Tag: Nathan burke

2021 AFL Women’s: Round 2 preview – Pioneer Blues and Bulldogs open Pride Round

PRIDE is the theme of Round 2 in the 2021 AFL Women’s season, as the competition holds its inaugural Pride Round. The Western Bulldogs and Carlton, who have previously hosted annual Pride matches, will open the weekend’s action on Friday night as the remaining fixtures fall into place after multiple shake-ups. Remarkably, all seven games are set to go ahead in the rejigged round, with results as important as ever among the continual pandemic-produced unpredictability.

Note: All start times are local

Western Bulldogs vs. Carlton
Friday February 5, 7:45pm
Whitten Oval

Western Bulldogs and Carlton kick off Pride Round at Whitten Oval on Friday night, marking a historic and important event on the AFL Women’s calendar. Both sides remain searching for their first wins in 2021 after opening round losses, with a dreaded 0-2 start awaiting the team which goes down once again.

Bulldogs coach Nathan Burke has enacted four changes to the side which lost to St Kilda, with young pups Gemma Lagioia and Britney Gutknecht among the casualties. Carlton has been forced into just one change, as key defender Mua Laloifi misses through the updated concussion protocols and is replaced by Jess Edwards at half-back.

Laloifi’s absence may open the door for the Dogs to excel in attack, leaving Charlotte Wilson to shoulder a heap of intercept work against a forwardline spearheaded by Izzy Huntington. But the ball will have to get there first, with Carlton’s hardened midfield out to prove a point having been definitively blitzed by Collingwood in the second term last time out.

Tip: The Bulldogs are slowly finding their feet, but the Blues should come out firing after a shock loss. Wet weather will play a factor in the margin, Blues by 11.

Collingwood vs. Geelong
Saturday February 6, 3:10pm
Victoria Park

A fixture shuffle has seen Collingwood and Geelong land each other in Round 2, with football returning to the Magpies’ spiritual home of Victoria Park on Saturday afternoon. The Cats are coming off a 62-point drubbing at the hands of North Melbourne, while Collingwood opened the season with an impressive upset victory over traditional rival, Carlton, making for very contrasting formlines.

The Magpies’ midfield was excellent last time out and a new-look forwardline featuring Chloe Molloy and Bri Davey looks poised for more success in 2021. One of the Cats’ best lines is its defence though, with skipper Meghan McDonald supported well by the likes of Maddy McMahon, Amy McDonald, and Millie Brown.

Collingwood will be without recruit Aliesha Newman after she was handed a one-week ban for her sling tackle on Carlton’s Laloifi, but the Pies’ confidence should be sky high nonetheless. On the other hand, Geelong will have to quickly pick up the pieces to recover here, especially after an impotent display forward of centre in Round 1.

Tip: Collingwood looks set to be one of the big risers in 2021 and while Geelong has potential, its young side will likely work in peaks and troughs. Another trough here for the Cats, Pies by 23.

Melbourne vs. Richmond
Saturday February 6, 5:10pm
Casey Fields

Riding the wave of a Round 1 win, Melbourne hosts Richmond at Casey Fields on Saturday night looking to go two from two. Both sides took on Queensland teams last week but came out with contrasting results; as the Dees clicked into gear after quarter time to trump Gold Coast, while Richmond could only hang with Brisbane for a half before giving way in a five-goal loss.

The Lions may have uncovered a continued area of weakness for Richmond after tagging Monique Conti out of the first half, with Melbourne’s engine room typically an area of depth and prosperity. The Dees should again thrive in the midfield battle, though look for the likely tussle between first year jets Ellie McKenzie and Eliza McNamara to provide great entertainment on the outer.

Melbourne could quickly stake its claim for another finals berth should it string together some early wins, but the Tigers have shown signs of improvement and will hardly go down easily. Still searching for their maiden AFLW win, the Tigers have plenty to play for and will hope to avoid being the league’s cellar dweller for a second year running.

Tip: Melbourne looks a side determined to keep touch with the true premiership contenders, but cannot be caught lacking against the hungry Tigers. Still, the red and blue side should be too good all around the ground, Dees by 27.

North Melbourne vs. St Kilda
Sunday February 7, 1:10pm
Arden Street Oval

North Melbourne will be out to build on its formidable early form, if possible, when St Kilda rolls into Arden Street Oval for their Sunday afternoon clash. The Roos set a high ceiling with their maiden 2021 performance, which yielded the greatest opening round percentage in AFL/AFLW history. St Kilda is also in winning form, though having shaken off the Western Bulldogs in Moorabbin.

It is no secret that North Melbourne bats a ridiculously deep midfield, boasting arguably the most damaging brigade of ball winners in the competition. St Kilda’s young pair of Georgia Patrikios and Tyanna Smith will do their best to match the forward run-and-carry of North’s prime movers, especially after such promising showings last week.

North Melbourne has plenty of avenues to goal, with rotating ruck Emma King back to her scoring ways after three goals last week, while the Saints also showed they will not be entirely dependant on spearhead Caitlin Greiser to kick a winning score. Matching the Roos’ firepower will be tough, but could be manageable depending on the conditions and North Melbourne’s mood.

Tip: St Kilda will likely provide a much greater test for North and should stick with them in patches, but do not quite have the stock to go with a switched-on blue and white outfit for four quarters, Roos by 21.

Brisbane vs. Gold Coast
Sunday February 7, 2:10pm
Hickey Park

The second-ever AFL Women’s Q-Clash is set to go down on Sunday afternoon, as the Lions and Suns meet at Hickey Park having initially been poised against Victorian opponents. The makeshift fixture should provide fireworks, with last year’s inaugural all-Queensland dig ending in an enthralling draw, meaning bragging rights are well and truly up for grabs here.

Brisbane will look to replicate last year’s early run of form with a second win on the trot, while Gold Coast is still out to open its account for the season after an opening round loss to Melbourne. Both sides boast some terrific young talent, with the Lions’ Isabel Dawes fresh off a best-afield performance, and Gold Coast’s Kalinda Howarth hungry to hit the scoreboard after a goalless outing last week.

The experience is also there, headlined by Brisbane’s strong foundation crop – which may soon be bolstered by Jess Wuetschner – and opposed by Gold Coast’s new-look forwardline, which features vice-captain Sarah Perkins. Jamie Stanton and Alison Drennan will have plenty to do in midfield against the Lions’ strong ball winners, making for an intriguing clearance battle.

Tip: You can never count the fighting Suns out, especially with their youthful exuberance, but the Lions look a slight step ahead and should come away with bragging rights over their neighbours. Lions by 10.

GWS vs. Adelaide
Sunday February 7, 5:10pm
Blacktown International Sportspark

GWS is back home after a well-travelled preseason, set to host Adelaide at Blacktown International Sportspark on Sunday evening. Both teams were thrown into isolation after Round 1 and have undergone improvised solo training sessions for most of the week, which will inevitably show in how either side adjusts to the disruptions thrown their way.

Adelaide looks like quickly returning to its fearsome best in 2021, with the Crows’ many stars aligning to win big las week. Erin Phillips will hope to again take hold as she gets a clean run at it, while some added dynamism in the potential moving parts of Chelsea Randall, Ebony Marinoff, and Sarah Allan will give GWS plenty of headaches.

The Giants have showcased their fighting spirit and have the experience to give the Crows a good run here. An even five-goal loss to Fremantle in Round 1 was less than ideal on a pure results basis, but some strong contested work in the first half should put GWS in good stead to compete against top sides, like Adelaide, for periods of time.

Tip: Revenge will be in mind after GWS ended Adelaide’s finals hopes last year, and the visitors should have too much grunt going forward from midfield. Crows by 26.

Fremantle vs. West Coast
Sunday February 7, 4:15pm
Fremantle Oval

The Western Derby is on in Round 2 after last-minute confirmation of the bout came today, with Fremantle and West Coast set to lock horns in the weekend’s closing fixture. Akin to players in the Adelaide-GWS clash, both teams have been limited training-wise with just an hour of exercise permitted under Western Australia’s lockdown laws.

Freo looks every bit the powerhouse last year’s undefeated run suggested, maintaining their winning streak with a powerful Round 1 victory. West Coast looks an improved side despite falling well short of Adelaide in the end. While the Eagles managed 2.6 (18), the Dockers excelled with 8.10 (58) in their opening fixture.

That immense gap in scoring should again prove telling, with Fremantle’s dynamic and game-breaking forward movers in Gemma Houghton and Sabreena Duffy difficult to keep down, especially as Kara Antonio and Kiara Bowers move the ball forward with class from the outside and inside of midfield.

Tip: Fremantle has the early bragging rights in this rivalry and will likely continue to hold as much after Sunday’s clash. With too much going forward, Dockers by 40.

Image Credit: Dylan Burns/AFL Photos

Saints win thriller over Dogs as youth shine

THE return of Friday night football for 2021 did not disappoint, as St Kilda and Western Bulldogs went head-to-head at RSEA Park in the AFL Women’s competition. Both teams came into the game with some new faces and plenty of youth, and they were on from the get-go. Both teams started hard and fast and maintained that intensity for the entirety of the game. The difference was the Saints took most of their opportunities on goal, and came out nine-point winners, 8.3 (51) to 6.6 (42) despite the late quarter pressure from the Bulldogs.

The match started with a bang, as first gamers Tyanna Smith and Jacqueline Vogt linked up to get the ball deep in the Saints forward line, where a free kick and 50 metre penalty was given to Caitlin Greiser, which resulted in an early lead for the Saints. The remainder of the quarter was an arm-wrestle from both sides, with every player being swarmed as they collected the ball and very few easy opportunities. Bonnie Toogood, Ellie Blackburn and Kate Shierlaw managed to find enough time in the chaos to get themselves on the scoreboard midway through the term. The rest of the quarter was a stalemate with both sides’ defensive strength shown, rebounding everything that came their way. Another free kick and 50 metre penalty to the Saints saw young gun Georgia Patrikios get on the scoreboard, and Isabel Huntington responded with a strong lead and goal with 30 seconds to go, giving the Dogs the lead into the second quarter.

The second quarter saw the Saints take control of the game, with goals to Darcy Guttridge, Smith and Vogt they dominated the scoring with the Dogs only registering two points for the quarter. Dogs defenders Lauren Spark and former Magpie Katie Lynch did well to limit the amount of damage the Saints could do. The Dogs came into the second half of the game with a new level of intensity and pressure, noticeably causing more headaches for the Saints than the previous quarter, sometimes overzealous giving away a string of frees which, luckily for them, did not result in any St Kilda goals for the quarter. The Saints defence was again rock solid despite constant pressure, only conceding one goal – from Huntington – right on the siren, after a very nice mark over the top of a pack.

After a quiet third quarter, scoring wise the fourth was bound to be a bit more busy, with the Dogs chasing an eight-point lead. The final term did not disappoint, as the intensity from both sides took another step up. Greiser kicked the first goal of the quarter, marking the ball in the goal square and increasing the scoreboard pressure. The next two goals came from Toogood and Blackburn to get the Dogs within two points with four and a half minutes to go. Once again the pressure and intensity from both sides lifted with the game on the line, but the Saints composure with the ball late would see them get a late goal from Guttridge following the ball over a marking contest into the goal square and putting the Saints ahead. The last minute of the game was played in the Saints forward half to see them win their first of the 2021 campaign.

Patrikios ended up getting the most of the ball on ground with 23 disposals and a goal, followed closely by Blackburn (21 disposals, two goals and five tackles) and Tarni White (20 disposals and seven marks). Rosie Dillon was a big contributor to the Saints pressure around the contest, coming out of the game with nine tackles to go with her eight disposals, while Berry led the dogs with six tackles. Another story coming out of the game was Alice Burke, wearing her father Nathan‘s famous number three at the red, white and black, getting the points over her dad.

The Dogs will face a determined Carlton side in the opener of Round 2 at Whitten Oval on Friday night, whilst Saints will have a longer break, coming up against North Melbourne at Arden Street Oval on Sunday afternoon.

 

St Kilda | 3.0 | 6.0 | 6.2 | 8.3 (51)
Western Bulldogs | 3.3 | 3.5 | 4.6 | 6.6 (42)

GOALS:
St Kilda: Greiser 2, Guttridge 2, Patrikios, Shierlaw, Smith, Vogt
Western Bulldogs: Blackburn 2, Huntington 2, Toogood 2

ADC BEST
St Kilda: Patrikios, White, Phillips, Smith, Greiser.
Western Bulldogs: Blackburn, Huntington, Lamb, Toogood, Lynch.

2021 AFL Women’s: Round 1 preview – Traditional rivals to open the show in Thursday night blockbuster

AFL Women’s makes its long awaited return tonight, with teams hungry to make up for lost time and rectify the ‘what-ifs’ left in 2020. Traditional rivals Carlton and Collingwood take the season-opening honours once again, with plenty of heat expected to come out of that clash at Princes Park. A fixture shake-up on the eve of season proper sees a few matchups altered, but Round 1 will still be stretched across a bumper four days of footballing action. We preview all seven games, capped with a prediction to (hopefully) aide your footy tipping campaign.

Note: All start times are as of AEDT

Carlton vs. Collingwood
Thursday January 28, 7:15pm
Princes Park

Carlton and Collingwood return to the season-opening slot in a clash which is sure to produce plenty of fireworks at Princes Park. The Blues are yet to lose to their fierce rivals in said fixture, but suffered a shock loss to the Pies on home turf in their Round 2 meeting last year. Carlton is a hot favourite to secure premiership glory in 2021, but will be tested by an emerging Collingwood side which went incredibly close to knocking off North Melbourne in last year’s finals.

The clash will be made all the more intriguing as Carlton spearhead Tayla Harris resumes hostilities with dour Collingwood defender Stacey Livingstone, who labelled the star goalkicker “useless” at ground level after their battle last year. Gun Pies utility Bri Davey is also set to face her old side for the first time, which she used to captain, poised to spend more time up forward. Chloe Molloy is another set to swing into attack, with both players capable of breaking Carlton’s usually sturdy defence.

Reigning competition best and fairest, Maddy Prespakis will inevitably attract plenty of attention in the engine room, but should have a good amount of support in the form of new recruit, Elise O’Dea. The former Demon is one of four debutants for the Blues, who will be without Lucy McEvoy. Collingwood father-daughter coup Tarni Brown is another debutant to watch, thrown straight into the senior side in her maiden campaign.

The Pies are a team to watch in 2021, but the Blues will be incredibly difficult to beat, especially with a point to prove.

Tip: Carlton by 10

St Kilda vs. Western Bulldogs
Friday January 29, 7:10pm
RSEA Park

The Western Bulldogs take on St Kilda once again in Round 1, with the Saints keen to make good on last year’s result. The expansion side brought football back to Moorabbin in its maiden campaign and exceeded expectations, while the young pups failed to register another win after its opening round triumph but spawned plenty of green shoots.

Youth promises to be a key feature of the clash, with number two pick Jess Fitzgerald poised to make her senior debut for the Dogs while St Kilda’s prime selection in Tyanna Smith could well run against her in midfield. Both are quick off the mark, have a terrific inside/outside balance and can find plenty of the ball, adding to either teams’ exciting young stocks.

Also pending selection is the debut of Saints father-daughter recruit Alice Burke, the daughter of Bulldogs coach Nathan. Having coached her and an abundance of other players set to take the field on Friday night, Burke will soon be on the other side. 2019 draftees Gabby Newton and Georgia Patrikios are also set to meet in midfield, while Saints leading goalkicker Caitlin Greiser could well prove a difference-maker in the closely matched contest and many eyes will be on Izzy Huntington, who is expected to swing forward with more frequency this year.

The Saints arguably turned out the better side last year and a season of experience will do wonders for them, but the Bulldogs’ potential is relatively untapped and could again carry them over the line here.

Tip: Western Bulldogs by 1

Gold Coast Suns vs. Melbourne
Saturday January 30, 3:10pm
Metricon Stadium

Melbourne will travel to face Gold Coast at Metricon Stadium in Saturday’s first fixture, making for a meeting between experience and emergence. The Suns were another expansion team to exceed expectations last year by qualifying for finals, but still proved a rung off the true premiership contenders. Melbourne’s hardened core carried it to a breakthrough postseason feature, which the Dees made good of with an epic come-from-behind victory over GWS.

The visitors have already named three debutants, with prized draftee Alyssa Bannan set to line up in the forwardline while Eliza McNamara and Megan Fitzsimon add some more youth to the starting side. Speaking of, Tyla Hanks is one to watch for Melbourne as she prepares to spend more time in the engine room having cut her teeth as an impact forward.

Gold Coast has plenty of youth to boast as well, but also added a good amount of experience in the off-season. Former Saints Sarah Perkins and Alison Drennan are both quality players and leaders; with the former slotting straight into her new side’s leadership group and the latter set to provide another reliable figure in midfield. Scoring looks a key area of improvement for the Suns, and these two should aid that with presence inside 50 and forward momentum respectively.

Gold Coast rattled a few of the top sides last year and have the youthful exuberance to do exactly that to Melbourne on home turf, but the Dees are always a tough team to beat and should have enough prime movers to seal victory.

Tip: Melbourne by 5

West Coast vs. Adelaide
Saturday January 30, 5:10pm
Mineral Resources Park

West Coast begins its second AFL Women’s campaign at home as Adelaide comes to town looking to start its year on the right foot. The Eagles struggled last season but managed to scrounge a memorable maiden win and have made the markers of improvement for 2021. Adelaide, technically still the reigning premier, timed its premiership hangover perfectly as everything which could have gone wrong, did in 2020. The Crows finished sixth in Conference A with just two wins, but had many a setback along the way.

At its core, the Crows’ squad is still elite and will be buoyed by the return of some outstanding talent. Skipper Chelsea Randall is set to slot straight back into the defence after her long-term knee injury, while a fully fit Erin Phillips looms ominously as a midfield/forward option. In their absence, the likes of Sarah Allan and Anne Hatchard produced All Australian seasons, though the Crows will sweat on Ebony Marinoff‘s availability as the ball magnet looks to overturn her monster three-game suspension.

It is no secret that West Coast’s strength lies in the midfield, which will be bolstered by trade coup Aisling McCarthy and prime draftee Bella Lewis. The promising pair will be thrown straight into the deep end, but have experienced movers in Dana Hooker and captain Emma Swanson to wax with through the engine room – all under the ruckwork of Parris Laurie. Scoring has been a sore point for the Eagles though, and Adelaide can do plenty of that.

With plenty to prove in 2020, the Crows loom as a fearsome force which could quickly rise back to the AFL Women’s summit. West Coast remains a step off the competition’s best and arguably its greatest weakness works into Adelaide’s hands, with the Crows’ scoring ability key to taking the game away from their opponents here.

Tip: Adelaide by 25

Geelong vs. North Melbourne
Sunday January 31, 12:10pm
GMHBA Stadium

Geelong hosts North Melbourne at GMHBA Stadium on Sunday afternoon, gunning for a return to finals action in season 2021. North looms as stiff opposition first up though, with the Kangaroos keen to strike gold while their remarkably deep squad remains hungry and intact – especially after missing out on premiership opportunities in their first two top flight campaigns.

The hosts went back to the well of local talent once again at this year’s draft, introducing a couple more gun midfielders in Darcy Moloney and Laura Gardiner with their top 20 picks. Caution surrounds Nina Morrison‘s return but Denby Taylor is poised to slot back into the lineup after her own injury woes, while Olivia Purcell has a full preseason under her belt and will again look to mix it with the game’s elite midfielders.

Geelong will need to be on its game in the engine room considering how deep North Melbourne’s midfield crop runs, with skipper Emma Kearney joined by Jasmine Garner, Jenna Bruton and co. The former two are also scoring threats from the middle and add to North’s firepower, while the returning Jess Duffin is another big name which will steady the Kangaroos in defence.

The Roos won by 46 points in the same fixture last year, but should be in for a more competitive dig if Geelong can manage to turn its spurts of form into four quarter showings. They should still be too strong for the young Cats.

Tip: North Melbourne by 9

Richmond vs. Brisbane
Sunday January 31, 2:10pm
Punt Road Oval

Richmond’s hunt for premiership points continues into year two, starting with a home outing against Brisbane on Sunday afternoon. The Tigers went winless in their inaugural AFL Women’s campaign and, needless to say, will hope to avoid the same fate by getting on the board quickly in 2021. The developing Brisbane side proved many doubters wrong in 2020 and made finals, but must win games like these to achieve the same result this time around.

Incoming Tigers coach Ryan Ferguson will have 2020 number one pick Ellie McKenzie at his disposal, along with a raft of experienced inclusions. Foundation Blue Sarah Hosking is an important addition to the engine room, while Sarah D’Arcy could be one to boost their key position stocks as the Tigers look to become a more competitive force.

Brisbane looks a much more settled lineup having been ravaged during the expansion era, with a core of foundation players leading the charge ahead of some promising young talent. The front half spearheaded by Jesse Wardlaw looks exciting, while Kate Lutkins‘ defensive troops make the Lions hard to crack. Having started so well last season, the Lions will be out to put wins on the board early once again and push for more finals experience. They should be too strong here, but expect to see the Tigers fight.

Tip: Brisbane by 15

Fremantle vs. GWS Giants
Sunday January 31, 4:10pm
Fremantle Oval

The final game of the round sees GWS travel to take on Fremantle at Fremantle Oval on Sunday, looking to break the Dockers’ undefeated streak which dates back to 2019. The Giants have faced many a challenge over the offseason, including relocation, but showed last year that they can stand up against the tide. The Dockers are a force to be reckoned with, especially on home turf, and will again be a bonafide premiership contender – if not, the favourite.

The Dockers’ free flowing style and many scoring threats should cause Giants coaches a few headaches, though the visitors’ experience will count for plenty in resisting the inevitable pressure Fremantle will apply. It all starts with Kiara Bowers in midfield, while the dynamic duo of Sabreena Duffy and Gemma Houghton is always difficult to stop up forward, along with Ebony Antonio on the outer.

Those kinds of attacking threats should be too much for the Giants to handle, especially in the current context and in front of home fans. It is the kind of game Fremantle is expected to win, but GWS will be plucky.

Tip: Fremantle by 21

Featured Image: Carlton captain Kerryn Harrington (left) and Collingwood’s Bri Davey (right) are set to face off in Thursday night’s season opener | Credit: Michael Willson/AFL Photos

2021 AFLW Preview: Western Bulldogs

THE Western Bulldogs lay claim to one of the competition’s most promising young lists and after two dour seasons, will be eager to accelerate their return to the AFL Women’s summit. With head coach Nathan Burke at the helm for his second year in charge, the sky is the limit for these young pups in 2021.

2020 RECAP

A 1-5 record and sixth-place finish among the stronger Conference B makes for quite harsh reading, but does not tell the full story of the Bulldogs’ season. Expectations were not overly high on the rebuilding side heading into 2020, especially given the amount of inexperienced players yet to truly cut their teeth in the bigtime, with ups and downs abundant along the way.

The campaign began brightly with a 25-point win over expansion side, St Kilda, putting the Dogs right on track. Two losses by just over three goals followed, but were somewhat expected against hardened Melbourne and Carlton teams. A four-point loss to West Coast would have really hurt though, with Collingwood taking full advantage the next week but green shoots emerging in a 15-point loss to the undefeated Fremantle.

Overall, the Bulldogs averaged a losing margin of 18.4 points and remained relatively consistent throughout a tough campaign in terms of results. The five-game losing run will only have them more keen to hit the ground running in Round 1 this time around and turn their potential into marked improvement.

NEW FACES

The Bulldogs have had access to some of the best Metropolitan talent, particularly in the last two years, and were faced with an embarrassment of riches at the top end at last year’s draft. Northern Knights co-captain Jess Fitzgerald was their choice at pick two, a balanced midfielder who was labelled her side’s most valuable player by now-assistant coach, Marcus Abney-Hastings in 2019. She should slot strait into the engine room and can also rotate forward, joining a formidable group of Knights graduates at the Kennel.

Marking defender Sarah Hartwig was a steal at pick 11, instantly boosting her new side’s backline with a blend of aerial ability and poise on the ball. The Sandringham Dragons product also has the potential to move further afield or swing forward, such is her versatility. Isabelle Pritchard (pick 16) was another bargain and in a similar vein to Hartwig, is a tall prospect who can play defence while providing another positional threat in her midfield craft.

Katie Lynch proved the Bulldogs’ big trade coup as she switches from Collingwood to help bolster the Bulldogs’ midfield stocks. She is a former first round pick who lies in a good age bracket for her new side and should take some pressure off the Dogs’ established midfielders. Annabel Strahan is the other fresh face, a surprise selection as replacement for Katy Herron, who will be inactive in 2021.

ONE TO WATCH IN 2021

Isabella Grant is one to watch in red, white, and blue this season; a player who could well act as a completely fresh recruit given she missed her entire maiden season through injury. The versatile tall may take some time to find her feet at senior level given her lack of experience, but has already attracted plenty of hype given her family connection to Whitten Oval as the club’s first father-daughter selection. With Izzy Huntington set to switch ends, Grant could be one to provide relief and will only add to the Bulldogs’ dynamism.

WHY THEY CAN WIN IT

The Bulldogs may better be known as pups as it stands, but once those youngsters click at senior level, watch out. Burke has already coached a wealth of players in his squad at junior level and knows how to extract quality from young footballers, meaning his team’s development could be accelerated drastically as the next generation takes hold. Under strong leaders in Ellie BlackburnBrooke Lochland, Kirsty Lamb, Huntington, and co., the Bulldogs’ rate of improvement will strike fear in many an opposition coach.

QUESTION MARK

There’s two sides to every coin and while the Bulldogs’ youthful exuberance makes them highly promising, it can also be perceived as inexperience depending on the context. The rebuilding list is coming along nicely but suffered from some lapses in concentration last season and did not have the depth to regularly compete with top sides across four quarters. It is a factor which will only be ironed out over time, but the Dogs will give plenty of sides a good run throughout 2021 on raw talent and intent.

FINAL WORD

The future is bright for these Bulldogs but as it stands, they may have to put some more runs on the board before becoming a true finals threat. One win should be a very beatable tally this time around, with every side now wary of the Dogs’ growing depth and undeniable young talent. Expect some sharp improvement with even more to come down the line.

Image Credit: Kelly Defina/Getty Images via AFL Photos

2020 AFLW Draft review: Western Bulldogs

NOW the AFL Women’s Draft is over, we take a look at each club, who they picked and what they might offer to their team next year. We continue our countdown with Western Bulldogs, a team that has an abundance of youth, and whilst they did not make finals in 2020, gave plenty of indication that they will be a team to watch in 2021 and beyond.

Western Bulldogs:

#2 – Jess Fitzgerald (Northern Knights/Vic Metro)
#11 – Sarah Hartwig (Sandringham Dragons/Vic Metro)
#16 – Isabelle Pritchard (Western Jets/Vic Metro)

Western Bulldogs took three picks into the AFL Women’s Draft and managed to pluck out three elite talents in 2020, all of whom are top 10 players on value. They again continued their trend of Vic Metro talents who played under Bulldogs’ coach Nathan Burke last year, as he looks to build that familiarity around his line-up and one that will be a successful unit in the future.

Taken with Pick 2 was Northern Knights’ co-captain Jess Fitzgerald who became the second Knight of three to go in the first three Victorian picks. The skilful ball user can win the ball inside or outside and is a big-game performer having been named best on ground in the Knights’ premiership last year. Another natural leader joining the Dogs, she follows her 2019 Knights captain in Gabby Newton at the Dogs.

Coming in at Pick 11 is the best defender in the AFL Draft crop in Sarah Hartwig. A natural interceptor and great above her head, Hartwig offers terrific value at the pick and one who will slot straight into the lineup. Her clean ball use and reading of the play makes her a great player to slot in at half-back, but also know when to push up to the wing if required. She played in defence for Vic Metro in the championships, and will be hard to beat in the air or at ground level with he willingness to take off when given the opportunity.

Another Vic Metro defender who has joined the Dogs is Isabelle Pritchard. The Western Jets defender turned midfielder is a Bulldogs supporter and lived out her dream by being picked up at Pick 16. She moved into the midfield this year and starred in the couple of games she played, performing strongly at the contest and showcasing her versatility. Another player who is top 10 on talent, she is a great steal by the Dogs and one who will be a good player for a long time in the red, white and blue.

Overall the Dogs have added even more elite young talent to their line-up and will be hard to stop when they all get to their peak.

Picture: Western Bulldogs Women’s Twitter

2020 AFLW Draft review: St Kilda Saints

NOW the AFL Women’s Draft is over, we take a look at each club, who they picked and what they might offer to their team next year. We continue our countdown with St Kilda, a team that showed promising signs in its inaugural season and will be on the rise in 2021 after being one of the most impressive performers through the draft.

St Kilda:

#6 – Tyanna Smith (Dandenong Stingrays/Vic Country)
#24 – Alice Burke (Sandringham Dragons/Vic Metro)
#34 – Renee Saulitis (GWV Rebels/Vic Country)
#40 – Jacqueline Vogt (Southern Saints VFLW)
#51 – Tahlia Meyer (South Adelaide)

Every club is a winner post-draft, but St Kilda’s draft hand is one to celebrate and leave the red, white and black supporters really excited. Three young guns who were steals in the draft, followed by a couple of mature-agers including one already in the Saints’ program and another underrated talent in the SANFL Women’s, this is a side to watch in 2021.

Tyanna Smith was one of only a few who could challenge as the best player in the AFL Women’s Draft crop, so to see the Dandenong Stingrays star land at pick six and join former Stingrays’ teammates Molly McDonald and Isabella Shannon at Moorabbin is a coup in itself. She is arguably the most complete player from the Under 18s, with elite athleticism, great skills, terrific decision making and a big-game player. She will complement Georgia Patrikios in there and the two will almost be uncatchable.

Alice Burke is one the fans would have been tracking for a little while given the men’s team has not had too many father-sons over the years. The daughter of club legend and now Western Bulldogs’ coach Nathan, Burke is a tenacious midfielder who has also spent time at half-back. Coming from a soccer background, Burke would have been a top 15 pick in an open draft, so again like Smith, represents value. With her defensive pressure and dual-sidedness, Burke is a massive inclusion to the Saints’ outfit.

Renee Saulitis was the premier pure small forward in the draft, and while she showed over the last 18 months she could play in defence or midfield, she is most at home in a forward pocket. Oozing X-factor and goal sense, she is another who could come straight in and cause all sorts of damage at the feet of Caitlin Greiser, and is one to watch as a quick developer. She provides a niche little role in there, and cannot be left alone inside 50.

Jacqueline Vogt comes out of the Southern Saints program where she performed as a versatile forward. Strong and not afraid of the contest, the mature-age Vogt could slot into the side straight away if required following her consistent 2019 VFL Women’s season.

Finally, the Saints picked up slick ball user Tahlia Meyer with the extra pick they opted to pass on draft night. The South Adelaide prospect was one of the most underrated players in the SANFL Women’s competition, but hardly put a foot wrong with her disposal and vision going inside 50 a treat to watch. It seems to be a running theme with the Saints – good ball use and decision making – and Meyer fits the bill and is also readymade to have an impact at senior level.

Overall the Saints included some serious X-factor and talent to their line-up with fans likely to see them continue to rise up the ladder and worry some more experienced teams next season.

Picture: St Kilda Women’s Twitter

Pritchard takes opportunity into footy

IT was not so much a choice one way or another, but passionate sportsperson Isabelle Pritchard said the decision to pick up a footy and take a chance in the sport was more about opportunity than anything else. Trying her hand at just about anything growing up, and predominantly a netballer, the now Western Jets star has made the most of that opportunity that presented itself a few years ago.

“I had a go at pretty much everything to be honest,” Pritchard said. “Netball was probably my main sport. “I didn’t start that until I was about eight so I was quite young, I played that majority of my childhood, but I had a go at everything else. “I played some basketball, played indoor soccer, I did quite a bit of swimming, etc. and water polo. “I played some cricket, really everything, but netball was like the main thing for me.”

“I think for me it was sort of just, it wasn’t so much a decision it was sort of just the opportunity presented itself in football and I took it, I wasn’t so much weighing up the options of the netball path or football path. It was here’s the path for football, I love football, let’s play football.”

Pritchard said she would consider going back to netball later in life as she loved the sport, but knows the growth in women’s football has been too big to ignore and something she really loved to be a part of.

“Coming from playing netball, it’s quite restricted in terms of where you can run,” Pritchard said. “I loved the freedom of footy being able to go wherever and you’re not controlled by lines on the court or anything like that. “I think I enjoy the physicality as well, being able to get in there, get under the pack and win the ball out for your team is something I really enjoy.”

Pritchard lists her strengths as her ability to win one-on-one contests, as well as the contested ball. The latter of which she only realised after a role switch at the Jets this year saw the traditional intercept marker move from half-back into the middle.

“I really enjoyed it (midfield move) because it gave me an opportunity to be a bit more proactive instead of reactive I suppose,” Pritchard said. “As a defender you’re sort of anticipating where the ball’s going to come in and try and stop them from getting a goal, whereas in the mid your role is to get it forward to try and get a goal.

“I think I really enjoyed that aspect of it, but at the same time I think even when I was playing I still had quite a defensive role, I tended to stay towards the back as that backstop position which I think was good because it gave me an opportunity to translate the things that I learnt in backline into the midfield.”

Rewinding back to the start of her footy journey just a few years ago, Pritchard first tasted football at school as part of a round robin tournament and it instigated a move to sign up for Spotswood, her local football club.

“I signed up just for a bit of fun and started playing and I really enjoyed the day (at school) so then I began playing at a local team starting up at Spotswood, so I began playing there with a few of my friends,” Pritchard said. “I just fell in love with it, kept playing and I was lucky enough to get into the Western Jets that first year and I’ve played there since then.”

Her rise through the pathway was quick but she adapted, though not without plenty of nerves along the way, becoming a regular standout in the Jets’ side.

 “It was scary especially because Western Jets were such a relatively new team,” Pritchard said. “I think the first year I did it was the first year that the Western Jets was actually a standalone Western Jets. “I think it was a bit encouraging because we were all finding out, learning to play, so that was good. “It was scary, I didn’t really know what I was doing, but just tried to hold my weight.”

Hold her weight she did, having grown up supporting the Western Bulldogs with her family, and her twin brother playing football “since he could basically walk”, the game was hardly foreign for her. As a red, white and blue supporter, it was somewhat fitting that running out for Vic Metro as a middle-ager last season, Pritchard was coached by Nathan Burke who would go on to earn the top job at the Western Bulldogs later that year.

“I was incredibly lucky to play as a bottom-ager in the Vic Metro against some of the most talented players in Australia. It was such a great learning opportunity I think as well being able to work, being coached by Nathan Burke was amazing.

“He and also in the under 16s getting coached by Mel Hickey. “It’s so much knowledge that I was able to soak up and learn from their experience, their wisdom and they’re all great coaches. “Also being surrounded by a lot of players who had played a bit longer than me, but also just getting their help on the field and trying to learn from their experiences. “It’s just good being able to learn from such experienced people in such an experienced environment.”

Not only has Pritchard featured through the Vic Metro program, but has been a member of the AFL Women’s National Academy for a couple of years, something that took a while to adjust to due to a foreign exchange clash.

“I went on exchange when I was 16 for three months to France. “I actually found out that I’d got into the Academy while I was away,” Pritchard said. “I was in France and it was just before the summer that I found out and then I missed the first camp because I was away, and then I went on the second one. “It was a bit scary because everyone knew each other already and then when I went away on the second camp, I was trying to meet everyone, I was trying to get involved, find my place.

“But it was really good, and Aasta (O’Connor, AFLW Academy coach) was such a great role model and such a good coach,” she said. “It was amazing to learn from her, and also just be around such amazing talented players and some of those players ended up being my best friends, so it was really great just to be able to go away and spend some time around so much knowledge and talent and be able to try and learn as much as I can from them as well.”

Over her journey, Pritchard has been particularly looking to improve her skills and her athleticism, with the off-season of late giving her an opportunity to fine tune her fitness and speed. Someone who has always been there for the defender/midfielder is her father who she admits has been her role model throughout her childhood.

“He played football growing up as well, so he’s very passionate about it but I love it because he’s not overbearing,” Pritchard said. “When I want help from him I can ask and he’ll give it to me, but he never forces his opinion on me which I really value and I think his opinion is the most important to me, and whenever I need help I go and ask him what he thinks and he always comes up with something wise, so he’s probably been my biggest inspiration, my biggest role model.

“My brother has played footy since he was a kid and I guess that’s what sparked my intrigue into the game,” she said. “He’s always been so hard-working and humble, not just at footy but at everything he does. “My whole life I’ve just been trying to be as good a person as he is.”

Now with the AFL Women’s Draft looming large tomorrow, Pritchard said the goal for her was to just keep on improving to be the best she could be. Whilst being drafted would be a “huge goal” and an “amazing opportunity”, Pritchard said she would not stop aiming to always improve on herself.

“I mean it’s kind of crazy to think about that four years ago when I started playing I didn’t think that I would be here nominating for the draft, hoping that I would get drafted,” Pritchard said. “But it’s really exciting because it’s a huge opportunity that’s presented itself and the idea of it’s really scary. “I didn’t even know women’s football existed five years ago so it’s crazy, it’s overwhelming, but it’s also incredibly exciting and I can’t wait for the future to see what happens. “Obviously even if I don’t get drafted, I’m just excited to keep playing and keep improving.”

Knighted: Burke follows famous father and becomes a Saint

THERE are few certainties when it comes to the AFL Women’s Draft, but one of three players who already know their destinations net week is Alice Burke. The newest Saint will follow in the footsteps of her famous father Nathan, who amassed more than 300 game in the red, white and black. While her father is now somewhat ironically coaching an opposition side – Western Bulldogs – Burke said the family ties are strong regardless of the colours they wear.

“I’m sure there will be a little bit of trash talking at home, but I don’t reckon it would wouldn’t change anything,” Burke said of a potential St Kilda-Western Bulldogs clash. “The rest of that home environment honestly is when we do come home, we’re all pretty easily able to just swap into our normal home life. “We’re good at separating just being a family. “I don’t see it impacting anything too much, but it would definitely be interesting to see who the rest of the family, would support.”

For Saints fans it would be a great relief to see another Burke at Moorabbin, and it is no surprise to hear that the newest addition has always had it in her veins.

“Yeah our whole family has always gone for St Kilda from the start so I do have a soft spot for them, especially with the father-daughter,” she said. “We’ve had a couple of functions there for the father-daughters, father-sons, events. “I also did work experience at Saints. “I know the the venues pretty well, and all of that, but ultimately my goal in the end is just to be the best player I can and get as far as I can.”

For such a passionate Aussie rules supporting family, you would expect she would be a lifelong player. Except the truth is, she only took up the game three years ago, instead preferring the round ball game.

“I’ve definitely got that connection with dad easily, but for about the first eight or so years, I was playing soccer with my sisters,” Burke said. “I didn’t actually start footy till I think it was, 2017. “I played for school and, that was really the first ever time I’ve done anything with a football, and it was just like a little AFL 9s game, and I just remember going out there and thinking, ‘Oh, this is kind of really fun, this is really new’ and it was pretty much from that I just kind of like I was playing proper at the time.”

At that point in her life, Burke was succeeding in soccer, pulling on the green and gold for the national Under 19s in the United Kingdom. Despite making it to international level, Burke admits her feelings towards the game had begun to wane.

“I was pretty invested in soccer at that point, but because I’ve been playing for so long, I think the kind of love of the game, had worn off,” Burke said. “So when I did start footy, it was something new. “I’m one of those people who really enjoys learning new skills and just like getting into new routines.”

Burke began to forge out a stellar junior career, as it escalated from something that was new and fascinating into an atmosphere and environment that she loved.

“I was pretty bad at kicking and all of the skills and the tactics and all of that (when I first started),” Burke said. “I remember that having Tam (Hyett, head coach) as my first coach, and she’s just pretty much staying back after trainings to help me learn to kick and all of that. “I just fell in love with just having all these new things to try and all these new things to do. “I like the games like having that bit of uncertainty. “Like in soccer you’re pretty set about your role and everything. “In footy, it’s a lot more chaotic, and all of that uncertainty makes it a lot more enjoyable for me, it’s a lot more exciting to play.”

A question on many people’s lips might be, when your father is a 300-game AFL player, how have you not at least played some junior footy before?

“Yeah at the time there was no one around, no girls that I knew that played it,” Alice said of women’s football “It wasn’t really an option, most people just played netball or soccer. “I think my oldest sister – I’ve got two older sisters – and they got into soccer first. “I was one of those siblings where if my older siblings are doing it, or if they were trying something, I had to do it with them. “I just got into that through following them.”

Having reached the international stage and having a promising soccer career in front of her, making the choice to cross to Australian rules football was far from straightforward, but Burke felt it was the right one.

“Yeah at the start (it was a hard decision),” Burke said. “Just because I had been doing it for so long. “Does that mean I’ve wasted seven, eight years to doing the wrong sport or something? “Once I actually I went down to the open day for Dragons and I loved it so much. “That was massive turning point for me that I was just full set on. “Soon as I got my first taste of an actual team, it was pretty easy for me to be like, this is a lot more enjoyable and it’s probably got more of a future in it then soccer did for me and plus, having Dad’s background, he was able to like go outside and teach me, and we’re spending a lot of time outside of it from that point on as well, just practising the skills and everything.”

Burke started her career off half-back, a position she was familiar with through soccer. While her technical ability was still adjusting, it was obvious from the start that she was dual-sided. It was not long before she soon caught up to the rest and was thrown in the midfield, a challenge the teenager thrived on.

“It was pretty new that having that different perspective, where you actually have to be aware of what’s around you,” she said. “Have that whole 360-degree perspective compared to just 180 when you’re in defence. “Having all those new perspectives and the multiple things to focus on in the game just made it all the more enjoyable for me. “And playing in midfield was definitely was the first time I’ve done it and straight away it was just really fun.”

Burke defines her ability to use both sides of her body, and her repetition of the techincal side further enhanced her ability. Through soccer she became familiar with running down the left side of the pitch despite being a right footer, and when caught on that left side, she naturally used the left foot.

“I was still in that habit from soccer is always using my left foot,” Burke said. “And from that I kind of learned, ‘alright If I can’t train myself not to use my left, well I’m going to have to learn to use it well, because I could be using it either way. “I’ve been pestering dad doing a lot of practise on that, and I reckon that’s definitely paid off this year.”

Burke recognised how lucky she was to have a father who had reached the elite level, but more so one who was always happy to aide in her development and assist in any way that he could, just being a father as much as a coach.

“It’s definitely been like it’s really important to me keeping on top of my skills and everything because, dad’s been working at home and everything now during lockdown,” Burke said. “It’s been pretty easy for us to just go down to the Trevor Barker Oval it’s a couple of blocks away. “We’ve been going down there a lot, and he has a really good input of he’ll teach you how to pick up your own mistakes, because in a game, he knows that you’re not gonna be able to have someone tell you what’s going wrong or not.

“One of our pet peeves has always been if you make a mistake, it’s okay. “But what matters is whether you make it again or if you fix it. “So being able to pick up those environmental cues yourself and realise what’s going wrong and then how to fix it. “That’s been something he has really diligently taught me and I reckon that helped me improve a lot in the game.”

Burke said she would love to build the knowledge of her inside midfield game. Whilst he has no problems attacking the contest and then using it once in possession, she wants to improve her decision making, as well as reading the play and at the stoppages off hands. What she calls her gameplay intelligence.

Her development as a player in a short space of time came to the fore after winning the 2018 best and fairest, an accolade she backed up in her middle-age year last year. Burke describes it as a “real shock” but said she loved how footy rewarded hard work over results.

“If you’re shepherding someone you might not necessarily be impacting the play, but you are still playing a vital role in the game,” Burke said. “That’s why that’s something that I’ve always tried to work really hard on in the games, is putting in those extra one per cent efforts. “I reckon it was definitely a shock for me when I got that first best and fairest, because it really it was good to know that I’m in a sport that values those kind of things.”

Burke progressed through the Vic Metro program and went up to the Gold Coast for the AFL Women’s Under-18 Championships. She loved the increased standard and said it was amazing playing alongside so many talented players all in one team and across the competition. What made it a little different to most is that her father coached the team, though she said you would hardly know they were related on game day, and they are able to switch back into family mode once home.

“During the day he’d be my coach and we wouldn’t have any talk at home (about it),” Burke said. “There’d be a few inside jokes of of ‘don’t pass Alice the ball’ or something, but I remember one night I snuck into his room and we watched Bachelor together and then we woke up next morning and he is the coach again. “He’s really good at swapping between putting the coach hat on and the dad hat, and we’ve never had any issues with that.”

While her father has undoubtedly been an inspiration over the journey, a former Dragon has also had a huge influence on Burke’s career. Jemma Owen was Burke’s first captain at the Dragons, and crossing from another sport it was daunting at first, but Owen helped her fit right in.

“I was pretty like scared to come into a brand new team by any sport, I didn’t know anyone or how to do anything,” Burke said. “Jemma … was fantastic, straight away was so nice and welcoming to everybody. “She was really good at being that leader, but also kind of demanding the best out of everybody on the field. “She was never afraid to talk, you know, let somebody know they need to be doing something. “One thing that I really liked too was she didn’t ask anything of the team that she didn’t do herself. “I found that she was someone that I could really respect as a player. “And, you know, her dedication through the game was really admirable.”

Now she is officially an AFL Women’s player – with her selection to be confirmed on Tuesday – Burke is ready to hit the ground running and knows her career goals.

“The reason I loved footy was I did play for fun, and I wanna make sure to improve and get better at the game and everything, but ultimately I just want to enjoy it, it’s a wonderful opportunity,” she said. “I’m going put everything in, I just hope that I do just keep enjoying the game because I love it, and it’s unlike anything else I’ve ever done. “I hope that definitely stays with me.”

Versatile Hill a natural leader

TWO-time NAB League Girls captain Mimi Hill has been a mentor at the Oakleigh Chargers over the past couple of seasons and it is easy to see why. At first she was daunted at the prospect of leading girls that were a couple of years older than her, but she settled into the role and now thrives from the task at lifting the team around her.

“The first year when I was captain, last year, I think I was 16,” she said. “I was like, ‘what is going on?’ “I was just not expecting it at all, and that was quite intimidating getting to captain older girls potentially three years older than me. “But it was also really exciting and a great opportunity to develop my leadership skills and also develop me as a footy player, because instead of like being really hard on myself in the games and getting down on the little things, mistakes I’ve made, it made me refocused on the team, and I think that developed my footy ability.

“Instead of being really hard on myself, I channelled that energy into making sure the team is on track. “If I’m having a bad game, it doesn’t matter. “I’ve still got to focus on that control like everything’s going to be alright.”

After fitting into the role as a middle-ager in 2019, Hill was named captain in her top-age year once again, and she certainly felt more comfortable from the get-go. Not only looking to build on-field performance, but lift everything she could off-field, the Chargers’ leader was “excited” about the 2020 possibilities.

“I was really excited because obviously I had that experience from last year, and it was a much younger team and less experienced team (this year),” Hill said. “I was really excited to develop a really good culture at the club, and I think we achieved that just looking at the results and also the relationships that everyone made at the club.”

Hill came runner-up in the 2019 best and fairest last year, but for her while accolades are a great honour, it is about leading from the front and doing anything she can to get her team over the line on matchday.

“Just because I value that really highly and I think it shows that you do put in each week,” Hill said.

Hill’s journey through football has been one of relative recent times, starting up when she hit high school.

“Pretty much I just kicked in the park with Dad and my siblings since I was really little, I never really did Auskick or anything,” Hill said. “Then when I got to Year 7 and a new school, I played a game of footy in class and the teacher afterwards was like you should definitely be looking to join the club team.

“I went home straight away was like, ‘Dad can you please sign me up for footy?’ He didn’t think at the time there was a girls team, but obviously everything was up and running at that point. “So he got me into local team Kew Comets and I played my first game of footy. “I was like, ‘this is actually the best sport ever’ and I basically stopped most of my other sports and just stuck to footy.”

After her first season with Kew Comets, Hill was already showing promise as a future footballing talent. The next season she was invited to join Oakleigh Chargers’ Under 15s which she said was really good because they helped develop her skills whilst she was playing within the school team. Four years later and Hill is a Vic Metro representative at Under 16s and Under 18s level, and earned an AFL Women’s Draft Combine invite.

While Hill missed out on going up to Queensland last year as a middle-ager due to the enormous amount of top-age talent on the list, she enjoyed running out against Vic Country at Werribee, having also pulled on the ‘Big V’ a year earlier at GMHBA Stadium at the Under 16s Championships.

“Vic Metro games are probably my favourite,” Hill said. “They have been my favourite games since I started playing footy just because I really enjoy stepping up like the standard. “I think that I’m able to lift with the standard and it improves my footy as well. “I just love meeting all the new people from different regions and just so great and obviously footy just brings together so many amazing people like-minded people. “It’s so great to get to meet all these new girls.”

While disappointed to miss out on going to the Gold Coast for the AFL Women’s Under 18 Championships, Hill received an invite to the AFL Women’s National Academy, something she was thrilled about and believed her Metro coach and current Western Bulldogs AFL Women’s coach, Nathan Burke might have had something to do with.

“I was just really excited that, like my hard work had paid off,” Hill said. “Nathan Burke actually mentioned after Vic Metro that he would put a good word in for me, which I wasn’t sure if that was just something he said. “But he held his word, so it was really exciting. “It just meant another trip where I could develop my footy and meet new people to. “It’s so great.”

Hill has always had a team focus, so it is no surprise that the talented top-ager looks back on her time at the Chargers from a team perspective. From struggling in the early days, to narrowly missing out on finals, to starting in a blaze of glory this year, Hill has been a key member of the transformation at the club.

“I think our first game from I think it was when I was in the Under 16s,” Hill said. “That was the first season. “So I wasn’t playing in the main team and I’m not sure they won any games that season. “Then my first game for the Under 18s team, we beat Gippsland by quite a bit, which is exciting, but then we didn’t had many wins after that.

“I think we’ve always had that good potential. We’ve always had good players. “We just weren’t gelling as a team. “But then last year, we got even better. “Girls have been around for a while, so lots of experience and (it was) very disappointing missing out on the finals. “We lost some games we shouldn’t have, and overall it was a pretty good season.”

Hill said the highlight of the 2019 season was being the only side to take points off the undefeated Northern Knights who went onto win the flag.

“The highlight was probably drawing with the Northern Knights because they were actually a powerhouse team in the competition,” Hill said. “We actually had the potential, but then this year we definitely like ‘well, there was quite a lot of new girls and younger girls’. “There was a great culture at the club. “It was just really exciting to see what we could do and it was so disappointing the end of the season (to miss out on finals).

One game in particularly that sticks out in Hill’s mind was the Chargers’ heartbreaking one-point loss to Greater Western Victoria (GWV) Rebels in the penultimate round. Just needing to win their last two games, the Chargers were strong favourites against the one-win Rebels, but in a tight contest all day the Rebels kicked a late major to cause a boilover. While Oakleigh won its last game of the season, it allowed Calder Cannons and Eastern Ranges to take the final two spots with the Knights and reigning premiers Geelong Falcons and Oakleigh finished fifth.

“That’s probably the game I’m thinking about the most, very disappointing, but I think it just kind of opened our eyes up as a team,” Hill said, looking at the positives. “We should have won it. “We were just disappointed in ourselves because we knew we had more to give. “We beat (grand finalists) Calder in the year and came close to beating (premiers) Northern. “So we felt like we deserved to be there. “But then obviously didn’t. “In the end, we didn’t deserve to be there.”

Putting the disappointment behind her Hill was determined to have a big 2020 and there were few bigger starts to the season with Oakleigh cruising to a back-to-back thrashings over a couple of younger sides in Murray Bushrangers and Tasmania Devils prior to the season being postponed.

“It was so exciting,” Hill said. “I was just, I’m looking at the team and the relationships we’d built already. “The wins we’d put on put on the board, it was so exciting for the year to come because I’ve really thought that this was the year that Oakleigh would make an impact on on the finals. “And potentially, I mean, it was a bit early in the season, but I thought we could win the premiership. “But I also didn’t want to let the girls get ahead of themselves or myself as well, because it was very early in the season.”

While the team has always been her main focus, you do not make Vic Metro and the AFL Women’s Academy without some serious talent. Hill rates her running ability and cleanliness at ground level amongst her best traits, as well as her decision making with ball-in-hand. Still lightly built compared to other players, Hill was focused on building greater body strength and improving her tackling numbers – something she concedes she could not do due to social distancing – but improve the former through gym work.

Hill is a natural midfielder, but can play inside, outside, half-back or half-forward if she needed to, predominantly sitting at half-back and using her run to advantage, then moving through the middle when required.

“I’m really happy playing anywhere,” Hill said. “Last year, Luke (O’Shannessy, head coach) from Oakleigh said, ‘We’re going to put you on the backline just to give you another area of strength, then that’s good for the draft’. “That was kind of fun learning that new position and I do enjoy getting some running power, getting some running from the backline. “Midfield is probably my favourite position, I like roving the ball, getting in down under as well.”

Hill has grown up a Hawthorn supporter and idolises Sam Mitchell who she draws comparisons to through her own game.

“I feel like I have a similar body type that quite smaller midfielder,” Hill said. “His ability to kick on both feet, it’s just always amazed me, and I think whenever dad and I kicked the footy with each other, if one of us does a really good left foot kick we say ‘oh that’s a Sammy Mitchell’, just he’s just a a legend of the game.”

Focused on the present and what she can achieve, Hill said it would be “so exciting” to hear her name read out at next week’s AFL Women’s Draft. Whilst it might not be for the brown and gold she has grown up supporting, she is just keen to earn a place and where she can meet new people and improve her football further.

“If I got the chance to play next year, it’s just so good,” Hill said. “I just feel like I can belong at that level. “I want to show people that I’m good enough to be there.”

AFL Women’s Draft preview: Richmond & St Kilda

THE AFL Women’s Draft is fast approaching and in the lead-up to the draft, we take a look at each of the AFL women’s sides in pairs and see what they might look for, and who might be available with the selections they have. Next up in our series are the two recent expansion sides from Victoria, in Richmond and St Kilda.

Richmond – Victorian Pool

Draft selections: 1, 42 (28), 52 (33)

Off-season summary:

There’s no way around it, Richmond’s maiden AFL Women’s season was a disaster. But the fast-moving nature of the competition means the Tigers can quickly turn it around, and they have started anew (again) by targeting some more mature talent, with help from concessions.

Richmond’s end-of-first-round pick (15) granted by the AFL was used well, transferred to Carlton in exchange for heart-and-soul inaugural Blue, Sarah Hosking. The hardened midfielder adds some much-needed grunt to the engine room alongside long-term midfielder/forward Sarah Dargan, with fellow former-Magpie Sarah D’Arcy and Harriet Cordner (ex-Melbourne) within the experienced age bracket.

Grace Campbell, a pacy raw midfielder was lost to North Melbourne for not much, with 19-year-old Ella Wood a shock retirement to go with that of Laura Bailey and Lauren Tesoriero. Nekaela Butler, Ciara Fitzgerald, and Emma Horne were all delisted too, sealing what was a relatively big turnover in players for the second-year club.

A draft look:

All eyes will be on what the Tigers decide to do with pick one. The two frontrunners are Northern Knights midfielder/forward Ellie McKenzie, and Dandenong Stingrays midfielder Tyanna Smith. McKenzie, a mercurial type who boasts a well-rounded game may edge out her country counterpart at this stage, but both would be fine selections. As expected from such high draft picks, particularly of late, both will be able to immediately impact the Tigers’ side from Round 1 and provide a much-needed spark to the unit. They could also be generational players for all the loyal Tigers fans to adore for years to come.

With their later picks, 28 and 33 in the Victorian pool, the Tigers may look to consolidate their midfield even further, potentially freeing Katie Brennan up to spend more time forward, while taking some pressure off the shoulders of Monique Conti, and the incoming pick one. In a team which lacked goals in 2019, Richmond could also do with some firepower up forward – mostly in the medium/small category.

St Kilda – Victorian Pool

Draft selections: 6 (4), 24 (16), 34 (23), 49 (26), 51 (32)

Off-season summary:

After a strong maiden AFL Women’s season, the Saints have came away with plenty of promise to build on. While the losses of Alison Drennan (Gold Coast) and Jess Sedunary (Adelaide) will be felt along with the retirement of Courteney Munn, St Kilda managed to bring in a couple of solid defenders to bolster the team. Bianca Jakobsson and Jayde van Dyk are those defenders set to make an impact, with the Saints’ draft hand also looking strong. That hand, as discussed below will help them secure father-daughter selection, Alice Burke at not too pretty a penny. Overall, the new Victorian team looks in good shape, boasting a solid core and some exciting members of the next generation.

A draft look:

Given the balance on St Kilda’s side, recruiters and coaching staff can look at taking the best available throughout – particularly with pick six (four). With one of McKenzie or Smith poised to be taken first off the board, the Saints can look at the likes of Alyssa Bannan and Sarah Hartwig as realistic targets. Of course, the Bulldogs may well opt to secure a key forward with pick two, meaning that Smith could even fall to St Kilda pending what Melbourne do with pick three.

The first pair mentioned are both dynamic midfielders with plenty of weapons and game-breaking abilities, while Bannan is an athletic key forward, and Hartwig a defensive marking machine. Of course, St Kilda has also already confirmed the addition of Alice Burke, the daughter of club legend and current Bulldogs coach, Nathan. The tough midfielder will likely cost the Saints one of their later picks. With the others remaining, the strong Dandenong Stingrays ties could also be maintained, given pre-listed players such as Molly McDonald and Isabella Shannon both came from the region.