It was very difficult to get a gauge on either sides’ strengths and weaknesses but Dandenong were very impressive in the speed that they used the ball, and also their talls were quite dominant,” he said. “We’ve been looking to try and negate that in some sort of way whilst trying to create some speed ourselves with fast movement of the ball and carrying it with our smalls.

“The Gippsland way has usually been a team that’s hard to play against, so you can expect that physicality again. But also looking at our list style and attributes, we’re looking to actually play with speed that some of our players have got and hopefully some crumbing play up forward where we can have some of our smalls go to work as well.”

There are a couple of familiar names set to light up Gippsland’s list, with Will Papley (brother of Tom) and Jai Serong (brother of Caleb) among the most promising draft eligible prospects at the Power’s disposal. Both are set to play key roles during the upcoming campaign, and McLennan is certainly a good wrap for them.

“Will Papley has got his body right after a long run of hip and groin soreness, so it looks like he’s going to have a really good early start to the season if he can string some early games together, then I think that he gives the mid-season draft a shake. “Jai Serong has been nothing but impressive in 2020 but even more so in 2021. He tested extremely well in regards to his speed and agility, and at 192cm is a perfect mix for versatility given he’s got really good mid craft, goal sense and the flexibility to play tall or small.”

One of the Power’s eight 19th-year players, Luis D’Angelo will captain the team in 2021 having shown outstanding leadership qualities and elite inside skills. He is yet to play in the NAB League, but is one to look for through the midfield and has already impressed at senior level with Box Hill in their practice matches.

The Power will also have an over-ager running around, as 20-year-old Billy Bundle returns to the region. A player with the heralded basketball background, Bundle has played country football and showed plenty of promise. As he overcomes some preseason injury niggles, expect him to roll out for the Power and make an impact.

Speaking of, 2003-birth Jobe Somerville went down with a knee injury during the Power’s preseason hitout, but McLennan says he will just about have a full list to choose from for Round 1 as a few others make their returns shortly. There will be plenty of excitement nonetheless as Gippsland’s season bounces down at 1:00pm at Morwell Recreation Reserve on Saturday.

Image Credit: Graham Denholm/AFL Photos

Matser gaining confidence ahead of season 2021

THE 2021 NAB League Girls season is set to bounce down on Saturday, with players looking forward to their first taste of competitive action for nearly 12 months. Gippsland Power is one of the sides in action on opening day, poised against the Tasmania Devils at Highgate Recreation Reserve.

Power tall, Grace Matser is one prospect looking to impress in her draft year, with the 186cm ruck readying for her first outing in Gippsland colours since April 2019. The high-level basketballer managed six games as a bottom-ager that year but did not feature in the shortened 2020 season, making her layoff even longer than some.

Having committed to football, the developing key position player is adapting to the code and has made some serious strides in preseason. Gippsland coach Rhett McLennan identified her as a “standout” on the track thus far.

“I think (there have been) two real standouts,” McLennan said. “Grace Matser, she’s our ruck from Korumburra, she’s done a power of work over that lockdown period and showed great self-motivation. “To get herself in fantastic condition and still develop has been sensational.”

Matser attended the NAB League Girls preseason testing event hosted by Rookie Me, and told Draft Central of some of the attributes she is looking to bring to the fore across season 2021. Given she ticks the ‘basketball background’ box, Matser says some of those skills have transferred into her football.

“I feel like I can read the ball really well,” she said. “From basketball you’ve got to know how to read the play so I can tell where everything’s going. Also just general craft around the ruck and all that kind of stuff.”

“I (want to) just to be a real presence around the club, be a real voice out there and obviously have that confidence as well. Also hopefully getting drafted to an (AFLW) team would be amazing

On the other hand, Matser is still developing parts of her game which, as a tall player, will inevitably help her make a bigger and more consistent impact on games. In these aspects, the 18-year-old says confidence is key.

“Definitely my confidence around the ball (is an area of improvement),” she said. Especially in packs, being able to be that tall target around the ground.”

Having only begun her footballing journey in 2017, Matser’s rate of development has been steep. The raw and athletic prospect represented Vic Country’s Under 16 side in 2019 and says among her favourite aspects of the game is its “team environment.”

“I started in 2017, just with the local youth girls team down at Korumburra and went to try out for the Gippsland Power that same year,” she said. “I was a bit young to play but I’ve been with them for four years and I’m absolutely loving it.

“I just love the team environment, just how the girls get around each other and how they’re so supportive. Also the physicality of it as well.”

Expect to see Matser feature prominently in the Power’s NAB League Girls campaign this year, with some exciting talent coming out of the Country region once again.

The Draft Central crew also chatted to a number of Matser’s teammates and young guns from around the competition on preseason testing day, all of which can be viewed on our YouTube channel across the coming days in the brand new ‘At the Combine’ series. Don’t forget to subscribe for more!

Gippsland powers through adversity

EVERY NAB League club has had its past 12 months thrown into chaos by a global pandemic that no one could have predicted. While all have come through stronger, Gippsland Power is a team no stranger to having to overcome challenges that impact more than just the footballing landscape.

In 2020, the Power’s preseason was impacted due to the bushfires and subsequent smoke that raged in the south east of the state, forcing many to improvise. When asked if the club, and in particular the group of the past 12 months was resilient, there was little doubt in Gippsland Power coach, Rhett McLennan‘s mind.

“It seems that way,” he said. “They really roll with the punches well, this group of girls. “Regardless of what it’s been, whether it’s been bushfires, whether it’s been a global pandemic, when they’ve actually turned up to training, it seems to have been their sole focus and they’ve been a pleasure to coach so far.”

The new landscape of NAB League football means lists are younger, with only a handful of what used to be over-agers (19-year-olds) and some inexperienced 18 and 17-year-olds due to the season cancellation. McLennan admitted the Power’s 2021 side would be young, but he was excited about their potential.

“Primarily we’re fairly young,” McLennan said. “But I’d imagine that a lot of the NAB League teams are as well because you won’t take as many top-age girls through, so it’s probably a little bit different in a structure being Under 19s than it was Under 18s. “We’re young, we’re developing, but we think when we look across a section of our list, we’ve got some speed and we’re also got some skill in regards to that, so the way that we move the ball I think will be a lot quicker, and when we’re on I think we’ll be a pretty exciting team to watch.”

On last year’s group, there were a number of players in contention to be drafted, and AFL Women’s Academy member Megan Fitzsimon was lucky enough to have her named called out on draft night, credit to her consistency over the past few seasons. Gippsland Power Gameday Operations Coordinator Chelsea Caple said Fitzsimon had earned a spot at the elite level and her work had already been recognised by Melbourne when she was selected for Round 1.

“She’s pretty lucky that she’s been a pretty consistent player with us over the past few years,” Caple said. “Unlike Grace McRae that probably needed 2020 to really show the recruiters what she had, Megan was lucky that she had that experience and that consistency with playing, so we’re incredibly proud that she got picked up by Melbourne to be playing with the likes of other Gippsland Power players in Tyla Hanks. “I think it’s a great environment for her and we’re excited to see her play Round 1.”

McRae is one of four 19-year-old talents returning to the side, with Shanara Notman also returning as the new over-ager, turning 20 this year. Asked if the new Under 19s competition gave players more hope given they had effectively missed their top-age – or in Notman’s case, over-age – year, there would be more opportunities, Caple was optimistic.

“It’s clever to give the girls that weren’t drafted another opportunity, because we see girls who just do need more game experience that will be able to get that,” Caple said. “But I think the ones we’ve brought back have really stepped up at training and have been taking the lead and there’s such a vast majority. “The vast range of age groups, we’ve got quite young girls playing with our 19-year-olds which is something we need to consider as well when we go into playing games.”

As for the roles the older players will take up for the 2021 season, McLennan said it would depend on the circumstance, but it was likely they would find themselves tested in unfamiliar roles to showcase their versatility.

“We’ve done a little bit of match simulation over the past couple of weeks so what we’re looking forward to actually seeing just in regards to our training is flexibility in our players,” McLennan said. “Where they’ve previously played, we might find that they’re better suited for their talents in different spots. “But our main goal is to showcase the girls’ talents and however we can do that, or wherever we can put them on the field to do that.”

After such an extended period of time off, McLennan, Caple and the Power coaching staff had to work out a way to reintroduce the players back to group training after so many isolated, individual training sessions.

“Our focus initially was to make sure there was a lot of enjoyment in training so it was just making sure they could go out there and have a kick and have fun again because of such an unprecedented year and the isolation that came with it,” McLennan said.

“That initial process of making it fun, now it’s transformed into ‘okay let’s get ourselves game ready’ and the attitude has been excellent. “We’ve really emphasised that we have attitude and energy towards each training session. “All the girls that have turned up to those sessions, I can’t fault in that space, it’s really good.”

Each year there are players who put in strong seasons and show their wares as a potential future AFL Women’s or VFL Women’s player. After the pre-season and having seen a number of the players step it up before the season was cancelled last year, McLennan said there were a number of players who were ones to watch in 2021.

“Grace McRae, Matilda Van Berkel, those two are really two we expect a lot from that are willing to show that,” McLennan said. “Holly Booth I think has been really solid in regards to her preseason and she gives us a lot of stability down back. “Then we’ve got some really exciting young talent, Yazzy (Yasmin) Duursma I think could play a lot of different positions on the ground. Her skills as a footballer are developing, but her skills as an athlete are already there, so she’s someone we could be really excited about.

“The other one is Lily-Rose Williamson who played a little bit of a football last year as a very young player. “She’s had another year to mature, she has great football talent and skill, and if we can harness that then she will be an extremely good footballer for this season.”

McLennan said there were another couple of names who have been tearing up the track – both with the club and during the isolation period – that could have a huge impact this season.

“I think the two real standouts, Grace Matser, she’s our ruck from Korumburra, she’s done a power of work over that lockdown period and showed great self-motivation to get herself in fantastic condition and still develop has been sensational,” he said.

“The other one is Sunday Brisbane, so Sunday is the opposite end of Grace, she’s only 156cm, but she’s incredibly fit, worked a lot on her skills. “Her skills in close are actually fantastic, her cleanness for the ball has been fantastic as well, and we’re expecting to see a lot of improvement from Sunday this season.”

Gippsland Power will adopt its long-standing attitude of being a difficult opposition to play against. McLennan said the game plan would be “relatively simple”, but effective if the team was able to stand up defensively. He was confident the team would make strides this season, and said both the playing group and coaching staff were pumped to run out for Round 1 of the season.

“We’re excited, we can’t wait for footy to start,” McLennan said. “I don’t know who’s more excited, the coaches or the players. “But we just can’t wait to get out there and coach just as I’m sure the girls can’t wait to get out there and actually play and have a scoreboard and let the competitive juices flow.”

Gippsland Power takes on Tasmania Devils at Highgate Recreation Reserve on Saturday in the NAB League Girls’ first match in 11 months.

Shaw eyes positives after disappointing 2020 season

IT has been disappointing year for most Victorian footballers, with few getting a chance to really test themselves competitively. In most cases for the AFL Women’s Draft Combine invites they have been able to get out on the field and stake their case to be drafted in tomorrow’s 2020 AFL Women’s Draft. Unfortunately for players such as former Gippsland Power and Hawthorn VFL Women’s talent Maddi Shaw, she has not been able to get on the park due to the COVID-19 global pandemic.

Shaw is an over-age prospect who missed out on being picked up in last year’s draft, admitting she was “not ready” to make the next step up to the elite level. But with a big preseason behind her she hoped to be prepared to tackle 2020 in a huge way.

“My plan was to do really, really well in preseason,” Shaw said. “So I really worked quite hard in preseason, really wanted to better myself because I knew last year I was not ready at all. “I was like ‘this year I need to get myself ready’ and become one of those better footballers and make sure I was training really hard, and then coming into the season at my peak. “Making sure I was fitter than I’ve ever been, stronger than I’ve ever been. “But also physically and mentally ready as I’d already had that season to prepare myself and I knew what I was looking forward to.”

It was her first proper full uninterrupted preseasons and her hope to kick-start the year off in style was positive. Despite missing out on being drafted, Shaw said she did not want to look too far ahead other than to have it as a long-term goal, and rather focus on the here and now.

“(I wanted to) just make sure I had a really good preseason, as the last few preseasons I had interruptions and I went to Cambodia, not that that’s an excuse to not be fit, but just making sure I was really prepared and then going into it knowing I was playing for Hawthorn and not aiming for anything other than where I was now and doing my best on each weekend and then looking to the future as it came closer, so trying to work in the moment,” she said.

Her transition from the Power at NAB League Girls level to the VFL Women’s has been a great learning curve, with Shaw getting the opportunity to move through the pathway at local level, through interleague, as well as the elite junior competition and then state-level program.

“It was a bit intimidating at first,” Shaw said. “Walking in as a 17-year-old it was a bit scary, but I had a lot of support around me. “I feel like it was a lot easier than I anticipated. “My experience at Hawthorn’s been awesome, has been really helpful and taught me a lot. “Fitness wise and as an athlete, learning how to take care of my body and also as a footballer. “I’ve learnt so much from not only coaches, but players as well.” 

She said learning off experienced players such as Talia Radan, as well as AFL Women’s premiership coach Bec Goddard and highly respected operator and VFL Women’s premiership coach Paddy Hill, was a great experience for her development.

“You feel really at home in a way so they really help you develop and you have this relationship with them where you can trust everything that they’re saying,” Shaw said. “There’s no second guessing, I like the fact I can walk into training, get my feedback and then go to training, fix what I need to fix, come back and play as a better person. “I don’t have to chase up feedback, they’re always with you and supporting you.”

Picture: Supplied

Like many people, Shaw figured when the season was first postponed, that it would come back in some capacity, but then the disappointment set in and she was resigned to the fact that she would not be able to test herself at the level.

“When it first got postponed I assumed we would only have a few weeks off and we’d be back on track sooner or later,” Shaw said. “But that was definitely not the case, so I was very disappointed when I got there and they told us at training, because I felt like I’d done pretty well throughout preseason and I’d worked hard. “It was kind of hard, you think that that time was wasted, like it definitely wasn’t, but it was very disheartening that we weren’t able to showcase what we’d done throughout preseason. It was really disappointing, but I’m sure we’ll get another chance next year.”

Shaw has always kept a positive mindset when it comes to her football career, never losing sight of being drafted, but also keeping an eye on her present situation to try and produce the best football she can for her side.

“I’d love to get drafted, that’s definitely something I’d really, really want to do,” Shaw said. “I’d also really want to do well in the VFL. “I want to provide and be a high-level player in my team so I can always be trusted to do my job and play my role at Hawthorn and as much as individually I want to get drafted, but as a team at Hawthorn I really just want us to do well and get back to that premiership that we got in 2017, not that I was involved.”

Shaw said her greatest strength was to take on feedback and adapt to whatever role her coaches needed. In terms of on-field traits, Shaw has good athleticism and can provide run out of defence and has been particularly focused on improving her offensive side and developing from a defensive player into a utility.

The Hawks’ teenager said she had been working diligently on her fitness over the break in preparation for the 2021 VFL Women’s season, with help from Hawthorn as well as her university.

“I’ve just been trying to maintain my fitness, so obviously not trying to push myself too hard, we’re going to go into preseason and I don’t want to overwork myself, but really working on my running, keeping my legs ticking over and pushing my body in a way to maintain my readiness coming into preseason,” Shaw said. “Hopefully not get too much of a shock.”

She described 2020 as a “learning curve” and said there was always an opportunity to get drafted regardless of age. Shaw herself sets short-term goals to accompany her long-term aim of being drafted, and said whether it was being selected in the Hawks’ side, having a statistical goal or providing a particular effort for her team, she was always ticking off short-term goals.

As for evolving her game, Shaw still has plenty of belief she has what it takes to make the AFL Women’s in the future.

“I just want to become better, I just want to get drafted,” Shaw said. “That’s going to be my target and I’m going to do whatever I have to do to get there. “I’m willing to put in extra hours of training, learn new skills, I really just want to make it because I know that I can because I have the right support around me.”

Shaw is not alone when it comes to disappointment of not having a season to try and improve her form, and she said while some might be tempted to question their future in the sport, she was confident the pendulum would swing back and opportunities would arise in the future.

“I don’t think a lot of people have really turned their back on footy because we’ve missed a whole season,” Shaw said. “I’ve heard a lot of girls who have commented on like ‘maybe this isn’t for me, I’ve missed a whole year, maybe I’m not ready’. “I think a lot of people just think to try and click that reset button and try and push again and try again because there’s always going to be an opportunity that is going to come out of hard work I reckon, so making sure everyone keeps going this year as much as it’s been really hard.”

Former soccer star Fitzsimon rises through footy pathway

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Surprised McRae loving footy journey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Megan Fitzsimon (Gippsland Power/Vic Country)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TEAMS:

These clubs are seeded third (Port Adelaide) and 14th (Gippsland) respectively, forming another Round of 16 clash in our draw. Port defeated Peel Thunder to earn its place in the stage, while Gippsland got the nod over South Adelaide. The winner will qualify for the quarter finals, set to face either West Adelaide or the Dandenong Stingrays.

STRENGTHS:

It’s a near-pointless task identifying the strengths of our proposed Port Adelaide Magpies side, because it is ridiculously good across all three lines. The defence is terrific, headed by the Wakelin brothers – Darryl and Shane – while Brownlow medalists Gavin Wanganeen and Andrew McLeod feature on one side, and are accompanied by 300-gamer Corey Enright and Graham Johncock on the other.

There’s such a great mix of skill and solidity in that bunch, and same goes for the midfield group. The brawn of Buckley and Scott Thompson is complemented well by the presence of Craig Bradley, with the trio boasting nearly 1000 games of AFL experience between them. A bit of x-factor is also evident as Byron Pickett lines up on the wing, while Alan Didak takes his place up forward.

Gippsland’s midfield combination makes for arguably its strongest line, with Pendlebury at the heart of it alongside fellow premiership Magpie, Dale Thomas and Essendon captain, Dyson Heppell. Their presence pushes Brendon Goddard out to the wing, making for a versatile mix of engine room operators. The rebounding quality in defence is also prevalent, led by former Bulldogs skipper Robert Murphy and current Carlton co-captain Sam Docherty, while Jason Gram and David Wojcinski take up either pocket. Needless to say, the side is also made up of plenty of leadership material.

WEAKNESSES:

Picking out weaknesses in the Port Adelaide side is like splitting hairs, though one slight issue may emerge against even stronger sides. While quite capable as a premiership player, Scott Lycett is billed to carry the ruck duties largely alone, and would even be tested against the Power as Leigh Brown supports Nathan Vardy.

While Brown takes his spot deep in Gippsland’s forwardline, the Power’s lack of a couple more true key position players could be costly. The 191cm Sean Dempster and 194cm Mark Stevens slot in up either end, and are surrounded by plenty of class.

SUMMARY:

You simply cannot go past the Port Adelaide Magpies in this matchup, with their class across the board simply too much for the Power. The Magpies match, if not beat Gippsland’s greatest strengths, and will go deep in this tournament.

Which All-Star Team would you pick?
Port Adelaide Magpies
Gippsland Power
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Shanara Notman – Grasping opportunity through adversity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TEAMS:

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

STRENGTHS:

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

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

WEAKNESSES:

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

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

SUMMARY:

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

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