Tag: Sandringham Dragons

2020 AFL Draft recap: Melbourne Demons

MELBOURNE’S rollercoaster 2020 season ended in a ninth place finish and the lingering feeling of disappointment, but a sense of assuredness was somewhat restored as the Demons managed to gain two first round picks in this year’s draft. The move to trade back up the order and bring in a trio of top 35 talents marked a job well done, as a couple of classy smalls were joined by a developable tall prospect in what was an all-local draft haul. With a couple of spots potentially remaining open on the outside and in Melbourne’s front half, these players may well get a senior chance in their debut seasons.

MELBOURNE

National Draft:
#21 Jake Bowey (Sandringham Dragons/Vic Metro)
#22 Bailey Laurie (Oakleigh Chargers/Vic Metro)
#34 Fraser Rosman (Sandringham Dragons/Vic Metro)

Rookies:
Nil.

Consecutive first round picks opened the show for Melbourne, who looked to have had running machine, Max Holmes snatched from under their noses by Geelong immediately beforehand. Nonetheless, his former Sandringham Dragons teammate Jake Bowey marked a great first selection followed by a slight slider in Bailey Laurie, who was linked to GWS’ picks in the teens.

Bowey is a tough 175cm prospect with clean skills and great speed and agility. He can play a number of roles but made the wing his own as a bottom-ager and also has the potential to develop as a small forward. Laurie is similarly brilliant skill-wise, particularly by foot, known to carve up the opposition with his baulks and forward carry. The 179cm Oakleigh Chargers graduate achieved premiership success with the side in 2019 and along with Bowey, should have fans quickly warm to him.

The selection of Fraser Rosman, another Sandringham product, proved Melbourne’s final point of call at the draft and was a more prospective pick than the previous two. At 194cm, Rosman is an athletic marvel with great speed, endurance, and vertical ability which translates to his versatility. His size suggests he can own the forward 50 arc in future, but Rosman is also capable of rolling further afield. He has had little exposure with only two NAB League appearances last year, with his draft bolt coming on the back of promising preseason performances.

Melbourne was one of the rare sides not to make any rookie selections, meaning its three-pronged National Draft haul were the only fresh faces taken in after trade period. With Bowey and Laurie, the Demons have added some much-needed class going forward in support of 2019 draftee Kysaiah Pickett, while Rosman could become a fearsome key forward in the long-term, but has great flexibility otherwise.

Featured Image: Melbourne’s fresh faces from the 2020 AFL Draft | Credit: (Retrieved from) @melbournefc via Twitter

Your questions answered – Draft Central’s pre-draft Q&A

YESTERDAY we asked you to send in all your last-minute questions ahead of the 2020 AFL Draft to be answered on our YouTube channel, with those initial enquiries touched on during the Q&A session which you can find here, and linked below. The questions spilled over after the time of recording but not to worry, AFL Draft Editor Michael Alvaro is on hand to get to all of your pressing questions ahead of draft day.

Q&A:

Q: Do you think it’s worth Fremantle trying to move up the draft order and chase a key position forward? Maybe trade Pick 12 and a future first rounder to try and get a Logan McDonald, or that kind of talent? – From Christopher on Facebook
A: Hi Christopher, there was certainly plenty of early talk surrounding whether Fremantle would look to trade up and snare McDonald in particular. That has cooled of late and it is difficult to see the Dockers having enough to trade up into the top three-to-five picks while also keeping their current NGA talents in mind. A key position player could well still come into consideration with Pick 12 nonetheless.

Q: Is Noah Gadsby a chance of going? – From Zac on Instagram
A: There are plenty of Geelong Falcons products in draft contention, Noah Gadsby being one of them. He missed out on a draft combine invite but will be known to clubs having been part of the Vic Country state academy hub and blitzed preseason testing.

Q: Is Tahj Abberley any hope of being drafted? – From Nathan on Instagram
A: Hi Nathan, Tahj is a player the Draft Central team has rated highly for a long time. He seems to have done all he could this year in terms of performance, but this year’s draft presents a tough squeeze at the back-end. His form at each level and nice blend of traits should have him in the mix, even for other clubs should Brisbane opt against taking him on.

Q: Where will Fraser Rosman be selected? – From @8phila on Instagram
A: Fraser Rosman looms as quite a prospective pick out of this year’s crop, but has all the raw athletic traits which clubs will love. He looks like a later pick or ideal rookie option given how few runs he has been able to put on the board, but his upside and potential may see a club jump early at the tall forward/wingman.

Q: How are Clayton Gay and Will Bravo looking in the draft? – From Zac on Instagram
A: These are arguably Dandenong’s best prospects in 2020 and both shape as players with nice traits to develop at the next level. Clayton is a versatile type who can play up either end and is more of a natural footballer in the way he goes about it, good smarts and footy IQ. Will has greater athletic traits, but is still developing other areas of his game. They are both different players, but expect them to be in the mix in the late stages of the draft or rookie draft.

Q: What pick is Tanner Bruhn going? – From Harris on Instagram
A: Bruhn is poised among such an interesting bunch at the top-end, and his final placing could change drastically depending on which clubs jump on midfielders within the top 10. He could potentially land between picks six and 10, or even slide into the teens – but unlikely any further.

Q: Who is the best ruck prospect and where will they go? – From Arjun on Twitter
A: Riley Thilthorpe could be considered the best ruck prospect, but sees himself as more of a key forward and second ruck option. He has been linked with Adelaide’s first pick and the overall top 10. Elsewhere, West Australian Shannon Neale is a second round chance with nice upside as a lean ruck/forward, while Max Heath could bustle his way into contention after showing massive preseason improvement.

Q: Are rumours of Will Phillips wanting to stay in Victoria going to push him down to Essendon’s picks? – Arjun on Twitter
A: There are plenty of rumours which fly around at this time of year. There is not too much to suggest Phillips poses a massive flight risk, which is often attached to Vic Metro prospects. He could join former Oakleigh teammates Matt Rowell and Noah Anderson at Gold Coast, and is certainly a top five talent.

>> Watch the video Q&A below

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lachlan Carrigan on the move for Sandringham | Source: Supplied

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Moloney hopes to follow in father’s footsteps

ABBI Moloney might have first realised she could make the elite level when she made her local interleague side, but Australian rules football has always been in her blood. Moloney’s father Troy played 36 games for Footscray between 1987-1992 and now it is his daughter’s turn to see if she can reach the top level.

Having feared she might not get that opportunity in 2020 when the season was postponed and then called off, Moloney said receiving an AFL Women’s Draft Combine was just what she needed.

“It was definitely some good news after a pretty crappy 2020,” Moloney said. “I just never expected I would be good enough to be in the position I’m in now. It’s definitely increased my motivation to be so much more, just to be the best that I can. “That was my main thing and I guess I also was really happy because I was making dad proud. “He stuck with me throughout my entire journey and with him playing footy for Doggies back in the day, I was like it would be pretty cool if I was playing and I was pretty proud of myself and I never expected to be in this position because we weren’t playing this year, my skills could have decreased and all that. “But it just pushed me to want to keep going and developing.”

Indeed Moloney has been particularly working on her fitness over the break having only had a quick taste of the 2020 NAB League Girls season, but having an impact by booting eight goals in three games, and averaging 10.3 disposals and 3.3 marks in that time. Determined to reach the next level, Moloney has been focused on improving herself in any way she could.

“Knowing that the combine was coming up I wanted to – we had to do a 2k – I didn’t have to be the best out of the 2k, but do the best I could possibly do, set a PB (personal best) for myself and I did that and I was really happy with the effort I put in.”

Over the break, Moloney has been able to lean on her Dragons’ captain Winnie Laing with the pair providing company and support for one another during what was a tough time for top-age AFL Women’s draft prospects.

“We were doing heaps of kms per week with just hard fought effort just wanting to get our fitness up even though we weren’t playing football this year,” Moloney said. “It puts a bit of a strain on your when you have to go out and go for a run, you can’t see your teammates, it makes you a bit demotivated, but having Winnie there we pushed each other and I just wanted to get to the fittest that I could have been and I definitely still have a lot to do but I’m not stopping now.”

Having learned a lot of what she knows from her father, Moloney started her football career from a young age, signing up with her local East Malvern Knights.

“I just loved it from the very start and dad was also my coach so throughout my local footy journey, which finished last year, dad had been my coach so dad’s been a big part of that,” Moloney said. “I never really thought much about it while I was playing local that I wanted to play in the big leagues so I didn’t think about it that much.

“Once I decided to go to interleague and then that was where I was like ‘okay I’m not bad, this could be something I do for a while’ and I guess it went from interleague as that first step up from local to interleague more so than just playing for a bit of fun, that’s where it got a bit more competitive for me. “Then it went from there and then I went to Dragons, started Dragons at the end of Year 10 with preseason and now we’re here.”

Indeed her rise through the pathway has been impressive, with Moloney also juggling her footy with basketball that she played for “most of her life”. She also tried her hand at netball, tennis, gymnastics, cheerleading and lifesaving, or as Moloney said “a bit of everything”. But it was football that called to her because she loved every part of it, even the training.

“I think when I realised it came naturally to me and I understood the game really well and I think it was fun,” Moloney said. “I enjoyed the happiness from getting a goal, no other sport I would really be like if I had to go to training for basketball I was like ‘ohh great’ but I guess footy I could never get enough of it. “I wanted to be doing it 24/7 and it was just so much fun to me. “It was something that I really enjoyed. “With my footy my friends have just been a big part of it, they’ve been my main motivator and have helped me enjoy it as much as I do.”

The marking forward said her ability to take big grabs, or bring the ball to ground, and crash packs were among her top strengths. She has improved her kicking over time for it to be a key factor of her game, and she was not afraid of contact. Moloney said she hoped to improve on her opposite side – left foot – kicking, but also further developing her decision making and footy smarts. Whilst being a natural forward, Moloney said she could play anywhere if required.

“I’ve played all around the ground so I kind of know around the ground what is required of you,” she said. “But I guess when they did move me down to forward a few years ago, I think it was just like my ability to run towards, not facing the goal, running towards the ball and going for those marks and turning around and kicking the goals, that just came more natural to me and that’s where I play my best footy, creating those leads and those set shots. “But as well I enjoy playing wing, playing mid, but the forward is where I showcase my skills the most.”

Now with the AFL Women’s Draft just a sleep away, Moloney said it was hard not to focus on her football career and just how much it meant to her should her name be read out tomorrow.

“It would mean the world to me, like I’m going through studying for exams right now and as much as they say Year 12’s your whole priority, well I am thinking about this is for me, this is hopefully one of my biggest careers,” Moloney said. “I would just be so proud of myself that I’m in this position, I’m getting drafted, this is from my hard work. “It would just be a once in a lifetime opportunity and I think I’d just be extremely happy, extremely proud and ready to take on any challenges that come about.”

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.”

Determined McNamara follows footy pathway

COMING from a basketball background, Sandringham Dragons midfielder Eliza McNamara has dealt with her fair share of setbacks over the years. A concussion last season ruled her out of some matches at NAB League level, and she missed out on playing at the AFL Women’s Under 18 Championships second round on the Gold Coast, but it has not slowed her desire to be the best possible player and achieve her dream of landing on an AFL Women’s list.

“I used to play a lot of basketball and then we got told to check out the local footy team because they were starting to grow the girls culture there,” McNamara said of her first taste of football. “So I joined halfway through my Year 8 season, just at Ashburton footy club and then it was quite big at school but obviously you can’t play until Year 9. I really loved it when I was old enough to play in Year 9 because I was playing with a couple of girls who are in the AFLW Academy and in the AFLW now like Liv Vesely and Abbie McKay.

“From there I played at Sandy and moved to East Malvern footy club which was so fun. “There’s like five girls in that team who were also in the Sandy squad, so we kind of learnt each other’s dynamics in club and Sandy, which kind has made the core of our top-agers quite strong is because we’ve played against each other in club and we’ve also played with each other.”

The familiarity with each other’s games is a key reason why the Dragons have improved from year to year and have a record amount of AFL Women’s Draft Combine invites.

“I think as bottom-agers you end to respect the older kids and because we were all able to grow together from bottom-agers to the older kids, we kind of just grew off each other’s talents and brain-picked each other for how they do X and Y in a game and learn off them in a training session as well as on the field and we kind of got a sense of how each other plays,” McNamara said. “How to complement each other in our footy which is quite an asset to our team.”

She might not have played in the week-long carnival on the Gold Coast, but McNamara pulled on the ‘Big V’ from an early age, representing Metro at Under 16s level.

“That’s one really good thing about playing through NAB League is that you do get recognised and your name gets out there so it kind of, when it starts to pick up momentum, it provides a lot of opportunities,” McNamara said. “Obviously I was lucky enough to play in that Vic team, and then from there you play with girls who you inadvertently play again in the NAB League which you learn off their strengths but also you’re able to identify what each team’s got going for them.

“Like obviously Northern Knights have quite a high representation in Vic so when you come up against them, you know they’ve got quite a strong midfield and forward, so we’re going to have to be really switched on this game. “But opportunity and confidence which then adds to your footy skills through that.”

A natural inside midfielder, McNamara’s willingness to win the hardball came at a cost last year when she copped a concussion and was forced to the sidelines. While hungry to run out on the field, the Dragons middle-ager did take positives from the experience.

“It was frustrating just because I then had to miss a couple of games but it was also a bit fortunate I think we had the Easter weekend so we didn’t have a game anyway,” McNamara said. “I only missed one less game than I should have as well so, you just kind of learn from not being able to play you realise how much you want to be on the field, when you’re watching the games you don’t get nearly as much fun as when you’re playing it.”

“But then it was another blessing that I was able to see this is where our team struggles, so when I am able to play again this is how we’re going to improve, and this is how I can get myself involved,” she said. “When you take a step back and watch, you see how midfields or wingers get lost on the ground, as an observer of that, you’re able to recognise where they could be, and then implement it into your own game which is a good thing.”

The concussion has not stopped the small tenacious midfielder from fiercely attacking the contest. But it has opened up other opportunities for her to increase her versatility and work on other aspects of her game.

“I love kind of going through the midfield which was one blessing for this year, because I got taken out of the inside mid just because the coaches wanted to protect my head because I got a concussion last year,” McNamara said. “Which meant I was able to be thrown around and learn different positions like the wing, high-forward, and like kind of how to involve myself in the game in a midfield sense and still remain an attacking and defensive player, but also nailing some running patterns and getting a better sense of the roles other than inside mid.”

“That’s like helpful one, in terms of confidence that I can play those roles, but also two, if I was to be in the inside mid, then I know how to involve the wings because I’ve played that role, I know the patterns and then I’m able to become an inside mid’s perspective. “The wings sometimes gets a bit neglected because no-one really knows how to incorporate them in girls footy, but I think that is growing with opportunities with NAB, they drill in the importance of each position.”

It is no surprise that her regards her attack on the ball as one of her strengths, showing no fear going into the coalface and winning it for her side. But she also has a sense of undoing any wrongs, such as fixing her own mistakes.

“If I turn it over then I’m adamant that I have to go get that ball and get it back to our team,” McNamara said. “I think I’ve got a sense of just want to fix things on the field so my efforts are all repeated and have a lot of drive and intent in them.”

The talented small is working on polishing her kicking and having greater consistency and variety in the action, which is something she has been looking at over the off-season. Having set small goals each week – such as improving each quarter of each game – McNamara has a big goal coming up, and has been working hard during the lockdown period to achieve it.

“I mean I’m in the middle of three ovals, so I’m quite lucky where I’ve been locked down and we’ve got cricket nets on one of the ovals, so Tam‘s (Hyett, senior coach) made me drill the ball into the cricket nets and just be able to get a penetrating kick between the nets and not miss it,” McNamara said. “Obviously there’s frustrations of the ball getting stuck on top, but that’s a bit of a motive to concentrate and fix my kicking. “That’s probably been my biggest goal this season.”

At first being told the season had been called off was a bit of a shock, with a number of players upset and McNamara described it as “demoralising” and “such a waste of a season”. But then she took a look at the “silver linings”.

“Our coach Tam lives near me so when the state rules had gone through, we’d gone for a couple of kicks,” McNamara said. “I’ve got three brothers so i’ve always got a kicking buddy at home, but yeah initially it just sucked. “There’s nothing better than team sports. “Even though you’re training at home, it doesn’t replicate the sense of passion and fun you get when you’re playing in the team.”

Indeed the sense of team at the Dragons is strong with McNamara acknowledging not only Hyett’s work with her over the journey, but some of the fitness staff as well who have contributed to her progression through the Sandringham program.

“The coaches at Sandy deserve such a big wrap, especially Tam and the fitness coaches Danny (Byrne) and Fraser (Cameron), everyone we’ve had them since for the past three years,” McNamara said. “They’ve been our foundation of coaches and they’ve never waived in their support or given us a half, they’ve always been fully committed to us so I think the coaches at Sandy definitely deserve a major wrap.”

Despite missing out on the championships last year – given the difficulty of squeezing into the side as a middle-ager – and then not getting to play out her own top-age championships this year, McNamara took confidence from her performances at NAB League level.

I think confidence naturally comes when one, your team wins, but also even training sessions are quite good for confidence,” McNamara said. “I found playing club in between last season and this season was such a good re-establishment that if you are able to play really good footy then you kind of learn to train further into a bit more of a competitive level at NAB League. “The main thing with confidence I find is till having enjoyment and playing your own game.

“Even though you have a prescribed role in the team, there’s a way to individualise it a little bit and as long as you don’t lose that individuality in your role, you just naturally succeed a bit better and I guess that’s what reaffirms your confidence and your player is succeeding in the role you’re given.”

Her dream of earning a spot on an AFL Women’s list could be less than a week away, and McNamara hoped to follow idols such as Daisy Pearce and former Melbourne Girls’ graduate Bonnie Toogood into the elite level. While she knows next week is not the last opportunity to play in the AFL Women’s, she know exactly what it would mean to her.

“It would mean everything,” McNamara said. “It would be a weight off your shoulders, but also exciting and I don’t even know. “It would be great, a bit of excitement this year when not much has happened. “I think once you’ve been playing at such a level and dedicated so much time and mum and dad driving me X, Y and Z all over Melbourne, and we get the buses to Wangaratta, it’s kind of a nice way to finish junior football stepping into such an elite environment. “You don’t know, boundless opportunities to come from there so it would be very exciting.”

Walker falls in love with football atmosphere

SANDRINGHAM Dragons’ Daisy Walker was a basketball for most of her life. She played for through her schooling journey and reached state level. At the same time, her brother Will was forging a career in Australian rules football. He was over at the Dragons and ended up earning a spot on North Melbourne’s AFL list after being drafted pick 23 in the 2017 National Draft. Fast forward three years and Daisy is now in a similar boat, hoping to hear her name called out at the AFL Women’s Draft next week.

“He (Will) just looked like he was having so much fun while he was playing,” Walker said. “And I was kind of over just basketball and all the politics and all that, and footy just seemed like a fresh start, so I thought I’d give it a go. “I just sort of fell in love with the sport. “I’ve always loved team sports. “Footy was just an even bigger team. “That was just the bonus for me. “It was just something different, something new. “Something that just incorporated everything I love about sports, being able to run, being able to play with my mates. “New skills, I guess. The things I’ve never tried before.”

Walker said plenty of skills from her basketball days came in handy on the footy field such as her clean hands and endurance, which helped her run out entire games of football. She said the work she had put in during her basketball days to build that endurance was a “little on per cent” that helped her wear down opponents on the field. Playing at a club such as Sandringham Dragons was also a huge factor in her remaining in the sport.

“Honestly, it’s a bit cheesy, but it’s such an honour,” Walker said. “Just being able to go out there and just play decent footy like a high standard footy with your mates, it’s just something that most people can only dream of. “We just work so well as a team, especially from the first year, to this is being my third and final year. “Just how close we all became, it’s just made it so much more enjoyable.”

Walker said her athletic ability – mainly endurance and agility – was a key strength in her game, and said her fundamentals such as her ability to hit targets and technical ability had come on in recent years. However she would not stop improving and is keen to build all areas of her game doing forward.

From when she was young, Walker wanted to be the best sportsperson she could be, and was willing to “put in the hard yards”.

“Wherever it takes me, just something I’ve always wanted,” Walker said. “I’ve always wanted to be a professional athlete. “Just something I’ve decided, and one of my whole childhood and even as I grow up it’s still something I want so bad.”

Walker said she also had a couple of past Dragons as her inspirations throughout her journey, with no surprise as to who the first one was.

“I definitely say there’s two people,” she said. “The number one would be my brother. “I just love watching him play. “The way he plays it’s just unreal to me. “It’s something I want to be like. “He’s always out training, putting in the one percenters in his game. “Even in his rehab, he’s always just doing something to improve his game. “Getting back out there. “It’s just something I admire.”

“But also, the second one would probably be Jemma Owen, who was there in my first year at the Dragons, my first year of footy as well,” Walker said. “She was the team captain, she was the person who got me into footy. “She’s the reason I probably still play because I remember rocking up the first training session of the Dragons, not knowing anyone, barely knowing how to play footy, but just barely got in through my athletic ability. “She was just there welcoming, willing to just make you feel so welcome and want to be a part of team. “And I remember my first game as well. “I was in the backline and she came to the backline with me to help me out, and she was just very supporting. “That’s why I continue because I felt so welcome in the team.”

Walker has plenty of fond memories and anecdotes like that one to look back on her career thus far, and has aspirations of taking a specky in front of a “massive” crowd in an AFL Women’s game, something she did in her junior days, though concedes “it wasn’t really a specky, but it felt like one”.

Being late to football, Walker knows that there is still plenty to work on and takes solace from the fact that if next week does not go her way, there are plenty of opportunities to come in the future with mature-agers getting drafted each year.

“Yeah it does help a lot,” Walker said. “It’s just a bit of a relief, because I know watching the boys transition, it’s a lot harder to get picked up late in your later years, but for the girls that’s still new so there’s an opportunity to work on my skills. “Even if I don’t get picked up this year, just maybe going to the VFLW and just work on my skills, work on my game play, hopefully get a bit stronger and potentially get picked up later on.”

Over the break, Walker has worked closely with Dragons’ NAB League Girls High Performance Manager, Sonia De Rose once the season got postponed in March, with the talented teenager receiving a running program and some sessions with Walker twice a week.

“I got a few of the girls on board and there’s a group of us now, they’re still doing it since March,” Walker said. “We do bit of strength work on a Tuesday and Thursday, and then we have running on a Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and then just the weekends sort of like a recovery. “But I’d always go for just a light jog or just get some extra kilometres.

“I’ve also been going down with some of my other Sandy girls Bella Eddey, Alice Burke some younger girls like Lucy Mitchell and Jemma Owen who’s older. Just doing some kicking, I guess getting our ball work up. “Just it’s also a way to catch up with them, and see how they’re going with all of it as well, because you’ve been quite stressful, especially during this time.”

As someone who lives and breathes footy, Walker was “over the moon” when she received an AFL Women’s Draft Combine invitation.

“I couldn’t believe that someone have interest in me,” Walker said. “I thought I was just sort of in the background. “But it’s just shows that people are watching, they can see what you’re doing and they noticed you. “Even when you don’t think no one’s watching, that’s when it really counts.”

As for what it would mean to hear her name called out next week and follow her brother into the elite level, Walker was resolute.

“It would be like a goal achieved but then again, not because it wouldn’t be achieved because I got in,” Walker said. “I wouldn’t just give up. “It’s something that I’ve worked on my entire life. “Even through my basketball, I wanted to be special basketballer. “But then that dream sort of faded away. “But this is just something that’s always been in my head. “Footy’s just, it’s just a massive goal in my life. And I just mean that my hard work paid off.”

Team-first Laing sees positives in season cancellation

AT first it was heartbreaking. Being told that the NAB League Girls season was put on hold and then eventually cancelled. For a top-age player it was the news no one ever expects coming into the most important year of their football career, and for someone like a club captain, it burns deep. But for Sandringham Dragons’ leader Winnie Laing, once she got over the immediate disappointment, she turned to the positives.

“I remember at the training where we got told, a lot of us just ran to the bathroom and cried,” Laing said. “But after a while I was able to see the positive side of everything. “It was more of an opportunity to develop more as a player individually with my skills and my fitness everything and really taking it to that next level.

“So I think being able to build a schedule which I did, really helped get through everything and have a positive outlook that there will always be something to work towards whether that be the combine, whether that was that we got to play games, or even just preseason for the next year, that was always going to be something that we needed to prepare for. “I think it was a good opportunity to develop individually.”

There was extra motivation for Laing, who missed out on representing Vic Metro as a middle-ager in 2019, but rather than let that get her down, she used it as extra ammunition to attack the 2020 year.

“Not making it (Vic Metro) last year was very disappointing and I was quite upset and I think that was a real motivator for my preseason,” Laing said. “Obviously individually in the time off just working on my skills and my running. “Not making it kind of motivated me more to play better this year and then in preseason just trying to get the most out of the coaches and the team.” Trying to play good as a team, so we could all and myself, play better individually.

“I think what helps motivate me is when you miss out on spots like that and that definitely helps motivate me this year to play a good first three games. “I consider myself a pretty positive person. “Whenever something bad does arise which it always will. “Just trying to find the positive out of that and how I can get the most out of that, whether that be training harder, developing better skills. I think there is always a positive even in the bad.”

Rewinding back to the beginning the Dragons leader initially did not start her football career until a few years ago in year 9, having played a few other sports including basketball. However, as often has been the case with basketballers turned footballers, friends noticed that perhaps her attack on the ball carrier would be better suited in a game with tackling and contested ball-winning.

“I first started playing basketball and athletics and because I was pretty competitive on the basketball court, a lot of people just kept saying ‘you need to go try out, go watch a game’ so yeah we went down to the local oval, watched a game and I knew from then that I wanted to play straight away,” Laing said. So joined Port (Melbourne) Colts then the next season joined Sandy and moved over to East Malvern playing junior footy. “Then Sandy just started to develop my want to play AFLW even more.”

For the “big Richmond fan”, football has always been a fundamental part of her life, but like others who aspired of playing elite-level sport, there was no pathway for young girls coming through the programs. Once the AFL Women’s popped up – coincidentally the same year Laing switched into the code – the tough midfielder was all-in for her dream of reaching the top.

“I think the competitiveness for me really drew me in,” Laing said. “But also the culture of footy clubs is really different other sport. “You don’t find that anywhere else. “So just being around the girls and the coaches and the culture footy clubs have really drew me in.”

In what would be her second football season, Laing made 2018 Vic Metro Under 16s squad and ran out on GMHBA Stadium with some of the best young talents in Victoria.

“It was pretty exciting to see an elite pathway early and obviously it was a very talented group so being able to see the type of talent that my age group has and learning all the different skills and even just pregame techniques with everyone,” Laing said. “Being in that elite environment was pretty special and the coaches were obviously very highly looked out for so that was good as well.”

Laing’s running ability – from her athletics background – moulded perfectly with becoming a midfielder, something she did from very early on in her career. While she predominantly stayed in the role, she did spend time off half-back in 2018, and then up the other end of the ground in the few games this year.

“I had that running capability so I was drawn to the midfield because I think my best attribute would be competitiveness,” Laing said. “So both them meshing together really helped me play in the midfield but this year obviously being versatile was really important, so trying to build different positions. “Like playing forward this year I really enjoyed, but also being able to play on the wing, or I did play half-back in my first season at Sandy so I think being versatile is really important.”

Prior to the 2020 season, Laing was announced as captain of the Dragons, an achievement she said was “pretty honourable”.

“Obviously the girls at Sandy are a very high talented group so being named captain was very honourable to be able to represent all the girls and the team and the coaches and everything,” she said. “It was a pretty exciting experience, I didn’t expect it at all, just being able to build that culture more at Sandy is what I was looking for and I think that’s why we got to play really well in the first three games because we were such a tight-knit group and had all the desire to win.”

It helped her add more strings to her bow in terms of her ability with or without the ball and also broadened her focus further to try and not only get the best out of herself, but also the best out of her team.

“I think being captain I’ve really flourished as a player,” Laing said. “Individually I think I have quite clean hands, being able to get it on the inside and fire it out to the good runners and good players on the outside but also having everyone’s back as a team is a really good attribute so everyone can play with confidence because everyone plays well individually but we’ve got to play well as a team.”

Transferring codes from basketball to football, Laing said her hand-eye coordination was great, but it was her kicking that needed the most work. With the time off, Laing was able to hone down on that and really try to perfect both her kicking out of a stoppage and kicking inside 50.

Laing enjoyed a really strong season in 2019, capping off a stellar NAB League year with a third placing in the Dragons’ best and fairest which she describes as a “pretty big honour”. When she went back to East Malvern, she finished second in the League Best and Fairest, and won best on ground in a premiership-winning grand final. Laing said it was a “pretty rainy, crappy day” but being able to perform on the big stage and celebrate with her team made it worth it and her best football memory.

As for her on-field inspirations, Laing said her Dragons’ teammates continue to inspire her, but also a current AFL player who she said has “changed the culture” at his club, something she always aspires to live up to.

“Everyone has good attributes,” Laing said. “Like Bella Eddey silky hands, Sarah Hartwig good marking, Eliza Mac (McNamara), all of them have really good attributes which help inspire me to play. “Then obviously more famous players like Patrick Cripps. “He’s my favourites, he’s exactly what I want to be as a player. “His leadership, he was able to change the culture at the Carlton Football Club and that’s made them a better team and playing better this year, but also his individual game, he plays on the inside but plays on the outside and can finish with a couple of goals. “So I think his gamestyle as a person and a player has really helped inspire me.”

Laing’s goals coming into the season were team-focused. When the season was called off, her ways of achieving the goals might have changed, but the motivations behind them did not.

“I think before the season was cancelled, my aim was quite team-focused,” Laing said. “I wanted the team to play the best footy we could for ourselves to play better as well, all the top-agers. “I obviously wanted to play a good season to give myself the best opportunity to be drafted at the end of this year and I think once the cancellation of the season did happen, my goals didn’t really change as such.

“I still want to be drafted and give myself the best opportunity so that really motivated me the cancelling of the season to keep training really hard and practicing my skills and my running when we did have guns at the end or the combine that I was putting my best foot forward.”

Being a positive person, Laing knows that it is not the “be all and end all” if she does not get drafted in just over a week. While that would be the main goal, there is little doubt the Dragons captain will dig deep and do whatever it takes to make the next level.

“I think obviously being drafted this year would be the goal,” Laing said. “But I think that’s really good thing about women’s footy that any age if you play a couple of good games somewhere you’ll get noticed, and you’ll have a chance to be picked up so I think that’s definitely the positive about women’s footy that there really isn’t an age limit to start your footy career. “So for all girls, this year isn’t the be all and end all, we know if it doesn’t go our way that there is always other opportunities.”

Hard work the key to success for Eddey

IF you work hard, then anything is achievable. That is the mindset of talented Sandringham Dragons top-ager Bella Eddey who named NBA star Jimmy Butler as one of her major inspirations throughout her footballing career. While she has gone from strength to strength, excelling at the Dragons at NAB League and representing Vic Metro at the AFL Women’s Under-18 Championships, the former basketballer said Butler’s story of resilience and determination was something that really resonated with her.

“I’d probably have to say just one person I’ve really looked up to is Jimmy Butler in the NBA,” Eddey said. “Just when he was little he had a bit of a rough upbringing and he was homeless for a bit there and things like that. “He was like that and if you think he can go from being homeless to an NBA All-Star it just shows you how working hard can get you. “Hard work beats talent and he’s just proven that and I just take a lot from that story and if you just work hard you can get wherever you want to go even if you had nothing in the beginning.”

It is that determination and self-drive that has allowed Eddey to keep focused on her game and always improving no matter what.

“(It’s) definitely something I always like to tell myself,” she said. “If I’ve got an area of improvement in my game I want to get better at or even an area I’m good at, I just think and you look at players like Madi Prespakis and she’s had that immediate impact as soon as she gets into the club. “You just think if you keep working hard and keep going at it there’s absolutely no reason why that couldn’t be you as well.”

Eddey did have a predominant basketball background, but like a lot of passionate Aussie rules fans, once the AFL Women’s pathway became a reality, the midfielder/forward had no hesitation in making the switch.

“I think like most girls we kind of started with a different pathway,” Eddey said. “Similar to them as well I started with basketball because there was no pathway for girls in footy so I kind of figured there wasn’t much point playing because I wanted to play a professional sport so I started with basketball. “Did that for a few years. “Did a bit of touch footy as well and then in the year that AFLW was made I pretty much quit all that straight away and jumped across to footy because I always loved it and wanted to have a kick with my brothers at the park, watch and stuff. Now it was actually a real possibility for girls so I just jumped across.”

Eddey said the “big team environment” attracted her into the sport and said the uniqueness of the game, from having so many teammates to the way it was scored just made it so special. She admitted her bond with a lot of Dragons teammates, and growing up through the pathway alongside them and sharing success with them, made it such a special experience.

“Yeah playing at Sandy’s been awesome,” Eddey said. “There’s a massive group of us who started together three years ago and I think seven of that group have gone on to be invited to the combine which is just awesome. “And a couple of girls got drafted when I was in my bottom year and they were in their top year, they got drafted and that was awesome to see and a real motivating factor to show that it’s a possibility and there’s no reason why you couldn’t do what they’ve done.”

Unfortunately for Eddey, she missed a portion of the season with a bad flu which restricted her to the five games. Whilst she was resigned to sitting on the sidelines and frustrated she could not be out there despite “feeling pretty good physically”, she still managed to have the positive mindset to cheer on her teammates each week.

Despite missing that part of the season, Eddey earned a Vic Country jumper and travelled with her side up to the Gold Coast to run out at the AFL Women’s Under-18 Championships, an experience the teenager loved.

“That was so good,” she said. “Again just playing with those girls from the other clubs is such a good experience. “Meeting all those players and the standard even just in Metro is a step up from NAB and that was such a great experience for all of us and getting that exposure is really good.”

From there, Eddey continued to shine and had the rare feat of being named in the AFL Women’s National Academy. The then 17-year-old could hardly believe it, describing the feeling as “awesome”.

“I was absolutely shocked to be honest,” Eddey said. “The year before i hadn’t played many games before because I had the flu, so I wasn’t really expecting too much and then got the email and that was awesome. “Such a good experience. “We got to go on a camp earlier this year before COVID which was great. “Connecting with all those girls from the other clubs was so cool and playing with them was awesome.”

Eddey has a keen eye for detail and working in conjunction with Dragons’ coach Tam Hyett, focused on improving her versatility on the inside as well as up forward to complement her silky outside game.

“I think with me something with me a lot in the preseason with Tam our coach was just contest work and I think that was a big change in my game, really stepping it up in the contest,” she said. “I go for Hawthorn so I watch a lot of Tom Mitchell, so I’ve watched a lot of how he goes about it because he’s obviously a bit of a ball magnet and it’s just trying to pick up how you get to those inside positions to get the ball.”

Her footy IQ, her ability to read the game and make great decisions are among her best traits, suited perfectly to that outside midfield role.

“I’d probably see myself as more of an outside mid, but Tam and I didn’t want to just limit myself to just being on that outside role,” Eddey said. “You need to kind of have that impact on the inside as well and have that versatility to be able to do a bit of both.”

At about 162cm, Eddey also has the capability of playing as a small forward, which is another area she is looking to focus on for the future, citing the rapid improvement of a St Kilda recruit as a player she could model her game around.

“Probably being a smaller player and playing a bit more time in the forward line probably just being able to read the contests, if there’s a big mark contest being able to read that time off the pack like Dan Butler, he’s been so good at that this year so yeah trying to bring a bit of that in,” Eddey said.

Having effectively “straight swapped” basketball for football, Eddey said she did not take too long to adapt to the game, and it was a lot of thanks to her family for regularly having kick-to-kicks in their spare time, even before she ran out on the footy field.

“I might have just gone down to the park with my brothers and kicked a footy so making that switch across was really exciting because I’d played a couple of games here and there for school but never really done a full season or been a part of a club so it was obviously super exciting and it’s obviously worked out pretty well for me so far and see where it can take me in the future,” she said.

Each year Eddey likes to set goals for herself like any player, but her main aim is to land on an AFL Women’s list. Having made Vic Metro and the National Academy, her next big goal was to reach the elite level, but she also looks at little goals along the way from game to game.

“I set both to be honest,” she said. I have some little goals that I like to chip away at and then I obviously have a big goal in mind which is obviously to get drafted in the next coming weeks. But during the season there are just little goals that I had every game. “Maybe get  x amount of tackles or something like that which I find just keeps me motivated all the time.”

Eddey praised the team at Sandringham Dragons and said she hoped everyone throughout the NAB League Girls competition could achieve their goals be it making it into the league or forging their own paths on their football journey.

“Everyone down at Sandy all the coaches and stuff, they’ve been so amazing helping us all out, especially through COVID,” Eddey said. “I just wish the best of luck to all the girls in NAB League for everything that they’re trying to achieve.”

As for her own goal of being drafted, when asked what it would mean to land on an AFL Women’s list, there was little doubt in her mind of how much of an achievement that would be.

“Yeah it would mean everything,” Eddey said. “It’s definitely something I’ve wanted ever since the AFLW was made. “I’ve just thought about how much it would be awesome to be drafted and to be given the opportunity that not every girl would be able to have the opportunity that we’ve had and it’s really exciting to see even all the younger girls getting around it so much. “It just means a lot to the females in sport.”

Hartwig follows pathway to the top

A PIONEER of sorts in the junior female football space, Sarah Hartwig was quick to sign up in the first South Metro Junior Football League (SMJFL) girls competition a decade ago. On the advice of a friend, the now Sandringham Dragons utility and Vic Metro representative decided to give Australian rules football a crack and has never looked back.

“When the South Metro Junior Football League had the very first Girls Football League and my friend Grace – I think I was eight when we started – and she asked me to join with her and I did,” Hartwig said. “I played for St Peter’s Junior Football Club in that league and then as time went by, I played in the interleague for a couple of years and then also played in the School Sports Victoria (SSV) National Championships and that was Under 15s. “Then I joined Dragons for a few years and played Metro a couple of times and now I’m here.”

While many girls her age or in years gone by have not had the ability to play throughout their junior career, the talented intercept marker has been able to do just that, and rise through the pathway. Hartwig has seen plenty of teammates and friends reach the elite level and now in her top-age year, that is exactly what she has set her sights on.

“It’s been pretty fun,” Hartwig said. “Obviously I’ve been playing with a lot of the same girls in the area for a long time. “Like I’ve been playing with (SMJFL opponent and Dragons teammate) Chloe Saultry who I remember I was playing against her since we were like 10. “We are really good friends and it’s cool watching your friends being successful.

“There’s girls I played Metro with last year and heaps of them got drafted and it’s cool watching them play. “It’s a bit exciting, especially where I am right now with the draft coming up in a couple of weeks.”

This year has been like no other, with Hartwig unable to show off her wares in 2020 other than a few rounds earlier in the season. Even with limited matchplay, Hartwig was able to get in a few matches, but then came to a grinding halt. After dominating as a rebounding defender Hartwig was ready to spend more time in the midfield, but the COVID-19 pandemic put a stop to that. Despite the disruption, it has not stopped Hartwig continuing to work on her game.

“Really everyone my age is in the same boat, so we kind of all have to deal with it the same, or different versions of that I guess,” she said. “I’ve just been focusing on my fitness and strength at the moment and I’ll go out with my dad for a kick every week, twice a week, maybe three times sometimes. “But there’s not much you can do at the moment so I just focus on what your goals are at the end of this time (COVID-19 pandemic).”

Hartwig played a half of footy forward last season for the Dragons and was hoping to spend more time in the midfield in 2020, but her best position is undoubtedly at half-back, something she is comfortable with.

“I prefer half-back as a key defender,” she said. “I do like to run down the wing a lot so, but I’m happy to play anywhere. “I’m pretty versatile.

“I would say I’m a good intercept marker which comes along with reading the play in the backline. “It kind of links in together. “I’ve got some good aerial work, mark, punch all that stuff. “I wouldn’t say I’m fast but I do like to run down the wing, have a couple of bounces. “Only when you can.”

Her improvements were going to be adding greater versatility to her game and showing she could run through the midfield, but instead she has had to work within what she can control, which is her strength training and repetition skills training with her dad.

Outside of football, Hartwig is looking to study a Bachelor of Sports and Exercise Science, saying she had played a lot of different sports when she was younger and completed all the physical education subjects at school. That course was something she was looking to start next year, instead taking a gap year in 2020 following finishing Year 12 in 2019.

“I actually finished Year 12 last year and I’ve taken a gap year this year which was a good year to do that,” Hartwig said. “I was planning on working a couple of part-time or a full-time jobs but this year it’s turned out getting JobKeeper because I work at Hoyts Cinema. “So I’m getting JobKeeper from that and I’ve been applying for jobs hoping to get one after COVID. “So I can have two part-time jobs, but if football comes into play I guess I’ll either do that and a job or go to uni next year.”

Over the journey, Hartwig has progressed through the Vic Metro squad at Under 16s and Under 18s level, playing a couple of games as a middle-ager on the Gold Coast for the AFL Women’s Under-18 Championships last year. The tall defender said it was a thrill to be able to take part in that with all the talent around her.

“That was actually really, really exciting,” Hartwig said. “I had a similar experience in the SSV Under 15s Championships and I actually played with a lot of the same girls. It was really exciting because we had all these special speakers and we had all the professional rooms and all the training sessions and all the similar stuff that the AFL Women’s do which was really exciting. “Obviously after that I was able to watch everyone get drafted so that was cool. I really look forward to doing something similar to that again.”

Off the back of that, Hartwig secured her place in the AFL Women’s National Academy and was able to train with St Kilda’s AFL Women’s side over the summer and also travel up to Darwin for the Academy camp which the Dragons talent also enjoyed.

“I was stoked,” Hartwig said. “It was really exciting. “Then again all the other girls who were in a similar boat. I had training with St Kilda for six weeks and that was really interesting. “We got to learn all about what the clubs do before preseason stuff. “Then we also had the trip up to Darwin. “It was so hot, but yeah we had a lot of indigenous education and all the girls really got close which was really exciting and then we were excited for the other camp we had coming up later this year but that didn’t turn out. “What we had was a really, really good experience.”

As for inspirations through her journey, Hartwig said there were so many friends who had made the leap up to AFL Women’s, but one in particular held a special place.

“I’m not too sure (about inspirations),” she said. “It’s hard to say because I have so many friends (playing AFLW). “I have a friend Alana (Porter) who plays for Collingwood and I’ve played with her for a few years. “I played juniors with her as well. “Obviously following her track would be really cool because we’ve been in it together, but there’s no real big inspirations. “I mean there’s the girls who are really good at what they do but no one I’ve stuck to the whole time.”

Whilst the Geelong AFL Men’s supporter is a footy fanatic, she has not chosen an AFL Women’s team yet, saying she likes to watch them all and follow her friends. That is likely to change in a couple of weeks when the AFL Women’s Draft rolls around and Hartwig hopes to end up at one of the eight Victorian clubs. It is a goal she has set herself, and is keen to play out a long career in the game she loves, whatever level that might be.

“Shorter term obviously everyone my age is hoping to get drafted so that’s kind of coming up soon which is exciting,” Hartwig said. “Long-term football wise I would like to play for as long as I can. I guess if I was playing up to 30-plus that would be really cool I think. “I really just have the big goals and the short-term goals that come along the way I guess.”