Tag: interview

Versatile Clifton converts on each line

THERE’S hardly a position Lauren Clifton hasn’t played over the years. The South Australian prospect transitioned from her usual wing role to be utilised down back, and even at full forward between her SANFLW and Under 19 National Championships campaigns.

While she was “quiet” in the early stages of the season, by her own humble estimation, Clifton rode each challenge and enjoyed being able to link up with her Panthers teammates at state level.

“Last year I played a bit more of an on-ball role, on the wing. They’ve moved me around a little bit to the backline this year and still on the wing,” Clifton said. “I’ve been moved into full forward for a couple of games, then against the Allies I played full back.

“(South Adelaide teammates) are probably my closest friends outside of school and footy as well, so it’s good to be away with them.”

At 171cm, the 17-year-old fits the mould of a hybrid type. Clifton’s versatility and outside run are strengths, but she is working on bringing more “aggression” and grunt to her game in contested situations.

“I’m not a very aggressive person, I’m a lover not a fighter,” she said. “I just try and be skilful on the ground or up high… (I’m improving) my aggression, to be more aggressive and work on my tackling because I’m not the strongest build.”

The Willunga junior came through the elite talent pathway in development squads and Port Adelaide’s Next Generation Academy, where she played against Adelaide’s Academy. Current AFLW star Chelsea Randall was among the Crows’ coaching set-up, and is a role model for many of SA’s budding draft prospects.

For Clifton, a Crows supporter, Randall’s versatility and courage are key traits she aspires to implement in her own game. There is plenty of time to work on just that, though the Year 12 student is also juggling her studies and work during the week.

While working towards Randall’s standard, Clifton also has some valuable mentors in her corner. She cited her parents as a “huge support”, as well as the South Adelaide coaches, including Ryan Skouborg who has been alongside her from back in the development squad days.

Draft day (July 27) will have proven a longer wait for Clifton than many others, considering she did not return to the SANFLW fold after Round 8. She is was of many South Australians vying for higher honours, in a talent-stacked pool.

Draper more than the third wheel in promising Panthers trio

THE South Adelaide Panthers boast the most promising junior footballing trio in South Australia in 2021.

Pick one candidate Jason Horne has spent the past couple of seasons matching it with the SANFL’s best at League level and ball-magnet Matthew Roberts appears a strong chance to join him in the first round of the National Draft.

But Arlo Draper has been on the radar of AFL recruiters for as long as Horne and Roberts, with the teenaged Panthers standing out at club and state level since bursting onto the scene as Under 16s.

Hailing from the Willunga Football Club in South Australia’s acclaimed McLaren Vale region, Draper has compiled an impressive resume of his own.

Recruiters and scouts from across the country have high hopes for Draper, whose class, one-on-one strength and considerable upside has seen him also pegged in as a likely first round selection.

“I’m a fairly unique type of player,” Draper said. “I move well and tend to make good decisions and I also have the ability to play anywhere on the ground.

“I think I have some similarities with Connor Rozee in regards to his speed, agility and forward prowess.”

Away from the footy field, Draper describes himself as a “relaxed kind of guy” who loves watching a good movie.

“I like to consider myself somewhat humorous, but that’s debatable I’m sure,” said the on-baller.

Although he has spent the past month sidelined with a high ankle sprain sustained whilst training in June, Draper earned a promotion to the Reserves earlier in the year after proving a class above the Under 18 competition.

“I’ve really enjoyed the season so far, I’ve been playing pretty consistent footy with the Under 18s which has been great,” Draper said.

A consistent ball-winner throughout the year, Draper’s standout game of the season to-date came in South Adelaide’s narrow three-point triumph over Central Districts at Flinders University Stadium, in Round 4 of the SANFL Under 18 competition.

Draper started the game in the centre square, winning his fair share of contested ball and proving a handful at stoppages, before coach Mark Clayton shuffled the magnets and sent him to the goal-square.

He flourished up forward, easily outmuscling his direct opponent and reading the flight of the ball well to take a couple of strong marks in attack, finishing the game with 24 disposals, three goals, four marks (two contested), six clearances and five inside 50s in a match-winning display. It saw him elevated to the Reserves just a couple of weeks later.

“I’ve loved getting a bit of exposure to the senior program,” Draper said. “I’ve found that I transitioned pretty comfortably. I know a fair few of the boys in the ressies so having those connections has helped.

“Some of the seniors guys have been really good with getting me adjusted to the structures and what not. I think I adjusted to the speed and bigger bodies fairly quickly and felt really comfortable in the midfield role I was playing.”

Image Credit: Nick Hook Photography

Draper credits much of the recent success of the South Adelaide junior program to former Panthers Centre of Excellence and current SA pathways coach, Tony Bamford.

“I think the change of culture especially in the junior levels started with Tony Bamford,” Draper said. “Although I never got to play under ‘Bangers’ at South, he’s regarded as the one that got our programs going and then that’s been followed on by Mark Clayton who runs it all now.”

“Mark does more work than anyone and is extremely passionate about the junior footy at South,” added Draper.

Given South Adelaide’s willingness to blood their talented juniors in the club’s league side, Draper has his sights set on a potential senior debut in the later stages of the season.

“I believe I have what it takes to play in the league side,” he said. “The head coach ‘Boofa’ (Jarrad Wright) is really good with communicating with me about where I’m at and what I need to work on and I feel I’m building really well.

“Obviously our league team is pretty strong this year, if I get the call up at some point I’d be really excited and ready to go,” added the teenager.

Although the AFL faces an uphill battle to stage the Under 19 National Championships, Draper looks set to play a pivotal role for South Australia, should the carnival take place.

“If I’m lucky enough to get into the playing team I think I’d see myself running through that midfield/forward type of role, but I can also move down back if there’s a specific role I can play down there on the day,” he said.

Draper is one of the standout prospects in a South Australian team which looks capable of matching it with the highly-fancied Victoria Metro and West Australian sides – at full strength.

“Obviously Jason Horne and Matty Roberts have been doing alright for themselves so far, but I really like how (Sturt’s) Morgan Ferres has been playing this year,” Draper said.

Despite missing out on selection into the AFL Academy, Draper has pieced-together a consistent season for South Adelaide and has demonstrated his ability to dominate games through the middle and up forward. His talent may well spark a bidding war between the top flight’s two South Australian sides, within the first 15 picks.

Featured Image: Arlo Draper fires off a kick | Credit: Nick Hook Photography

Rising Sun Davies learns from the best

NOT everyone gets the chance to talk footy with AFLW stars in between classes at school, but Gold Coast Academy prospect Giselle Davies is taking plenty of learnings out of that exact opportunity. The 18-year-old tall defender attends Southport State High School, where current Suns midfielder Jamie Stanton teaches.

While the two are quite different players, Davies says the mentorship of Stanton has been a valuable peek behind the curtain of what it takes to cut the AFLW grade.

“(Stanton) has been a teacher at my school for a few years now so I’ve definitely looked up to her,” Davies said. “I’m always talking to her about her games on the weekend and how she went. Obviously I watch a lot of her play and even though we don’t really play similar positions it’s good to have a mentor who you can talk to.”

The link is one of Davies’ many ties to the senior-listed Suns, having also come up through Gold Coast’s academy and initially being introduced to Australian football by a certain 2020 draftee.

“I started playing footy a few years ago, my best friend Annise Bradfield got me down to play,” she said. “I was playing heaps of touch football (and) netball, I went to a footy session and it was just a perfect mix of both of those sports. I loved it from there.

“I have loved every single part of playing with the Gold Coast Under 19s Academy. We did heaps of work in the off-season after last year – pre-season training in the heat, gym, running, just loving it.

“I’m really grateful that we have the academy that looks after us so well. There’s all this new talent coming through the pathway, it’s just amazing that they really give you a perspective on what you could have and what you’re working towards.”

Through her work in the pathway and form for Bond University in this year’s QAFLW season, Davies was also selected for Queensland representative honours in 2021. While the Maroons’ Under 19 squad went down by 54 points against Vic Country in their sole carnival outing, Davies took plenty away from what was “the highest level of footy [she’s] ever played.”

“It was probably the best weekend I’ve ever had,” she said. “Just playing with a bunch of girls that you don’t usually play with, people who want to be there and played as hard as they could. Despite the loss, it was such a good game of footy to be a part of and see the different ways that Vic play their game and how I can improve mine. It was really good.”

At 180cm, Davies is aware of her strengths and areas for improvement, with her decision making by foot already sound and her ability to utilise said size on the incline. Clunking more contested marks and having the confidence to take the game on are among the next steps to take, by her own assessment.

She is one of many Queensland talent hoping to end up on an AFLW list in just a few days, with the 2021 draft set to go down on Tuesday, July 27.

Tenacious Tonon shows “massive” development

SO impressive was Brooke Tonon‘s form in 2021, she earned a call-up to the illustrious AFLW Academy. She was fresh off an impressive Under 19 National Championships campaign with South Australia, and en route to SANFLW premiership honours with Glenelg – showcasing a rapid rate of development across both competitions.

The SANFLW team of the year half-back proved more than capable at senior level, flicking a switch once past the white line with a blend of aggression and skill. After debuting last year, Tonon says she has “learned so much” in a variety of roles.

“My game has developed massively since I started playing,” Tonon said. “I’ve learned all positions. I started off forward, played on the wing, and now in defence so it’s been really good.

“I’m really loving half-back right now. I don’t mind the wing and I love playing forward, obviously kicking goals, but it’s a really hard position to play and I feel more naturally suited to the backline.”

The 17-year-old has truly found a home at half-back, a position which suits her strengths, but also allows her to properly assess key areas of improvement.

“I feel like I have the ability to read the play really well,” she said. “I can position myself in spots where I can impact the game and with my execution by foot, I can see where to kick to and hit targets.

“I need to learn when to not attack as much and kind of stay back, or settle myself and be more composed rather than rushing and playing on. It’s just switching between attack and defence as I’m playing half-back.”

Tonon’s game has grown throughout the junior talent pathways too, having been mentored by the likes of AFLW star Chelsea Randall in the Crows Academy, and eventually ending up among South Australia’s Under 19 squad. Having travelled over to Melbourne for the second National Championships leg, Tonon lauded the experience as “awesome”.

“Coming (to Melbourne) and playing against so many more talented girls, the competition’s amazing,” she said. “Then learning off everyone (in the SA team), I’ve never met a more talented group of girls ever. They’re amazing.”

Amazing is right, and competition for spots at the next level will be tough in 2021 for the South Australian crop as Adelaide is the state’s sole AFLW side. Tonon hopes to be one of a predicted four talents drafted in that bunch, but says she will remain optimistic if things pan out differently.

“I really hope to get drafted, but if that doesn’t happen I’d love to keep playing really good SANFLW footy and hopefully make my way up through there,” she said.

The 2021 AFLW National Draft is set to be held on Tuesday, July 27.

Draft hopeful Harmer looks to find “the best of both worlds”

IN the air and on the ground. Intercept marking combined with run-and-carry. That’s the kind of impact Maroochydore prospect Maggie Harmer aims to make across half-back. The versatile talent is in line to become one of the first Brisbane Lions Academy products called out on draft night, and has a pair of senior defenders to look up to.

Come July 27, Kate Lutkins and Nat Grider could go from idols to teammates for Harmer, who is hoping to harness their respective strengths in order to get “the best of both worlds” as a player.

“Kate has such a good intercept mark and Nat has also got that run-and-carry which is really good, so it’s the best of both worlds between them,” Harmer said.

With the long-term goal of simply improving as a player in mind, the 18-year-old recognises her strengths, but also her areas for improvement.

“Across half-back, (my strengths are) reading the play and taking intercept marks when the opposition is looking for those forward 50 entries and trying to cut off those long kicks,” Harmer said.

“I’m more of an (aerial) player, so my ground balls are always something I’ve wanted to work on, just clean pick-ups. Also my one-on-one contests, holding my own up against those bigger girls.”

Harmer has earned a raft of opportunities since being introduced to Australian football in her final years of primary school, culminating in AFLW Academy honours, Under 19 All Australian selection, and the opportunity to represent her state throughout 2021.

Harmer kicks Queensland forward during this year’s National Championships

Above all else, Harmer says the opportunity to test her skills and be challenged by the nation’s best talent provided some valuable tests and lessons.

“I didn’t think it was going to be that much of a flogging (against Vic Country),” she said. “But the score didn’t really represent the contest.

“(AFLW Academy training) is big challenge because it’s another step to what we’re used to at club training and even academy. But I think it really pushes you to be the best player you can be and try to keep up with those older girls that are playing at such a high level.”

In their only National Championships dig for 2021, Queensland’s Under 19s went down to Vic Country by 54 points down in Melbourne, but Harmer was able to showcase some of her best traits with 15 disposals, five marks and five tackles.

Her ability to turn attack into defence with that aforementioned intercept game, as well as positive forward running makes Harmer a productive type. Queensland talent manager Mark Browning also gave a glowing review, boding well not just for draft night, but for her impact on the game in years to come.

“She’s probably the one that excites me the most when she trains,” Browning said. “It hasn’t quite transpired to games yet, but I think she’s got the most natural running out of all of them.”

Smith taking things “week by week”

POWERFUL prospect Bella Smith has proven herself as one of Queensland’s top draft chances in 2021, but is taking a steady mindset into next week’s big day. The Maroochydore midfielder has been aligned with the Brisbane Lions Academy and there are plenty of former ‘Roos to look towards for inspiration in the same pathway.

“At this point in time I’m just taking everything week by week and just trying to play well in my QAFL games,” Smith said during the season. “But the end goal is definitely to get drafted.”

As a member of this year’s AFLW Academy intake, Smith has picked up plenty of elite standards along the way and got the chance to meet up with her fellow academy members earlier in the year. Queensland’s Under 19 Championships clash with Vic Country also served as a handy “experience”, with Smith notching 14 disposals and five marks despite her side’s 54-point loss.

“It was an interesting game,” she said. “I was very excited for it all, but at the end of the day they were definitely a better side than us. It was still a great experience and good to see friends that we’ve known from the (AFLW) Academy as well.

“(The Academy) is awesome. It’s such a good experience to get around girls that are like-minded. We got to catch up all together not too long ago down in Melbourne.”

At that point in time, Smith had hoped the national academy would be able to play their then-postponed game together, though it never came to fruition. Instead, she honed her craft back home with Maroochydore in a QAFLW campaign which yielded a finals win.

Described by Queensland Talent Manager Mark Browning as a “very, very tough inside mid (who) loves the contest”, Smith says strength and power are her go-to traits. While she is a terrific handler and distributor on the inside, she is still working on her outside game and improving the all-important fundamentals of kicking.

“(I’m looking to improve on) everything really,” Smith said. ” But I’ve been working a lot on my kicking. I’ve been doing work outside of training with Enhanced Football, he’s been helping me over the season on my kicking.”

Cracking the next level would mark another great chapter in Smith’s footballing story, which began at eight years old when she topped up for her brother’s local side.

The likes of Belle Dawes and Lily Postlethwaite have already stepped up from Maroochydore to the Brisbane Lions’ AFLW squad, can Smith be the next Roo to bounce to the bigtime?

Breguet takes “learning opportunity” with both hands

BY her own account, Lauren Breguet‘s footballing journey is “a bit of a long story”, and the explosive Central District forward has come quite some way in a short period of time. The 18-year-old hopped codes and borders to get to where she is now, thriving at SANFL Women’s level and in the South Australian State Under 19s Academy.

“I originally started basketball in Mildura, then my mum was like ‘it’d be a great idea for you to play football’,” Breguet said. “I started doing the Bendigo Pioneers programs over there before we moved for family reasons. Then I made it to Centrals and now I’m in the state squad, so it’s pretty exciting.”

Breguet says she’s “loving” being part of Centrals’ senior side, with which she played seven games in 2021 through injury and representative interruptions. Above all else, it has proven a valuable “learning opportunity” both on and off the field – from learning new positions, to gaining life lessons.

“It’s been a great experience,” she said. “I’ve learned so much from all these different coaches. It’s just such a great learning opportunity that I can take on and hopefully better my football, and even life lessons. “I’m still learning the game. I’m starting to learn more positions which I find really useful. I’m still (improving) the defence side of it, and I’m almost finished learning forward which is great.”

Image credit: On the Ball Media

While still honing her defensive game in a positional sense, Breguet is “never shy of putting [her] body on the line”. With terrific speed both in possession and while chasing, she boasts some eye-catching traits in the forward half.

They show in her season averages too; managing 10 disposals and three tackles per each SANFLW outing, while lifting to 10.7 disposals and five tackles across three AFL Women’s Under 19 Championships games. All that, while most importantly hitting the scoreboard in both competitions.

It was little surprise, then, to hear just which current AFLW stars the youngster looks towards for inspiration.

“I look up to Darcy Vescio, I find her a great forward, and Monique Conti,” she said. “They’re both really great at what they do and that’s what I aspire to be like.”

With the season run and done, Breguet recently took part in South Australia’s AFLW Draft Combine, an event where selection indicates promising interest at the next level. The Centrals forward is taking nothing for granted though, simply aiming to “improve” and go “as far as [she] can” with her football.

“Even if I don’t make AFLW, it’s still a great opportunity… to meet some new people and love the game even more,” she said.

Breguet, along with hundreds of prospects from around the nation will hope to have her name called out at the fast-approaching AFLW Draft, on July 27.

Competitive Venning used to putting in the “extra effort”

WINNING your club’s best and fairest award over the league and state Under 19s MVP is no mean feat, but it’s exactly what West Adelaide midfielder Zoe Venning pulled off in 2021. The tenacious ball winner was part of a strong Westies side which surged to this year’s SANFL Women’s grand final, averaging 16.5 disposals, 4.7 tackles, and 2.1 clearances across 12 games.

Having previously played netball at a high level, the 17-year-old says she knew exactly what it would take to be able to put in the “extra effort” required to make such strides at senior level.

“I was quite high up with my netball so I was used to putting the extra effort in off the field,” Venning said. “I always did my running… I know what it takes to put in hard work so that wasn’t something I was inexperienced with, it was more the age gap because I had always played with girls my age.

“Moving to SANFLW and playing with older girls matured my level of training, being a bit more mature was the biggest challenge.”

Venning credited her footballing journey to her dad, who encouraged her to “give it a go” having already excelled in netball and basketball. After starting out with the Mitcham Hawks, she fell in love with the game and soon found team success closer to home.

“I got to where I am now through my dad,” she said. “I first played at Mitcham Hawks when I was 13 and I didn’t want to play at all but dad said ‘come on Zoe, give it a go’ and I really liked it. My first game I got a lot of it, kicking off my shin but I just loved it.

“My dad wanted to make a girl’s program where I live, so he started up the Blackwood Football Club girl’s program and I’ve played there ever since and every year we’ve won the premiership. It’s just been such a good culture, all my best friends play there so that’s really how I started footy.”

Having started out scrubbing the ball off her shin, Venning has since added some polish to her game but remains a tough sort of ball winner who thrives at the contest. When outlining her strengths, the versatile talent was quick to list “contested ball wins” atop the tree.

“I really back myself,” she said. “I don’t really get intimidated by who I’m (against). I control if I’m going to get the ball or not, I’m not an outside receiver.

“I also think my marking’s quite strong. As a midfielder I can take a strong mark and be a link-up player, even on the kick-outs.”

Zoe Venning on the move for West Adelaide | Image Credit: On The Ball Media

Venning’s strengths made her a lock for SANFLW Team of the Year honours, and she brought the same kind of vigour to her state representative duties. With averages of 23 disposals, seven tackles, and four clearances per her three National Championship games, she also earned Under 19 All Australian status.

Speaking amid April’s Victorian leg of the carnival, she had both individual and team goals in mind.

“It’s been a really good achievement and I’m really excited just to show people what I’ve got,” she said. “I’m looking at it as an opportunity for me and the team to really utilise the talent we have in SA because it’s our standalone year.

“I’m just looking forward to showing my teamwork with others and it’s not just me, I want everyone to do well. But I still want to show that I am a strong player and I’m here to get drafted.”

While finding her way onto an AFLW list is the end goal, Venning is also seeking to succeed in her current Year 12 studies and knows missing out may not be the “be all and end all”. She also has a strong source of inspiration to look up to at the next level.

“An inspiration is Rachelle Martin, who was in my Westies team,” she said. “She inspires me because she worked so hard to get where she is now, playing for the Crows. “She’s a really hard worker, really nice, always caring to her teammates and that’s mainly what inspires me to keep going. I see her work ethic and I want to be like that.”

Come July 27 at the 2021 AFLW Draft, Venning has the chance to join Martin at Adelaide.

Maurer thrives on Tasmanian “team bond”

RETURNING for her second season of Tasmania Devils representation in 2021, there was a rise in “enjoyment” levels for tough midfielder-forward, Ella Maurer. The 19-year-old thrived across nine NAB League outings in her top-age campaign, averaging a tick under 17 disposals and five tackles as an integral part of the starting squad. She put much of her own, and the team’s success down to a rising “team bond”.

“We’ve really come together,” Maurer said. “We’ve been really united and it’s just been really enjoyable. Sometimes in previous years I found that it was a big sluggish getting to training but this year every training was enjoyable. All the coaches, staff and girls were great to be around.

“I love team sports, just the whole vibe and being out there with the girls.”

Through a consistent and much-improved NAB League campaign, Maurer was able to bring her own strengths to the fore and lean on her senior experience to provide a hard edge. She’s a player who loves the “aggression” of the game, which shows in the traits she says are her strengths, and areas for improvement.

“[My strength] is probably my attack on the ball,” she said. “Just being able to get in and get the ball out from contests and get the hands off to a teammate… [I’m working on] being cleaner and my skills, especially when I go down forward.

“I love to play in the midfield and rotate forward, I love to play down there as well. Even in the backline, I like to play some defensive footy so a bit of everything really.”

Maurer’s 2021 form saw her selected in the Allies squad, where she remained a constant ball winner and tough competitor, averaging 18 disposals, six tackles, and three clearances per her three games. The representative honours matched Maurer’s goals constantly “improving [her] game” and playing “at the highest level” possible.

She has plenty of examples to follow too, with former North Launceston captain Jodie Clifford a particular source of inspiration for the rising teenage prospect, having been there almost every step of the way.

“[Clifford] is just a really inspiring person and player as well,” Maurer said. “She’s one of the coaches for the Devils, the midfield coach, and I got to play footy with her at North Launceston. She was our captain and best and fairest both years that we played together.”

“I started playing footy when I was 14 in the junior youth girl’s team at North Launceston Football Club. I played there for two years, then went on to play in the TSLW team for North Launceston for the two years we had that. Unfortunately that folded so now I’m at Old Scotch in the NTFA.”

A raft of Tasmanians also joined Maurer in North Melbourne’s VFLW side this year, with as many as 11 of them getting out on the park at one time in blue and white. There are certainly big things happening out of the Apple Isle and if Maurer’s development is anything to go by, the rate of improvement will be steep.

Image Credit: Dylan Burns/AFL Photos

PREVIEW | 2021 VFL Women’s Finals: Week One

THE 2021 VFL Women’s finals series has arrived, with the top six teams set to battle it out for premiership glory after 14 enthralling home-and-away rounds. After a year away, the competition was reformatted to see the AFLW and NAB League seasons run concurrently with Victoria’s state league, seeing players from both the aforementioned leagues filter into all 12 teams in different ways.

This year’s finals campaign sees three sides take part in their maiden finals series, with Port Melbourne among them at the pointy end of its inaugural VFLW season. Reigning premier, Collingwood remains the hot favourite to take out this year’s flag, having become just the second-ever team to go through the regular season undefeated. We preview all three of the week one fixtures, with comment from key players of each team.

>> SCROLL for the finals fixture tree

2ND ELIMINATION FINAL

Casey Demons vs. Essendon
Saturday July 3, 12:00pm
Casey Fields

Records:
Casey – 4th, 8-6, 155.96%
Essendon – 5th, 8-6, 155.95%

2021 H2H:
Round 2 – Casey Demons 3.4 (22) def. by Essendon 4.7 (31) @ Casey Fields

Last 5:
Casey – 2-3
Essendon – 2-3

It is only fitting that Casey and Essendon begin their respective maiden VFLW finals campaigns against each other, as they lock horns at Casey Fields on Saturday afternoon. This is the tightest matchup of the lot after 14 home-and-away rounds, with the two sides boasting equal 8-6 records and separated by just 0.1 per cent on the ladder. They are also both 2-3 across their last five outings, with their only previous meeting in 2021 seeing the Bombers salute to the tune of nine points at the same venue.

Plenty has changed since then, though, according to Demons midfielder Eliza West.

“[Essendon] was so physical and I think it surprised us and we weren’t ready for that level of physicality,” West said. “But now after playing for a little while we’ve obviously improved on that because we’ve had to focus on it, and I think coming into the game this week that’ll be a big point for us. We’ll go in ready to play hard and win the footy.”

Bombers skipper Georgia Nanscawen, who has enjoyed a stellar season in the engine room, says calling the matchup close is “pretty spot on.”

“Our matchup against them earlier in the year was a very close game,” Nanscawen said. “When you look at the ladder, I think there was 0.1 of a percent [difference] or something. You can’t get much closer than that so it should be a cracking game.”

While they are incredibly closely matched, there remains a key point of difference between these two adversaries. Essendon is the lone purely non-AFLW aligned team to feature among this year’s finalists, making for another landmark to be “proud” for Nanscawen and her standalone squad of Bombers.

“I’m really loving my time at the Bombers and for our first finals campaign as a club, it’s certainly special to be a part of,” she said. “To be the non-aligned club shows that we can match it with those aligned clubs and hopefully we can have a good finals series.

“We’ve come back refreshed after the break, we’ve had a really good couple of weeks and we’re feeling great so I think anything can happen on the weekend.”

While the Bombers may not be able to lean on its own group of currently senior-listed stars, its emerging crop of youngsters has plenty of fans and pundits alike eager to see how they fare. Having blazed her own trail through the NAB League pathway with Calder Cannons, Essendon forward Alana Barba is excited to see what the next generation can produce come finals time.

“It’s really exciting to see some of the prospects coming through,” Barba said. “A lot of them have done pretty well on their debuts, and going up against the bigger bodies they’ve held their ground and they’ve really come in strong. “It’s exciting to see where they go in the future, whether that’s at the Bombers or anywhere on an AFLW list, they’ll do well.

“I guess I try and take them under my wing a bit because I’ve come through the same pathway as them. But they hold their ground pretty well and they’re very keen as we all are, so it’ll be exciting to see how they go.”

Nanscawen also pointed towards an AFLW draft pick one candidate for her choice of a potential “difference maker”.

“We’ve got Georgie Prespakis who had a great game last week,” she said. “That was her second game for us and she’s improved across the two games already, so we’re pretty excited to see what she can do in a finals series.”

On the flip side, Casey will field up to 10 AFLW-listed players on Saturday and have been able to take plenty from the senior Melbourne side – including an exciting gameplan. Demon Ally Kirkwood says her side is excited for the opportunity to implement it throughout the finals campaign.

“I think the gamestyle we want to play is really exciting,” Kirkwood said. “It’s definitely something the Melbourne AFLW girls implemented and it worked for them through finals. “Unfortunately they didn’t make the grand final but I think we will. That’s what’s really exciting for us; we’re all prepared to play [the gameplan], we’ve been training it for the whole season and we’ve gotten really good at it.”

In terms of the key players to watch for Casey, Kirkwood gave West a good pump-up while standing by her side on Monday’s finals launch day. West had a player of her own in mind, and both promise to provide the sort of ball winning intent that Casey is looking for this weekend.

“Eliza West… she’s always there in those [clutch] moments and it’s really great that we have her here at the club,” Kirkwood said.

“We rely on a lot of players in all areas of the field but I really think Meg McDonald,” West followed. “Since she’s come into being an on-baller, she’s added another level of  physicality and toughness. She lays hard tackles, she plays her role really well and I think she’s helped us a lot. “She’ll be one to look out for because it’s hard to beat her – if she’s tackling you, it’s hard to break one of those tackles so good luck to whoever it is.”

QUALIFYING FINAL

Collingwood vs. Geelong
Saturday July 3, 12:00pm
Holden Centre

Records:
Collingwood – 1st, 14-0, 297.1%
Geelong – 2nd, 10-4, 174.3%

2021 H2H:
Round 1 – Geelong 6.6 (42) def. by Collingwood 7.2 (44) @ Deakin University
Round 14 – Collingwood 3.5 (23) def. Geelong 0.4 (4) @ Victoria Park

Last 5:
Collingwood – 5-0
Geelong – 3-2

Collingwood and Geelong face off for the second time in as many weeks on Saturday, opening the 2021 VFLW finals series with a top of the table clash. The two sides jostled in two close encounters during the 2021 regular season, with the Magpies coming out on top amid their 14-0 campaign. Having completed the home-and-away rounds unbeaten, the reigning premiers became the second-ever side to do so and are in the box seat to defend their crown. But the Cats have proven their credentials as a top-tier team, sneaking into second having consistently found a way to win.

Geelong deputy-vice captains Breanna Beckley and Tamara Smith both spoke towards a strong team-oriented culture which included players listed at AFLW level, the NAB League, and local competitions. With the big job of overturning two previous losses to Collingwood at hand, Smith said her side has “so much more to give.”

“We’ve just got to keep playing our way, our style of footy and back our girls in,” Smith said. “Between the start and end of the season our girls would’ve changed and they’ll probably change again going into next week.

Beckley supported the notion, and hopes it’ll be a case of third time’s a charm for the Cats heading into Saturday’s clash, putting previous results behind them.

“We dropped a couple early against really good sides but it was good to see we had the fight from the start,” Beckley said. “Now coming up against Collingwood [in Round 14], although it wasn’t the result we wanted, I think we still held our own and kept them to a pretty low score as well which was really helpful.

“One of our biggest things that we pride ourselves on is our culture. “What we as a leadership group have tried to instil in the girls is that we’re all here as one no matter where you’re coming from – whether that’s AFL, VFL or local leagues. “Culture is the biggest thing no matter how old you are or your background, and it’s something we’ll keep priding ourselves on towards finals.”

With senior, state league and junior competitions running concurrently in 2021, the Cats have also benefitted from having a number of high-level NAB League graduates filter through the team. Smith was particularly glowing in her review of them, while Beckley knows the Falcons products well having worked with the program as talent manager.

Chloe Leonard’s a big one,” Smith said. “She’s played three games for us, we love Chloe. It’s just the good vibes she brings, she’s so confident but she just asks questions and is always wanting to learn. “You give her something to do and she just does it, plays her role so well.

Annie Lee had a few games with us, she takes strong marks down back. She’s a bit quieter than Chloe but it’s the same thing, she just plays her role and slots into the team.

Renee Tierney played a couple of games as well, she played against Southern Saints in a really wet game but she just held her own, backed her skills in. “It’s awesome to have those NAB League girls through because as much as they’re there to learn, they also have so much to give so it’s a really good opportunity for them and for us.”

While the spades of talent across a good range of age groups would make it easy to individualise parts of the squad, Smith maintains the Cats will rely on a team effort, rather than look to a few to get the job done.

“Obviously we have really talented girls in the side and ones which will step up, but as a whole I think we’re all ready for the challenge,” she said. “That’s one thing, if we can all step up together it’s going to make a huge difference across the ground. “I don’t think that we should be relying on just one girl to get the job done or have an outstanding game, if we can all lift and do our part for the team that’s where you get the job done.”

Collingwood also has a raft of stars which will look to make a difference on Saturday, none more so than unbelievably timely inclusion, Chloe Molloy. The dynamic senior-listed forward qualifies for finals after playing just one game in 2021, and will be one of the (up to) 10 AFLW players afield for the Magpies. Should she line up in attack, Molloy could form a deadly partnership with competition leading goalkicker Imogen Barnett and boom recruit Matilda Zander.

Up the other end, Lauren Butler also returned just in time to qualify for finals, while Mikala Cann carries in terrific form through midfield. With such a strong senior-listed and VFLW core, promising NAB Leaguers like Stella Reid and Eliza James look to have been squeezed out, though tough midfielder Olivia Meagher has been named on the Magpies’ bench.

1ST ELIMINATION FINAL

Port Melbourne vs. Southern Saints
Sunday July 4, 2:00pm
ETU Stadium

Records:
Port Melbourne – 3rd, 10-4, 128.7%
Southern Saints – 6th, 7-7, 115.2%

2021 H2H:
Round 10 – Port Melbourne 4.4 (28) def. by Southern Saints 8.7 (55)

Last 5:
Port Melbourne – 2-3
Southern Saints – 3-2

In Sunday’s standalone finals fixture, Port Melbourne enters its maiden finals campaign against the Southern Saints having enjoyed a remarkable inaugural VFLW season. After starting the year with a blistering 7-0 run, the Borough ended their regular season at 10-4 – good enough for third spot having occupied one of the top two places for nine rounds. Most intriguingly, one of those losses came at the hands of their weekend adversaries. The Saints have gone 7-7 thus far and went 2-2 after that win against Port, but did enough to claw onto sixth spot and earn a finals berth.

Saints co-captain Deanna Jolliffe says her side is “[peaking] at the right time” after two promising wins in the run-in to Sunday, while youngster Melanie Bertuna outlined the desired approach to knocking Port off for a second time.

“I think our last two weeks of footy have really proved what we’re capable of,” Jolliffe said. “Hopefully we can just continue to play the same sort of footy that we have over the last couple of weeks and bring that in on Sunday against Port Melbourne.”

“Playing a really strong four quarters of footy [is what it takes to beat Port Melbourne],” Bertuna said. “Just not dropping off our pressure and sticking with it the whole game, sticking our heads down and getting the work done.”

The same four-quarter approach was also a theme in Borough captain Melissa Kuys‘ path to victory, as her side looks put together the high-level form they previously found on a more consistent basis. As a leader in Port’s first VFLW finals campaign, the experienced utility is also proud of how much development the competition newcomers have shown this year.

“We just need to play four quarter of good footy,” Kuys said. “We’ve been playing patches unfortunately in the last couple of weeks so we’ve just got to bring that brand of footy we know we can play for longer than them, and hopefully we’ll get the job done.”

“At the beginning of the season we probably [didn’t] think that we would’ve gotten this far, so it’s super pleasing that we are where we are. “It’s been a lot of hard work but we’re super excited to have our first finals.”

Both sides have also had a raft of promising NAB Leaguers come through the respective programs, with a bunch set to line up for either team on Sunday. Having gone through the pathway herself, first year Port Melbourne player Olivia Barton said they have been “really good contributors” overall.

“We’ve loved having the NAB League girls come through,” Barton said. “They’ve all brought something special to the team in their individual ways and obviously our senior players have been really good with teaching them the ropes.”

Jolliffe gave similar praise to the Saints’ next generation of talent, while also giving a nod to the AFLW-listed players who have “lifted” the squad in an all-round learning experience.

“I think the [NAB Leaguers] bring a lot of depth to the team,” she said. “With their young bodies and they’re able to get in and under the ball and they’re just keen to learn and always striving to do better. “I think that also brings a lot of culture to our team because we want to do better for the them, and also want to be able to teach them things.

“Since the AFLW girls have joined our training sessions the intensity has definitely lifted, there seems to be a lot more voice out on the field. “The experience they bring is second to none so we’re all just enjoying that and learning from them as much as we can.”

As the Southern squad looks to implement its ferocious and unsociable “Saints footy”, Jolliffe and Bertuna promise there won’t be any one player carrying their effort.

“The way we’ve always played is Saints footy,” Bertuna said. “Every week that’s always what we want to come back to and play our way, so we’ll come out strong, respect the team we’re going up against and bring our best.”

Kuys and Barton identified a couple of key difference-makers among the Port Melbourne squad, though the spread of contributors is set to be just as even.

“I’d probably go with Courteney Bromage,” Kuys said. “She’s a player that gets in-and-under and she really uses her body and that inspires me to go harder.”

Claire Dyett on the wing,” Barton said. “She’s always going hard at the ball and running hard for us both ways, so she’d definitely be one to step up. Her heart’s right in the team so she’d definitely do it for us.”

Via: VFL

Image Credit: Dylan Burns/AFL Photos