Tag: india lehman

Q&A: Ally Morphett & India Lehman (Murray Bushrangers)

THE 2021 NAB League Girls season bounces down on Saturday, and Draft Central‘s coverage of the elite talent pathway is heating up. We chatted to a raft of prospects at the recent NAB League Girls preseason testing day, hosted by Rookie Me, with a running theme between the players their eagerness to get back to competitive action after an 11-month layoff.

Murray Bushrangers products Ally Morphett and India Lehman were among them, two top-agers keen to show their worth in 2021 as draft-eligible talents. Morphett is a ruck/key forward who was named in this year’s AFLW Academy, while Lehman is a roving small who runs through the midfield and forwardline.

Check out what they had to say on the season ahead in a Q&A special, with video content from their Bushies teammates set to hit our YouTube channel in the coming days.

>> 2021 Season Preview: Murray Bushrangers 

Q&A

Q: What has your footballing journey been like so far?

Morphett (AM): “It started in 2018, I got asked by one of my school teachers to come and play school footy. “I’ve been around footy my whole life, my family and parents have always been into it so why not? (I) just jumped into it, had a go. “I suppose my parents and coaches saw potential in me and I got invited to Riverina trials and it just kept going further and further from then, on.”

Lehman (IL): “I started back when I was a young one, my local town had a little Auskick program happening. “There wasn’t very many of us, there were only a couple of little girls running around. “I remember only one of my close mates was with me then, running around the Auskick field. “There was a bit of primary school footy after and mainly school footy got me into where I am now.”

Q: What kind of role or position are you looking to play this season?

AM: “Most people see me more as a ruck but I would like to be a bit more of a versatile player and be more a key forward as well. “(Playing forward) is fun but I do enjoy both roles very much.”

IL: “I’ll look to hopefully play in the midfield, keep in my position there. “I look to be a better player each game, improving my game, learning more skills and applying them.”

Q: What are your best on-field strengths?

AM: “My strengths would probably be strength in the air and in the ruck… and probably just a big kick as well.”

IL: “My strengths I’d see as speed, I’ve definitely got that on me. “I’m good to just pick up the ball, get on the burners and take on the grass, taking on the game.”

Q: What are you still looking to improve on?

AM: “Obviously my marking, there’s always room for improvement in every area but probably my marking most. “I’d like to be a lot more strong.”

IL: “I’m looking to build on just overall endurance to keep running as long as possible, as much as I can. “And I guess you can never have clean enough hands.”

Q: Who have been your biggest inspirations?

AM: “Definitely my parents – my parents work just as hard as me, if not more. “They commit a lot to me playing football, they have to miss out on work all the time and I don’t know how they manage to get time to take me to games and training and everything, so I appreciate their help.”

IL: Definitely Tayla Harris, making an image in the AFLW world for all the young girls. “And in recent events, Tarni Evans, coming from the club that I’m playing for and making it into the big leagues is pretty inspiring.”

Q: What are some of your goals for 2021?

AM: “Just to keep pushing through and trying to get better and better every time because there’s always room for improvement. “And probably just to be a more versatile player.”

IL: “The goal is to just have an injury-free season, get through the season and hopefully get noticed really.”

Q: What has the travel factor been like for you over your journey?

AM: During preseason we did two and a half hours down to Wangaratta just for training, around twice a week. “Then obviously during season we had to travel about five hours up to Melbourne for games and sometimes two and a half for local games at Wangaratta. “Canberra’s around the same.”

Q: How good was it being able to play football during 2020?

AM: “Lucky we live where we do because we travel down to Victoria and since coronavirus happened, luckily enough Canberra kept pushing through with their football so we were lucky enough to put our time into their league and travel down there every week.”

Murray Bushrangers Talent Operations Lead Mick Wilson on…

Morphett: “Ally’s a very talented sportsperson. “She competes really well, is really skilled. “She competes well above her head and has played football for a while now so has the footy nous.”

Lehman: “India Lehman is a smaller player. “She’s a rover/defensive pressure forward. “All these girls are really talented players, we didn’t get to see much of them last year, but we’ve got a really good opportunity to see them this year which is great.”

Bushrangers fired up for new season

MURRAY Bushrangers coaches and players will be excited when the long wait for a NAB League game is finally over next weekend. The NAB League Girls kicks off on the weekend of February 6-7 and the Bushrangers lock horns with Bendigo Pioneers up in Yarrawonga in a traditional country clash. For Bushrangers’ Talent Operations Lead Mick Wilson, the realisation has dawned on the club that after 10 months of preseason and offseason, NAB League will return.

“I think everyone’s pretty excited,” Wilson said. “Realistically we’ve had quite a number of lead ups. “With COVID last year and coming back and building up to potentially starting up at training, there was another stop and so the excitement that the boys and girls realised something will happen now.

“When you think about it the boys program, the girls program got to play two games, the boys haven’t played at all. “So you’re putting in almost two preseasons before a game of footy. So there’s a lot of excitement around the place and everyone is looking forward to playing a game of footy.”

Between the COVID-19 global pandemic and the recent heatwave in Victoria’s north-east, it has not made training or preparation easy. Wilson said it took a lot of “self-discipline” from the players, but admitted every club was in the same boat.

It’s obviously a dramatic change to what we’re used to. The girls up to their first game had something like 30-odd training sessions, so that’s significant. That’s something that COVID caused that change and you’ve just got to work with that and the kids have been fantastic and have all been working really hard in their programs.

“The boys and girls had to be really self-disciplined, but we’re no different to 12 other teams, it’s just the new world now. Obviously the first couple of rounds it will take the players to adjust because the matchday intensity is so much more significant, in regards to the pace of the match, it doesn’t replicate real game day intensity, so the girls will feel that and I suppose we’ve also had the heat and the girls have been working hard. “Hopefully we get away for a few days that aren’t so hot with four of our matches in February.”

Looking at the 2021 Murray Bushrangers list, AFL Women’s Academy member Ally Morphett stands out, with the talented tall having starred in the AFL Canberra League, finishing runner-up in the Bainrot Medal (league best and fairest) at just 16-years-old. Now a top-age talent, the New South Wales local is one who will provide competitiveness in the air, and great skills for a taller player.

“Ally’s a very talented sportsperson,” Wilson said. “She competes really well, is really skilled. “She competes well above her head, and has played football for a while now so has the footy nous.”

Outside of Morphett though, the Bushrangers are flushed with depth across the field which has pleased the coaching staff ahead of the season. Wilson said there were a number of draft-eligible players who were robbed of an opportunity as middle-agers in 2020, but were keen to show what they could do this year.

“We’ve also got Sophia McCarthy, she’s a top-age (turning 19) player this year,” Wilson said. “She’s really developed well in the preseason. “Her kicking is at the elite level, she’s a brilliant kick and she’s worked on her fitness, and had a really, really strong preseason. “She’ll probably be playing either as a key forward or key back in the first few games.”

“There’s some other top players in their draft years, Lily Sharp is a girl from Finley, she’s another very talented young player. “Really, really nice kid. “She’ll play through the midfield. “Molly Kennedy‘s a midfielder as well who moves really well. She’s in her draft year.

India Lehman is a smaller player. “India is a rover/defensive pressure forward. “All these girls are really talented players, we didn’t get to see much of them last year, but we’ve got a really good opportunity to see them this year which is great.”

The squad might be an exciting one, but as always, it is more so about development and how far players can go in 2021 to give themselves the best chance to reach the elite level, or improve their game to get as far as they can with their football journey.

“While we’re hoping to be competitive to give players exposure at the highest level they can play, we’re all about development,” Wilson said. “So specifically we’re not looking at results and whether we’ll finish into the finals. “That’s not really an ambition or a goal, it’s really about development.”

Having a team that features players from both sides of the Victoria-New South Wales border made 2020 difficult given restrictions not only to training numbers, but to access during hard lockdown, but Wilson said the Bushrangers had a “pretty resilient group”.

Last year’s captain Kate Adams will return to the club in 2021 as one of the nominated 19-year-old talents coming through, and will take up the role again.

“Kate was captain last year and she’s coming back into the program,” Wilson said. “It’s pretty significant for these kids because a lot of them are going to university or finishing Year 12 and going into full-time work so the way they’ve been transitioning has been fantastic. “Kate’s coming back and she will play through the midfield, have a midfield role this year most likely if she’s going to be around and not moving for university, she will continue to be captain again.”

One of the top prospects for 2022 is middle-ager Keeley Skepper who starred at the Under 16s Championships for Vic Country, as did teammate Cassidy Mailer. Unfortunately for the latter, a rare stress-related fracture to her tibia has ruled her out for at least the first half of the season. Wilson said she was doing well despite the injury, “she’s really dedicated in her rehab and we’re looking forward to seeing her come back.”

Skepper’s preseason has also impressed Wilson who named her as one on of the top performers on the track amongst a number of players who have stood out over the preseason.

“Keeley Skepper’s been terrific,” he said. “Her running has been outstanding, she just keeps going and working really hard. Lily Sharp is another one who’s been doing work and training hard. “I mentioned Sophia McCarthy before, she’s had a really good preseason, and Soph identified that was an improvement and she’s worked really hard in that area. “There’s two of our younger players, girls in the ’05 who have been going really well, but realistically across the board we’re fairly even.”

Now the preseason is done and dusted, just one week remains until the Bushrangers have a chance to put theory into practice when they meet the Pioneers on the border next Saturday, February 6.

Bushrangers defenders praised amid last quarter “onslaught”

MURRAY Bushrangers Female Talent Coordinator, Briana Cossar has praised the efforts of her young back six in a frantic fourth quarter last weekend which saw the Bushrangers hold on to two points against a fast-finishing Western Jets outfit. While it was not the full four and a win, Cossar said had it not been for the efforts of the defence under pressure then the result surely would have only gone one way. In particular she highlighted Grace Hay as a star on the day for her work “repelling so many inside 50 attacks, we couldn’t believe it”.

“I think the Western Jets they threw absolutely everything at us, especially in that last quarter,” Cossar said. “Grace Hay was absolutely instrumental in the backline, she held us together pretty much. “If we didn’t have her and the likes of (India) Lehman and (Kristy) Whitehead, (Keeley) Skepper and (Mindy) Quade, it could have been an onslaught of a lot of goals I think. “Their inside 50s were quite high.”

The inside 50 count was in fact 36-16, with a large portion of the Jets fierce attacking coming in the final term where they came from seven points down at the final break to draw level with five minutes remaining. Despite also having the lion’s share of the disposals (246-180), the Jets could not get another score on the board after an important Caitlin Sargent goal at the nine and a half minute mark of the term. What made the feat even more impressive was the Bushrangers’ defence was primarily comprised of 16-year-olds (and 15 in Skepper’s case). Whilst credit must be given to the Bushrangers for their efforts in the final term, the work of the Jets to present with so many entries should also be praised.

More importantly for the Bushrangers, it was pleasing for Cossar and the rest of the coaching and development staff to see marked improvements from Round 1 where they suffered a 50-point loss to Oakleigh Chargers in Wangaratta.

“The Round 2 game on the weekend was really pleasing for all the coaching staff,” Cossar said. “Obviously compared to Round 1, the girls gelled a lot better, the forward structure was a lot more open which gave us a lot more room for players to present and provide an option, which is what we had worked on at training. “Also I just think across the ground everyone they knew their role so the coaches, there was two things that the coaches wanted on the weekend. “One was to bring intensity for four quarters which we did, and the other one was the awareness of locating your opponent which we probably lacked in Round 1. “We chased tail a lot, whereas on the weekend, we were first to the footy, we attacked the footy really well. “We had plenty of outside runners as well. I think everything sort of worked really well together as a team unit and hence the scoreboard.”

Despite coming away with two points, Cossar said it was still a work in progress to focus on positioning in midfield to try and stem the flow of inside 50s after conceding an average of 38 per game in the first two rounds.

“I think the position of our wings and midfield is really, really important. Because once it gets through the middle of the ground or off a half-forward flank, that ball gets to the middle and we’re not front and centre and we don’t attack the footy and it goes to the opposition then you’re chasing tail and it makes it really hard for our back six to then work tirelessly in defence to repel that ball out of defence and then give our midfielders another opportunity to push the ball forward. “Really pleasing after the weekend, a lot of things still to work on, and those types of things, but we actually put four quarters together. “We probably took our foot off the pedal a little bit in each of the quarters, but then we quickly regrouped and then had our mindset on our two focus points that the coaches asked of them so it was really pleasing.”

Cossar said the Bushrangers had been working on that area of their game and “tweaking” players in different positions, but with such a short season and limited interaction with the entire group during the season, it was difficult to go into finer details outside of the key focuses on conditioning and fundamental skills.

“You have a Christmas break, you’re back into training, you have a couple of practice matches and then all of a sudden it’s Round 1,” she said. “We don’t have a lot of time with the players and that’s one of the challenges we face as a country region, we only do see the players in preseason twice a week and then obviously in-season it’s just once a week. “The travel time is massive for some of our players, like a lot of them travel in excess of two, two and a half hours one way to training. “It’s a big challenge for us, but in saying that, Metro club face different challenges. “We all have different challenges, but for us, the travel time is a big one and fatigue we need to manage that too.”

The other challenge the Bushrangers had to address prior to Round 2 clash was the loss of Olivia Barber to concussion. A Vic Country representative at bottom-age level last year and a key target inside 50, the talented basketballer forced a rethink of the front six, which while it might have missed her presence in the air, gave other players a chance to step up. Cossar said while the club would love to have had her in the side, it actually provided them with a different looking forward line based around more speed than height.

“It also allowed us to open up the forward 50, because we have girls that are quite quick as well, so instead of having one target, we thought that we would have three or four that would present at the football to give our ball carriers a few more options and I think that, that works really well as well. In terms of structure I think we changed the structure a bit and it seemed to work well. Hopefully Liv will come back Round 4 and be another target up forward, but depending on the structure and how we go about that, whether we play her as a deep forward or play her as a high forward, we’ll obviously work that out.”

While some might come to the conclusion that having Barber in the side may have altered the drawn result, Cossar said the forward line structure worked more effectively than the first week so it may not have had the same impact. Either way, the Bushrangers coaching staff were pleased with the way the players had performed and Cossar was looking forward to having Barber back in the side who would only “bolster our opportunities at goal” for the Round 4 clash against Gippsland Power in a couple of weeks.

The Bushrangers earn a break this weekend with a scheduled bye, before heading down to Trevor Barker Oval to take on Gippsland Power on Saturday, March 21. Murray then takes on Bendigo at Deakin Reserve in Round 5, then Greater Western Victoria (GWV) Rebels at Epsom Huntly in Round 6. The players will be given a home program to do over the break to try and reduce the travel load ahead of the heavy schedule coming up.

Bushrangers buoyant on improved depth and internal growth

MURRAY Bushrangers have been able to reduce the player-to-coach ratio ahead of the 2020 season thanks to the determination of their NAB League Girls playing group, and additional development coaches. Ahead of the 2020 season, Female Talent Manager Briana Cossar said she was excited about a number of players coming through the program – not just for top-age talent, but middle-age and bottom-age talent as well.

The girls’ enthusiasm, dedication and commitment to the program has resulted in a solid pre-season,” Cossar said. “They’ve really come together as one unit which is a testament to their characters and with a revamped coaching group, which has included additional staff, the player-to-coach ratio has been reduced, playing a pivotal role in increased rate of development compared to last season which we see as vital for continued development and growth of the program. “We’ve got a lot more depth and some really good 14, 15 and 16-year-old players coming through which will be exciting to see their development over the next few years. 

The Bushrangers have three players in the 2020 AFL Women’s National Academy, with top-age talents Abby Favell and Olivia Barber, as well as bottom-age tall, Ally Morphett. Favell starred as a natural ball winner for the Bushrangers, NSW-ACT Rams and the Eastern Allies last season, looking sharp as an outside runner who stands up in big moments.

“Abby has the ability to break the lines and her run and carry are elite,” Cossar said. “Her leadership qualities are second to none.”

Barber had a breakout National AFL Women’s Under-18 carnival after a solid season in the NAB League Girls as a key forward who could also play ruck. The then middle-ager was able to create all sorts of headaches for defenders, not just with her ability to clunk grabs overhead, but her ground work and recovery were also impressive on the Gold Coast.

“Olivia is a tall target up forward and a strong overhead mark,” Cossar said. “She’s got a great attack on the football and has an ability to create separation using her strength.”

Morphett is still a year away from being draft-eligible, with the 186cm player likely to predominantly play ruck, though she could also rotate forward and provide a marking presence.

“Ally plays mainly ruck, but can play key position forward,” Cossar said. “She has a great kicking technique and is very good overhead.”

Other players to watch from a top-age perspective include Sam Pritchard – who according to Cossar is “training the house down” – and smart small, Kate Adams. Pritchard recorded an impressive sub-eight minute 2km time trial and plays as a small forward who has a nice blend of pace and endurance. Among her other strengths are her elite kicking ability and clean hands. Adams has been a player who has impressed over the past couple of seasons coming through the Bushrangers’ program, playing in a number of roles, but similarly is a silky small who has natural footballing ability. Cossar said Adams’ reading of the play, awareness and decision making are engrained, while she is a great on and off-field leader.

Anyone who watched the Under 16s all-Victorian clash last year would have remembered Keely Skepper who starred in that match and while she is a bottom-age talent, the rebounding defender is one to keep in mind for the future. “She is a natural footballer in every aspect of the game,” Cossar said, describing her left foot as “elite” and has a great ability to find the ball and rebound it out of the back half. Other middle and bottom-age talents to watch for in 2020 include Aurora Smith – who has the ability to break the game open with her run and carry, credit her speed – India Lehman who Cossar describes as a natural footballer who is also a great on-field leader, bringing others into the game, and Mindy Quade who has great positioning in one-on-one contests and takes the game on at every opportunity.

While the core base of talent is there, Murray also has a couple of players who have been building nicely over the off-season and have been touted by Cossar as ones to watch.

Lily Sharp and Mikayla Jones are both looking to take their games to the next level,” she said. “Their fitness and fundamental skill efficiency have improved, and both have a good game sense.”

Murray takes on both the Bendigo Pioneers (Saturday, February 8) and Calder Cannons (Saturday, February 15) at JC Lowe Oval in Yarrawonga. Cossar said in 2020, the team just want to play as naturally as they could.

“We want to be instinctive, creative and take the game on at every opportunity, and be competitive for four quarters,” she said.

The Bushrangers host Oakleigh Chargers in the opening round of the season on March 1 at 1pm, before travelling to Bundoora for a clash against Western Jets as part of a NAB League Girls double header on March 7 at 1.15pm.