Tag: Winnie Laing

2021 VFLW Round 1 wrap: Port claims maiden win, Pies and Gulls get up in thrillers

PORT Melbourne celebrated its maiden Victorian Football League (VFL) Women’s appearance with a win on Saturday morning, helping kick off the 2021 season in style. Collingwood and Williamstown each held on to secure thrilling two-point victories, while Casey, the Southern Saints and Western Bulldogs also started their campaigns on the winners list. That, and more in our Round 1 wrap.

NORTH MELBOURNE 2.0 | 2.1 | 2.1 | 3.4 (22)
PORT MELBOURNE 2.2 | 3.3 | 6.5 | 8.7 (55)

GOALS:

North Melbourne: B. Brown, A. Hamilton, M. Kiely
Port Melbourne: C. Bernardi 3, S. McNamara, E. Wilson, S. Locke, A. Edmonds, M. Kuys

BEST:

North Melbourne: S. Skinner, M. Kiely, A. Hamilton, A. O’Loughlin, M. Eastman, L. Wright
Port Melbourne: M. Kuys, C. Bernardi, O. Barton, A. Edmonds, E. Wilson, H. McLaren

Port Melbourne’s inaugural VFLW campaign got off to the perfect start on Saturday morning, as the Borough kicked away to a 33-point victory at Arden Street Oval. While Port led at every break, North remained in the hunt up to half time at only eight points adrift, before the Borough kicked away with five goals in the second half to claim a historic 8.7 (55) to 3.4 (22) win. Richmond-listed forward Christina Bernardi found some scoring form with three majors for Port, while fellow goalkickers Melissa Kuys, Alice Edmonds, and Elizabeth Wilson were among the victors’ best players. Meagan Kiely and ruck recruit Lexi Hamilton found the goals for North Melbourne, who also blooded fellow scorer and 2020 draftee Brooke Brown. Skilful winger Sarah Skinner was named the Roos’ best in the loss, as they look to regroup against the Western Bulldogs in Round 2. Meanwhile, Port takes on Carlton next time out.

GEELONG 1.1 | 2.2 | 3.4 | 6.6 (42)
COLLINGWOOD 1.2 | 4.2 | 6.2 | 7.2 (44)

GOALS:

Geelong: O. Barber 3, G. Clarke 2, D. Moloney
Collingwood: I. Barnett 4, M. Zander, B. Smith, M. Shevlin

BEST:

Geelong: R. Caris, P. Sheppard, B. Pratt, O. Barber, T. Meissner, L. Gardiner
Collingwood: I. Barnett, M. Zander, M. Shevlin, G. Ricardo, J. Ferguson, E. Jackson

Collingwood warded off a fast finishing Geelong to win by two points on Saturday afternoon, making for a heart-stopping start to both side’s seasons. The Magpies established a handy two-goal buffer at half time and extended it a touch further heading into the final break to put themselves in the box seat. Matilda Zander looked to have wrapped up the result with her goal early in the final term, but the Cats made Collingwood earn the 7.2 (44) to 6.6 (42) win, kicking the last three goals to move agonisingly close to a huge comeback. Geelong’s AFLW influence shone through as top flight Cats kicked each of their goals, led by first year tall Olivia Barber (three). Another tall, Rene Caris was also terrific, while Paige Sheppard made a successful return to high-level football in the hoops. Imogen Barnett was Collingwood’s best with four goals and was supported well by South Australian recruit Zander and AFLW-listed utility Maddie Shevlin was also impactful.

CARLTON 0.0 | 0.0 | 2.1 | 3.1 (19)
CASEY 0.1 | 2.4 | 4.9 | 7.13 (55)

GOALS:

Carlton: P. Trudgeon 2, S. Lawrence
Casey: B. Tarrant 5, I. Milford, T. Fellows

BEST:

Carlton: J. Lew, W. Laing, C. Hammans, T. Kolevski, P. Trudgeon, T. Zampaglione
Casey: K. Thompson, E. Horne, B. Tarrant, M. Caris, S. Fairchild, T. Fellows

Casey was made to break away twice, but managed to get the job done comfortably against Carlton with a 36-point win at Princes Park on Saturday. A tense deadlock gripped the opening term before things began to open up, and Casey got away to a two-goal lead. Carlton hit back in the third term after a scoreless half, but fell back behind just as quickly as the visitors prettied up their side of the scoreboard. Melbourne-listed forward Brenna Tarrant was terrific in the important moments, finishing with five goals as the best player afield. Maggie Caris and Imogen Milford showed some of their raw ability, while skipper Samantha Johnson was strong in midfield and Kelly Thompson also fared well. Winnie Laing won a heap of ball from the wing for Carlton, while leaders Jen Lew and Ally Bild were solid in defence. New Blue Paige Trudgeon also impressed in bursts, booting two goals in the losing effort.

W. BULLDOGS 3.2 | 5.3 | 8.4 | 11.6 (72)
HAWTHORN 1.2 | 3.3 | 3.3 | 3.6 (30)

GOALS:

W. Bulldogs: B. Gutknecht 2, N. Morris-Dalton, I. Pritchard, A. Scott, V. Murphy, G. Lagioia, B. Hards, I. Grant, M. Sandral, A. van Oosterwijck
Hawthorn: J. Williams, E. Mcilvena, J. Owen

BEST:

W. Bulldogs: B. Gutknecht, K. Betts, N. McMahon, R. Christgoergl, I. Pritchard, M. Sandral
Hawthorn: J. Owen, K. Dudley, J. Williams, A. Holmes, C. Brown, L. Szigeti

Western Bulldogs kicked away after half time to a comfortable 42-point victory over Hawthorn, providing pleasing viewing for home fans at Whitten Oval on Sunday morning. Having built a steady two-goal buffer, the young pups kept Hawthorn goalless after half time while piling on six goals up the other end to achieve a resounding 11.6 (72) to 3.6 (30) result. A strong AFLW-listed contingent helped the Bulldogs hold sway, with midfielder-forward Britney Gutknecht best afield and the leading goalkicker with two majors. Fellow goalkicker Amelia can Oosterwijck found a good amount of ball, while skipper Riley Christgoergl was prominent in midfield and Dogs signing Annabel Strahan impressed. Jemma Owen was the Hawks’ standout figure, with Abbey Holmes‘ experience helping their cause and captain Jess Trend proving influential before coming off with injury.

ESSENDON 0.2 | 0.4 | 2.4 | 4.5 (29)
STH. SAINTS 1.2 | 5.4 | 5.4 | 7.5 (47)

GOALS:

Essendon: A. Quigley 2, C. McIntosh, A. Barba
Sth Saints: J. Matin 3, V. Moreau 2, T. Bohanna, G. De Angelis

BEST:

Essendon: C. Ugle, C. McIntosh, F. Frew, A. Barba, K. Heil, A. Morcom
Sth Saints: J. Matin, H. Stuart, L. Burke, T. Bohanna, E. Vanderheym, R. Ott

Southern Saints put in the work early to set up an 18-point win over Essendon at The Hangar on Sunday morning, making for an ideal start to the Saints’ campaign. After a tight opening term, the Saints broke away to a five-goal lead at the main break, but were slowly pegged back in the third term as Essendon threatened to pounce. In the end, Southern had put enough on the board to hold out for a 7.5 (47) to 4.5 (29) victory. St Kilda-listed newcomer Jess Matin was outstanding with three goals and plenty of work going both ways, as teammate Poppy Kelly dominated the hitouts. Hannah Stuart was another among the Saints’ best, with Valerie Moreau (two goals) also in the action. In a losing effort, Essendon vice-captain Courtney Ugle was judged her side’s best player, while another mainstay in Cecilia McIntosh also impacted, finding the big sticks alongside Alana Barba and Alexandra Quigley.

DAREBIN 0.3 | 1.5 | 1.7 | 1.9 (15)
WILLIAMSTOWN 0.1 | 1.3 | 2.4 | 2.5 (17)

GOALS:

Darebin: H. Munro
Williamstown: R. Tripodi, M. Williamson

BEST:

Darebin: S. Cubasch, K. Roe, M. Huta, K. McNiece, H. Munro, S. Elarmaly
Williamstown: M. Williamson, E. Meade, G. Biedenweg-Webster, A. Whelan, R. Tripodi, L. King

Williamstown came out on top in a low-scoring slog between two standalone sides, holding on to beat Darebin by two points at La Trobe University on Sunday. Down by the same margin at the first two breaks, the Seagulls broke ahead in term three and somehow managed to defend their lead thereafter despite some immense pressure from the Falcons. The 2.5 (17) to 1.9 (15) scoreline was indicative of both team’s lack of polish inside 50, but also testament to their structures and defensive acumen. Dynamic midfielder-forward Megan Williamson was among the Seagulls’ best, finding the scoreboard alongside Ruby Tripodi. Leader Erin Meade was also instrumental, and Lana King showed some promise on debut. For Darebin, Sidney Cubasch was named best while Kathleen Roe was reliable as ever from defence, and Hayley Munro proved dangerous as she rotated forward from the ruck.

2021 VFL Women’s Round 1 preview: Revamped state league returns after lost season

THE Victorian Football League (VFL) Women’s competition returns this weekend, with a revamped structure seeing the season run concurrently with that of the AFL Women’s (AFLW). As somewhat of a reserves league to aligned sides in the top flight, the VFLW features 12 teams in 2021, including Port Melbourne after the Borough took on Richmond’s license. Round 1 sees fixtures spread evenly over Saturday and Sunday, starting at Arden Street as North Melbourne hosts Port Melbourne.

North Melbourne vs. Port Melbourne
Saturday February 27, 10:00am
Arden Street Oval

North Melbourne welcomes competition newcomer, Port Melbourne to the VFL Women’s on Saturday morning as the two sides open season 2021 at Arden Street Oval. While still a proud standalone club, the Borough has taken on Richmond’s VFLW license and will thus have access to Tigers players who miss out on AFLW selection. Likewise, North Melbourne’s top flight alignment will see some senior listed Kangaroos line up in the blue and white each week.

The likes of Richmond forward Christina Bernardi and Melissa Kuys will be among the experienced names set to lead the Borough’s efforts, while an all-Richmond half-back line of Hannah McLaren, Sarah Sansonetti, and Laura McClelland should prove difficult to budge. Murray Bushrangers graduate Sophie Locke is another exciting young talent in Port’s side, named in the back pocket.

New Roo Katelyn Cox is set for a reserves outing in North’s midfield, lining up next to Meagan Kiely and Bethany Lynch with Lexi Hamilton a handy ruck to be roving under. Nikki Wallace, another with AFLW experience lines up in defence and Brooke Brown gets a gig at the other end of the ground. Brown was taken by North Melbourne as a surprise father-daughter selection in 2020.

Expect North Melbourne’s hardness and pressure around the ball to be a real feature, as Port looks to bring an exciting transition style to the fore in what should be a competitive start to the 2021 season.

Geelong vs. Collingwood
Saturday February 27, 12:00pm
Deakin University, Geelong (Waurn Ponds)

AFLW-aligned sides Geelong and Collingwood go head-to-head at Deakin University in Waurn Ponds on Saturday afternoon, looking to start their campaigns on the right foot. Both sides boast a strong mix of youth and experience in their Round 1 lineups, with the Cats benefitting significantly from their alignment to the top flight when it comes to the young talent at their disposal. Collingwood, of course, remains the reigning premier after the 2020 season was scrapped.

Among the exciting brigade of up-and-comers, Olivia Barber has been named at full forward and will spearhead the attack alongside skipper, Michelle Fedele. Paige Sheppard is poised to make her return to football in the hoops, named among an exciting midfield with Cats AFLW youngsters Laura Gardiner, Darcy Moloney, and ruck Rene Caris having all gained experience at senior level.

Collingwood’s tall stocks should trouble the Cats, particularly up forward. Senior ruck Bella Smith takes up the full forward spot with Sarah King set to take the first bounce, while Imogen Barnett is another to watch in Collingwood’s front half. Smith’s former Norwood teammate Matilda Zander looms as an exciting addition from the SANFL, with the Magpies’ forward depth pushing Amelia Velardo to half-back.

The Magpies will look to adopt a similar gameplan to their AFLW side, looking to take the game on in transition with an exciting handball style while also taking hold of the game when required. Geelong will also play an attacking brand, with youthful exuberance and instinct also poised to come into the Cats’ thinking.

Carlton vs. Casey Demons
Saturday February 27, 2:00pm
Princes Park

Another all-aligned clash takes place at Princes Park as Carlton and Casey Demons lock horns, rounding out Saturday’s fixtures. The Blues have hit the reset button on their VFLW program and will look a very fresh side this year, adopting a strong youth focus to help feed their AFLW squad. Casey also has strong ties to its AFLW-aligned team in Melbourne, with a fit and strong Demons unit out to prove just how fruitful their preseason has been.

The Blues will be led from the back with skipper Ally Bild lining up next to vice-captain Jen Lew across half-back, while Carlton-listed speedster Charlotte Hammans completes the line. Coming down from Cairns, Jasmine Ware is another to watch in Carlton’s defence, while Akayla Peterson looms as a high-upside type at the other end. Carlton draftees Winnie Laing and Paige Trudgeon will also get some run into their legs in the front half.

Casey captain Samantha Johnson is her side’s major off-season coup and will anchor the midfield alongside first year Melbourne midfielder, Megan Fitzsimon. Both will benefit from the ruckwork of Maggie Caris, while an all-Melbourne half-back line of Mietta Kendall, Isabella Simmons, and Irishwoman Lauren Magee should prove exciting to watch. Brenna Tarrant also features at full back, with three senior games under her belt this year.

With new coach Peter Mercoulia also embedded in Melbourne’s coaching staff, Casey will look to play fast and put heavy scoreboard pressure on. Carlton is led by a new coach of its own in Luke O’Shannessy, who should be able to extract great things from the Blues’ young talent with his vast pathways experience.

Western Bulldogs vs. Hawthorn
Sunday February 28, 10:00am
Whitten Oval

The Western Bulldogs kick off their 2021 campaign at home as Hawthorn rolls into town on Sunday morning, looking to take a big scalp early. The Bulldogs have built one of the best young AFLW lists, with the vast array of talent spilling into its reserves side and making for an exciting squad on paper. The standalone Hawks are also strong on youth, but have attracted some big-name experience with Bec Goddard set to take the reins as head coach for the first time since 2018.

An embarrassment of riches sees the Bulldogs’ forwardline stacked with five AFLW-listed talents, including Isabella Grant, Gemma Lagioia, and the experienced Lauren Spark. Mary Sandral is the lone VFLW-listed player to start in attack, though the likes of Nicole McMahon (ruck), skipper Riley Christgoergl (half-back), and vice-captain Katelyn Betts (centre) will be consistent VFLW figures this year. Under McMahon, the likes of Isabelle Pritchard, Brooke Hards, and Britney Gutknecht should be served well in midfield.

Some well-renowned names in female footballing circles will provide invaluable experience to Hawthorn’s fledgling side, with stalwart Meg Hutchins poised to take on a number of roles aside from her forwardline listing, while Abbey Holmes is a tough body at the contest who will rotate forward through midfield. Skipper Jess Trend is another with AFLW experience who should impact greatly, while Northern Territory recruit Dominique Carbone has serious potential. She is set for her VFLW debut on the same weekend the Darwin Buffettes play finals back home.

The Hawks should prove a well structured side under Goddard and will be sure to crack in hard, though the abundance of promising young options for the Bulldogs will be incredibly tough to overcome. Should they not rely on too few, the Hawks will be ultra competitive in the face of the Dogs’ rawness and fierce style.

Essendon vs. Southern Saints
Sunday February 28, 10:30am
The Hangar

Essendon is set to unveil its shiny new facilities at The Hangar on Sunday morning, hosting the Southern Saints in what should be a competitive clash. Gunning for an AFLW license, the Bombers remain standalone but have built a strong list with more continuity than other sides heading into 2021. The Saints have their St Kilda alignment to lean on, but are looking strong in their own right after a solid preseason.

Anchoring Essendon’s side will be skipper Georgia Nanscawen, who is part of a terrific spine in the red and black. Cecilia McIntosh lines up down back, while Courtney Ugle provides some grunt, and Mia-Rae Clifford gets a fresh start up forward. Of the up-and-comers, Eloise Ashley-Cooper and Alana Barba have already performed well in the sash, with a host of young prospects set to filter through Essendon’s lineup as the season progresses.

Tara Bohanna (full back) and Deanna Jolliffe (rover) will lead the Saints out as co-captain Frankie Hocking has not been named. Georgia McLean is one to watch off half-back having crossed from Casey, while Poppy Kelly and Alice Burke are the only St Kilda AFLW players to feature in the lineup – both named on the interchange bench ahead of three emergencies from the senior squad.

The Saints have not put a ceiling on their potential and promise to open the game up with unpredictable ball movement. The Bombers’ continuity as a group and greater poise with such experience could well play a factor in this clash, with both sides backing their cohesion after so long away from competitive action.

Darebin vs. Williamstown
Sunday February 28, 11:30am
La Trobe University, Bundoora

Pioneer club, the Darebin Falcons take on Williamstown in Round 1’s closing fixture on Sunday, set to play out at La Trobe University in Bundoora. Both proud standalone clubs, these two sides will be made up purely of VFLW-listed talent early on before gaining access to NAB League and potentially even AFLW talent as those seasons are run and done. The two sides already faced off during preseason, with Williamstown winning by 11 points at the same venue.

Led by the returning Stephanie Simpson, Darebin has a bunch of leaders set to build the standards under coach Mitch Skelly. In defence, Gena Lawson-Tavan is one who promises to do exactly that as vice-captain, while fellow leaders Cherelle Byrne (centre) and Alyssa Mifsud (full forward) are other leaders littered up and down the spine. One Falcon to watch is Stephanie Elarmaly, a youngster who has come through Darebin’s youth system.

2019 premiership coach Penny Cula-Reid crossed from Collingwood after her flag triumph, and takes over an exciting standalone squad. Skipper Erin Meade has locked in a spot at half-back, with reigning best and fairest winner Megan Williamson set to resume her midfield duties. Asha Price and Eliza Straford should be good value up forward, while Scarlett Dunell, the sister of former Seagull Sam lines up in defence.

There is often a great unknown around the standalone sides, especially after so long away from competitive action, but the two sides will know each other well after their preseason meeting and will get a good assessment of their 2021 chances in this bout.

Image Credit: Kelly Defina/AFL Photos

2021 AFLW Preview: Carlton Blues

CARLTON proved its rise from wooden spooner to grand finalist was no flash in the pan, establishing itself as one of the competition’s powerhouses with another strong campaign in 2020. This year, the Blues are primed for another premiership tilt under much-loved coach Daniel Harford, starting with a season-opening blockbuster against traditional rival, Collingwood at Princes Park.

2020 RECAP

2020 ended as a ‘what if’ season for each preliminary finalist, but the Blues looked like a side daring to dream after their surprise grand final appearance the year before. Having finished second in Conference B at 5-1, Carlton fended off a pesky Brisbane outfit in the first week of finals to cap a five-game win streak at the ideal time.

A first-ever loss to fierce rival, Collingwood in Round 2 came as a shock but only seemed to click the Blues into gear thereafter as they answered every challenge with aplomb. Harford’s Blues became known for their fighting spirit, stringent yet dynamic structures, and the ability to take over games when it mattered.

Madison Prespakis was among those to enjoy stellar individual seasons, taking out the AFLW best and fairest award in just her second campaign. Spearhead Tayla Harris and co-captain Kerryn Harrington earned All Australian honours alongside the star midfielder, showcasing Carlton’s strength through the spine and just why the Blues remain bonafide premiership contenders.

NEW FACES

The acquisition of Elise O’Dea, one of the competition’s premier midfielders, headlined a bumper trade and draft period for the Blues. Their squad depth, particularly through midfield is among the best in the league and O’Dea will work to take a load off Prepakis in the engine room.

Another former Demon in Maddy Guerin looks to be past her injury troubles having come through a preseason hitout unscathed, with her pace something the Blues valued before she landed at Princes Park. Charlotte Hammans, formerly of the Gold Coast was the third in-league signing, again bringing some dash and dare on the outer and up forward. Those kind of traits were clearly ones the Blues targeted heavily at the trade and draft tables.

Carlton welcomed a trio of Victorian guns through the draft too, adding to the already fearsome dynamism and versatility of its midfield group. Mimi Hill is already one of the coach’s favourites credit to her work ethic and adaptability, making her a chance to feature in the senior side early on. Daisy Walker has also taken well to senior level and fellow Sandringham Dragons graduate Winnie Laing is an exciting runner who, like Hill, captained her NAB League team.

ONE TO WATCH IN 2021

Carlton players and staff alike have lauded the condition Abbie McKay has returned in for season 2021, with the league’s maiden father-daughter selection set to take on some added responsibility in her third senior campaign. Expect to see even more of her through the Blues’ star-studded midfield; with her work-rate, conditioning, and hardness at the ball all traits which bode well for dominance at the contest.

Darcy Vescio is an established name but could take the competition by storm as she spends more time in the engine room, and livewire Georgia Gee is another who is looking to do the same. Inaugural Blue Jess Hosking will take on a new role as well having trained with the forwards during preseason.

WHY THEY CAN WIN IT

The Blues have become renowned for their ability to adjust to different gameplans under Harford, who has such a dynamic squad at his disposal. The versatility of Carlton’s crop makes it a scary proposition for all opposition coaches and players, able to flick a switch on gameday and play to a range of styles. In the midfield mix alone, the ball winning prowess of Prespakis, O’Dea, and Grace Egan will be complimented with the x-factor of Vescio and Gee, with a heap of moving parts able to impact at the coalface. While other teams excel in one style, the Blues can triumph in a range of ways and that is exactly why they can win it.

QUESTION MARK

Is it possible to have too much of a good thing? The Blues are so strong through midfield and have a raft of options who can move through there when needed, but it raises the potential problem of overchoice. While versatility and adaptability are key strengths of this Carlton side, it could be a factor which works in the opposite way at the selection table or in crunch moments. Premiership teams are typically steady and know the exact structure which yields a winning formula, so does that leave Carlton with too many makeups? We may find out in 2021, especially with some of the added depth.

FINAL WORD

Carlton is arguably one of the top three premiership contenders in 2021 and will fancy itself to book in another finals appearance, with a postseason win the marker of a successful campaign. Given the lofty standards set, the Blues will hope to go even better than that mark and gun for the ultimate prize, something well within their reach.

Featured Image: Madison Prespakis breaks with ball in hand | Credit: Michael Klein

Opinion: Could the AFL Women’s 2021 season be the most competitive yet?

IT is still just over two months until the first bounce of the 2021 AFL Women’s season, but the excitement is growing. The abrupt end to the 2020 season – with no premiership awarded and indeed no last two weeks of finals – left a mixture of disappointment and wondering of what could have been in many minds of AFL Women’s fans. Once the initial disappointment was over, clubs got to work on either re-signing, trading or heading to the draft in what has set up a more even competition next year.

The top sides will contend again, and whilst Fremantle and North Melbourne showed that they arguably deserved to be in the 2020 decider, they were pushed by opponents at times, and those opponents will be battling for a spot. The young pups at the Western Bulldogs and talented bunch at St Kilda will also improve, and even the cellar dwellers in Richmond and West Coast have made net gains over the off-season. Realistically the only club likely to fall next season – through design in many ways – is Melbourne, as the Dees play the long-term game as we have seen with the Dogs who are now building back up the ladder. Here are the contenders, outside chances and rebuilders:

CONTENDERS:

Fremantle

At the top of the list is the side that went unbeaten in 2020 and have no reason not go go there again. They have a really strong defensive unit, and consistent midfield, as well as an attacking front six that were able to regularly hit the scoreboard. Throw in another year of Roxy Roux and the X-factor of Mikayla Morrison and Sarah Verrier, and despite being one of the teams to beat, the West Australian team remain as one of the best in the competition.

North Melbourne:

Similarly to Fremantle, the main loss over the off-season was Jess Trend, though the Roos just continue to stock up on incredibly talented players. They went to the draft and someone like Bella Eddey will slot into an already potent forward line, which was hard to contain. The Roos were pushed by the Magpies in the elimination final, which will give them extra motivation to improve. It is hard not seeing North Melbourne up there at the pointy end of the season.

Adelaide:

The resurgence of the Crows will be swift. They might not have had the year they wanted, but it was no wonder with their two best players out on long-term injuries and a number of others having delayed preseasons. They have added readymade talents in Teah Charlton, Ashleigh Woodland and Rachelle Martin who will compete for spots from Round 1. It would not be unreasonable to think with all the inclusions and returnees, the Crows are favourites again.

Carlton:

A Grand Final two seasons ago and finals last season, the Blues were the only team to knock off North Melbourne last season. You cannot help but feel they are within touching distance of the premiership cup, and have an abundance of youth to go with their talent. Do not forget they added someone called Elise O’Dea over the off-season, and if that elite talent was not enough, they stocked up on captains in Mimi Hill and Winnie Laing from the NAB League who will stop at nothing for success.

OUTSIDE CHANCES:

Collingwood:

It seemed not that long ago that there was a mass exodus at the Pies and people were wondering what the future held. In 12 months the Pies managed to turn it around and surprise with a good 2020 season to almost stun North Melbourne in the elimination final. The loss of Sarah D’Arcy among others will hurt, but they have picked up some versatile players in the draft, and with Tarni Brown joining her brothers at the Magpies, it will be an exciting time for Magpies fans who need something to cheer for next year.

Western Bulldogs:

This might seem like a surprise, but trust me when this group has enough development, they will go through the roof. The amount of sheer X-factor, upside and versatility in the team that added to its stocks at the draft table again, the Dogs can go deep and if you like an outside chance winning the flag, the Dogs could be that bet. They added Jess Fitzgerald, Sarah Hartwig and Isabelle Pritchard to the ever-growing list of former Vic Metro stars, and they will push for spots early on. Expect them to be the most exciting team running around.

Geelong

On paper the Cats have the cattle to compete against the best sides, and added some unbelievable talents in the AFL Women’s Draft, such as Darcy Moloney and Olivia Barber. They have not lost a great deal over the off-season with Mel Hickey of course retiring with big shoes to fill in the captain’s absence. The Cats have a well-balanced list and honestly there is no reason they should not be an outside chance for the flag. Their young talents might need another year, but feel they have the jump on the other expansion sides thanks to that extra season.

Brisbane:

A little more outside than the others, but have enough talent to contend if they all click. It will be a competitive group wherever the Lions land as they will be placed with Gold Coast Suns and both should be fairly even. Zimmorlei Farquharson is the draftee to watch next season with her high-flying ability and ground level work, but let us not forget that Lily Postlethwaite, Isabel Dawes and co. will have another year of experience and ready to take the Lions back to the decider.

GWS GIANTS

Arguably the hardest team to place, because they are always competitive, but just off the pace of the top teams. With another year into the younger players such as Alyce Parker, and then adding in Tarni Evans amongst the top teenagers coming in, they should do enough to put themselves in a position to compete against anyone. Whether or not they have enough top-end talent to knock off a Fremantle or North Melbourne, it is yet to be seen, but they make it into this group.

ANOTHER YEAR NEEDED:

St Kilda

Without a doubt the Saints will be in the next bracket in 2022, but for 2021, they will be in a similar position to the Dogs last season. They might not get the wins on the board that they deserve all the time, but they have more than enough talent to worry any side on their day. Once their young guns develop – adding the likes of Tyanna Smith, Alice Burke and Renee Saulitis to an already talented list – they will be a scary proposition. They will fast-track their development in the AFL Women’s too.

Gold Coast

The other expansion team from last year that showed promising signs and made finals, the Suns might be somewhat unlucky not to be in the next bracket up, but depending on the pool they land in, and the finals structure, they still might need the extra year. They have the talent to step up again, with Annise Bradfield coming in and Sarah Perkins providing experience through the draft. It would not be a shock to see them push sides for a finals spot, but willing to give them an extra year to do it.

REBUILDERS:

Melbourne

For the first time since the start of the AFL Women’s, the Demons are in full rebuild mode. They were always thereabouts in terms of competing for a flag, but just could not get it done. Going down this route is the right avenue, particularly with the drafts always getting stronger. The Demons have added some great youth through the draft, led by Alyssa Bannan, and might suffer a few more losses next season than past years, but will reap the benefits long-term.

Richmond

The winless Tigers added some much needed experience to help Monique Conti through the midfield over the break, then grabbed Ellie McKenzie with the top pick in the draft. The Tigers opted for an immediate experience boost, and seem to have everything in place to be more competitive in 2021. In saying that, the other teams are still ahead of them, but the Tigers will not be the easy-beats of 2020 with the trio of Sarah‘s in Hosking, D’Arcy and Dargan among the inclusions next year.

West Coast

The team out west will step up next season to be more competitive in 2021, but have not been able to add as much experience as the Tigers. Bella Lewis and Shanae Davison are a couple of young guns who will have an immediate impact if given the chance, and add to the growing list of young talents like Mikayla Bowen. They are still firmly in the rebuilding phase, but the Eagles should show further signs of development in 2021 and will be one to watch in the future.

2020 AFLW Draft review: Carlton Blues

NOW that the 2020 AFL Women’s Draft is over, we take a look at each club, who they picked, and what each player might offer to their team next year. We continue our countdown with Carlton, a side which had few glaring weaknesses to cover, but selected a versatile trio of Vic Metro-based midfielders, two of whom are former NAB League captains.

Carlton:

#12 – Mimi Hill (Oakleigh Chargers/Vic Metro)
#28 – Daisy Walker (Sandringham Dragons/Vic Metro)
#36 – Winnie Laing (Sandringham Dragons/Vic Metro)

A club moving into its premiership window, Carlton chose to stick with Victorian youth to bolster its squad heading into season 2021. Positioned well with their three picks, the Blues selected players with the character and upside to make an impact on the senior side as soon as in their debut season. Having held picks two and three in the last couple of drafts, the Blues were able to select ‘best available’ talent from the rich Victorian pool.

First up was Mimi Hill, a two-time Oakleigh Chargers captain who has led the fast-improving region to with aplomb. She, along with Sandringham Dragons skipper Winnie Laing, directly address the loss of Sarah Hosking to Richmond during the sign and trade period. Hill’s ground level game and hard-running style, combined with Laing’s attack on both ball and carrier make for a terrific couple of selections at picks 12 and 36 respectively.

While pegged as a natural midfielder who can play both inside and out, Hill is still quite light-on and found herself more often employed across half-back as a top-ager. As she develops her strength and tackling, she could well rotate through the midfield and emulate her idol, Sam Mitchell. Laing is a tough midfielder who, fittingly enough, idolises Patrick Cripps. As another leader in the bunch, she will look to drive standards and contribute to the culture, while impacting physically on-field.

In between those selections, Daisy Walker was snapped up with pick 28. She also hails from the Sandringham Dragons talent program, and is more of a developing type who comes from a basketball background. Her love of football grew as she watched her older brother, Will rise to AFL Draft selection with North Melbourne. Her agility and endurance make for a good athletic platform to develop upon, with clean hands and improving fundamentals making her a high-upside choice who could come on rapidly in an elite environment.

Overall, the Blues have been able to bolster their already-strong midfield group with three shrewd selections at this year’s table. Coach Daniel Harford obviously sought to bring in a balance of hardened types with plenty of upside who can develop on the outer or flanks before filling the engine room in years to come. Character is another important trend in this cohort, with two junior captains selected to help keep Carlton’s premiership tilt on track.

2020 AFL Women’s Draft preview: The next crop of young stars to find homes tonight

TONIGHT up to 61 players will live out their AFL Women’s dreams when the 14 clubs select the players to fill out the 2021 lists at the 2020 AFL Women’s Draft. Like most years, the AFL Women’s Draft still has state-based selections with Adelaide (South Australia) and GWS GIANTS (New South Wales) having sole priority to players that nominate that state. In Queensland (Brisbane and Gold Coast) and Western Australia (Fremantle and West Coast) the teams will split the players, whilst the remaining 10 teams will fight over the Victorian pool. The one major change is that there is only a Victorian pool, not split into Metropolitan and Geelong, so the Cats do not have priority on those from the region.

Richmond holds the all-important first pick in the draft which is expected to kick off from 7pm. There are a number of players the Tigers could select, but the frontrunner is Northern Knights’ star Ellie McKenzie, an inside midfielder who can play just about anywhere on the field and has been a proven talent for a number of years now.

[ … Ellie McKenzie feature … ]

Western Bulldogs traded up from Pick 3 to Pick 2 to ensure they could nab the second best player in the draft, with Tyanna Smith high up there in contention. The Dandenong Stingrays’ star has very few flaws in her game and has elite acceleration and a match-winning ability. The other one in contention if the Dogs opt to go tall could be another Northern Knights’ star in Alyssa Bannan as another forward option, as she can play tall or small and even push up into the midfield.

[ … Tyanna Smith feature … ] | [ … Alyssa Bannan feature … ]

Also in the mix for the top Victorian picks are Sandringham Dragons’ Sarah Hartwig, a rebounding defender who could fill the need at Melbourne with Pick 5. Whichever player is left of the trio, expect the Saints to pounce on with Pick 6 in what showcases the elite top-end talent of this year’s group. Another possibility for the pick could be Northern Knights’ Jess Fitzgerald if the Saints choose to add extra midfield class to their side.

[ … Sarah Hartwig feature … ] | [ … Jess Fitzgerald One to Watch  … ]

West Coast and Adelaide also have top five picks coming in at picks three and four, with the Eagles having a decision to make whether they go high-flying Shanae Davison from their own aligned-Academy or if they look at someone like Sarah Verrier, a Peel Thunder talent with a great blend of inside-outside traits or Bella Lewis a hardened midfielder who has been sensational this year. The Crows are expected to be a little more predictable, with Teah Charlton the standout prospect, though given they have a monopoly on the South Australian nominees, they can select anyone in any order.

[ … Shanae Davison feature … ] | [ … Sarah Verrier feature … ] | [… Bella Lewis … ] | [ … Teah Charlton feature … ]

Gold Coast becomes the first Queensland team into the draft at Pick 7, and with players still able to nominate the Gold Coast and Brisbane zones, a Suns Academy member such as Annise Bradfield, Daisy D’Arcy, Maddison Levi or Beth Pinchin could be among those in consideration. For the Lions a pick later, Zimmorlei Farquharson looms as the standout youngster in the group.

[ … Annise Bradfield … ] | [ … Daisy D’Arcy feature … ] | [ … Maddison Levi feature … ] | [ … Zimmorlei Farquharson feature … ]

The final pick inside the top 10 is Geelong and they have the most interesting selection with the top group likely off the board, it is an even balance of players they could choose from. If they opt to go local – knowing they do not have priority – then perhaps the skill and class of Falcons’ Darcy Moloney could be an option. If they want to go a little taller, then Isabelle Pritchard could head down the highway from the Western Jets and provide a strong inside presence, or they could look to a proven big-game performer in Northern Knights’ Fitzgerald.

[ … Darcy Moloney feature … ] | [ … Isabelle Pritchard feature … ]

Western Bulldogs become the first team to make their second selection at Pick 11, which is effectively Pick 6 from the Victorian draft. If they went Smith in the first selection, they could look to go taller here and look to someone like Bulldogs’ supporter Pritchard or perhaps consider Murray Bushrangers’ key forward Olivia Barber. If they went for Bannan with their second selection, perhaps Fitzgerald is one to join the ranks as yet another Knight, whilst the likes of classy forward Bella Eddey or outside mover Mimi Hill could come into consideration through the first round.

[ … Olivia Barber feature … ] | [ … Bella Eddey feature … ] | [ … Mimi Hill feature … ]

Carlton enter the draft at Pick 12, and the names already raised in Fitzgerald, Hill and Eddey could be around the mark, though if they want to add an inside midfielder, then perhaps Falcons’ Laura Gardiner could be a suggestion. North Melbourne are next up and will also be keen to add another midfielder to the ranks, and try and predict what Melbourne (Picks 15 and 17) and Western Bulldogs (Pick 16) are going to do. If the Dees did not end up with Hartwig, then they could look at Dandenong Stingrays’ Zoe Hill with a selection, or if Pritchard has somehow slid, she is another defensive option.

[ … Laura Gardiner feature … ] | [ … Zoe Hill feature … ]

The West Australian teams squeeze in between the Victorian ones, with Fremantle likely to grab one of Verrier or Bella Lewis at the pick. Both are Fremantle-aligned and the Dockers know they can have an immediate impact in last year’s unbeaten side. The Eagles could look to Davison – if not already taken – or the classy Mikayla Morrison with this selection, or go for the ready-made Nyra Anderson at Pick 18.

[ … Bella Lewis feature … ] | [ … Mikayla Morrison feature … ] | [ … Nyra Anderson feature … ]

The last team to enter the draft is Collingwood with Pick 19 the Magpies’ first selection. Expect that to be Tarni Brown because on talent alone she is a top 10 pick, so the black and white army will gladly use their first pick on the Eastern Ranges’ jet. They will look to add some more midfield options, and she adds some extra speed and class to the team. Expect Alice Burke to be read out at the Saints’ Pick 24 – again great value – otherwise anything else is a bargain.

[ … Tarni Brown feature … ] | [ … Alice Burke feature … ]

The draft crop becomes so even outside of that top 20, with so many talented players fighting for spots on AFL Women’s lists. Ash Woodland and Georgia Nanscawen are readymade prospects who can impact immediately at AFL Women’s level, whilst Alana Barba, Shanara Notman, Nikia Webber, Amber Ward and Mattea Breed are all talls who have an extra year of experience as over-agers. Not holding a Draft Combine invite per say, South Australian duo Rachelle Martin and Matilda Zander would be a couple of others on clubs radars as ones who can make an immediate impact.

Some former basketballers who have crossed to football in the last 12-18 months are Amelia Velardo, Annabel Strahan and Carly Remmos, whilst Jess Matin (cricket) and Charlie Vandenberg (hockey) are among others who have forced high-level careers in other sports. Queenslanders, Christine Okesene, Brooke Spence, Laura Blue and Lucy Single are others who have transferred from various codes over the years.

From a Victorian perspective, among other names in various midfield positions are outside midfielder, Abbey Jordan and Joanna Lin, inside midfielders, Brooke Hards, Olivia Meagher and Winnie Laing, balanced midfielders Eliza McNamara, Megan Fitzsimon and Maeve Chaplin. Meanwhile the standout ruck is Maggie Caris.

Up forward, Renee Saulitis is the most dangerous small forward, whilst Isabella Simmons is a taller option, and Abbi Moloney a rapidly improving player. In defence, Ash Snow has great speed, while the likes of Jemma Finning, Mietta Kendall and Amber Micallef have all produced great seasons. As some raw talents, Alice O’Loughlin and Alice Astbury have had glimpses in the few games they have played, whilst Grace McRae and Daisy Walker have been valuable across multiple positions though predominantly in the middle.

From South Australia, Indy Tahau is the other star top-ager who is likely to join her South Adelaide teammate Charlton at the Crows, whilst for NSW/ACT,  Murray Bushrangers’ Abby Favell, midfielder-defender Emily Pease and surprise packet Kiara Beesley were among the Draft Combine invites. From the Northern Territory, top-ager Stephanie Williams leads the charge and has nominated Victoria, while Freda Puruntatameri – who played some games for Calder Cannons – and mature-ager Janet Baird have all caught the eye.

Out west, mature-agers Sarah Wielstra (25 years-old) and 20-year-olds, Ella Smith, Rosie Walsh and Jess Low all earned combine invites. Meanwhile from the top-age group, twins Brianna and Mikayla Hyde have impressed moving into the midfield this season, while leading forward Maggie MacLachlan is another player in contention to be drafted.

[ … FOR FULL FEATURES ON MORE THAN 80 PLAYERS HEAD TO OUR AFLW FEATURES PAGE … ]

TEAM-BY-TEAM PICKS:

Adelaide: 4, 45, 47
Brisbane: 8, 37, 38
Carlton: 12, 28, 36
Collingwood: 19, 25, 26, 31, 33
Fremantle: 14, 30, 46
Geelong: 10, 20, 21, 27, 39
Gold Coast: 7, 23, 50, 54, 57, 58, 60, 61
GWS: 9, 29, 42
Melbourne: 5, 15, 17, 35, 41, 48
North Melbourne: 13, 22, 44, 49, 55
Richmond: 1, 43, 52
St Kilda: 6, 24, 34, 40, 51
West Coast: 3, 18, 32, 53, 56, 59
Western Bulldogs: 2, 11, 16

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.”

AFL Women’s Draft preview: Carlton & Collingwood

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 sides from Victoria, in powerhouse clubs Carlton and Collingwood.

Carlton Blues – Victorian Pool

Draft selections (Vic # in brackets): 12 (7), 28 (20), 36 (25)

Off-season summary:

Carlton was involved in a couple of major trade deals during the off-season, with inaugural Blue Sarah Hosking‘s move to Richmond one of the most notable exchanges of the trade period. It was the first confirmed deal made, and would allow the Blues to then land Melbourne gun Elise O’Dea and fellow former-Demon Maddy Guerin, offloading the pick 15 they received for Hosking. The Blues moved up the draft order ahead of a bumper crop, as defender Jayde van Dyk and pick 46 were swapped for pick 36. Add former Gold Coast youngster Charlotte Hammans to the mix, and Carlton remains one of the big winners out of a busy off-season as it enters the premiership window. Four players – Joanne Doonan, Katie Harrison, Sharnie Whiting, and Emerson Woods – were delisted.

A draft look:

While the O’Dea coup will undoubtedly bolster Carlton’s already elite midfield group, Hosking’s departure arguably leaves room for a fast, outside midfielder to enter the fold. With their first selection back at pick 12, the Blues will have access to the seventh Victorian pick.

There are a bunch of high-end hopefuls in the mix; Northern Knights co-captain Jess Fitzgerald would provide a like-for-like Hosking replacement, able to bring speed on the outside and good balance with her inside toughness, while Alyssa Bannan could be a shrewd pick to develop under her idol, Tayla Harris – though the Blues are well stocked in the key forward department. Carlton has a great relationship with the Northern region, and could continue the trend with their latest crop.

The likes of Winnie Laing, Abbey Jordan, and the silky Bella Eddey could all be in the mix for a share in those later two picks. Laing is a leader at the Sandringham Dragons and is a terrific runner, Jordan fits the bill for outside run, while Eddey is a terrific user of the ball who can rotate through the midfield from up forward.

Collingwood Magpies – Victorian Pool

Draft selections (Vic # in brackets): 19 (12), 25 (17), 26 (18), 31 (21), 33 (22)

Off-season summary:

With an incoming father-daughter selection and a forwardline to bolster, the Pies had a mixed off-season. Sarah D’Arcy and Sarah Dargan were packaged up to Richmond in exchange for picks in the later rounds, with Katie Lynch also headed to the Bulldogs. It leaves Collingwood a touch lacking in that forward department, with D’Arcy and Lynch doubling as tall depth lost. Abbey Green was nabbed from North Melbourne to support Sharni Layton in the ruck, while exciting Melbourne forward Aliesha Newman is another good get. With four retirees – Emma Grant, Kalia Bentvelzen, Eliza Hynes, and Machaelia Roberts – only one player (Georgia Gourlay) was delisted, with a decent turnover rate meaning the Magpies will have to gel quickly in order to continue their steep rise. It was hardly the big-name signing period Collingwood had last time out, but should set the club up well in future and for the upcoming draft.

A draft look:

Parting with their first round pick means the Pies will likely only have to pay a second round price for gun father-daughter selection, Tarni Brown. She is daughter of 254-game former captain, Gavin and sister of current players Callum and Tyler. The Eastern Ranges product has long been on the elite level radar, and is clearly cut from the same cloth as her brothers with terrific footy smarts and agility through midfield.

Elsewhere, Collingwood may look to re-stock its forwardline with whatever picks remain. Greater Western Victoria (GWV) utility Renee Saulitis would be a handy fit to replace Dargan with some x-factor, while Rebels teammate Isabella Simmons may also be a good fit at 185cm. Incidentally, both are Magpies fans. Another GWV tall, Maggie Caris could also be the developing ruck type Collingwood is after, while Mimi Hill is a classy midfield option should the Pies look to continue their Oakleigh link. Norwood’s Matilda Zander could prove a smokey having played under Steve Symonds in South Australia. She was poised to play for Collingwood’s VFLW side this year.

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.”

2020 NAB League Girls team update: Sandringham Dragons

WHILE the NAB League Girls competition is on break, we take a quick recap of each team, how the first three rounds have panned out for them and who has already stood up in the short time. In this edition we look at the Sandringham Dragons, who after losing their opening game to the GWV Rebels by five points, bounced back to have a couple of impressive wins in Rounds 2 and 3.

2020 RESULTS:

R1: lost to GWV Rebels by 5 points
R2: defeated Bendigo Pioneers by 44 points
R3: defeated Gippsland Power by 52 points

Missed opportunities prevented the Dragons from finishing the first three rounds undefeated, as inaccuracy plagued them in Round 1, going down to the Rebels. They sorted that out the week after with a big win over Bendigo Pioneers, and then set up a 52-point win over Gippsland Power thanks to a dominant first half performance in Morwell.

FIVE STRONG STARTERS:

Alice Burke (19.0 disposals, 2.7 marks, 4.0 tackles, 1.7 inside 50s, 2.7 rebounds)

The back-to-back club best and fairest winner continued her terrific NAB League Girls career with another sensational start to the season. She averaged 19 disposals per game and continued to apply the tackling pressure she has been known for over her time. Along with that, she showed she can play inside or outside roles, moving the ball well in transition from defence to attack.

Sarah Hartwig (15.0 disposals, 4.3 marks, 3.0 tackles, 1.3 inside 50s, 2.7 rebounds)

The reliable defender was able to taste some action up the field this season and showed she has the capacity to play in the midfield if required. Her reading of the ball, intercept marking and attack on the ball are among her strengths, with one highlight play in the opening round against the Rebels showing what she can do. Winning the ball at full speed at half-back, she managed to evade a number of opponents and take a bounce, putting it lace out inside 50.

Bella Eddey (17.7 disposals, 3.0 marks, 4.3 tackles, 3.7 inside 50s, 2 goals)

The classy forward is ever-damaging when inside 50 and is one of better ball users in the competition. She booted the two goals in her first three games, able to rotate between midfield and forward, and often used to hit up difficult kicks inside 50 to make life easier for her forwards. She can play multiple roles in the forward half and offers a point of difference to many other mid-forwards with her extra class and kicking ability.

Eliza McNamara (17.3 disposals, 2.3 marks, 5.7 tackles, 3.3 inside 50s, 2 goals)

The tough midfielder/forward attacks the ball with no regrets and is not afraid to take on opponents much taller than herself. She is a work horse when it comes to her repeat running and ability to just make contest after contest. In terms of 2020, she showed great forward pressure and capped off her hard work with two goals, while being able to rotate through the middle and find plenty of the ball herself on the way to almost six tackles per game.

Abbi Moloney (10.3 disposals, 3.3 marks, 2.0 tackles, 1.3 inside 50s, 8 goals)

The competition’s second leading goal kicker bounced back from not getting on the board in Round 1, to booting bags of three and five in Rounds 2 and 3. She provided a strong target inside 50, and averaged the 3.3 marks to go with her 10.3 disposals as her side’s main source of scoring. A traditional forward who has a kick-first mentality having 30 kicks from 31 disposals, Moloney has been a big improver this season as a top ager.

Others who have stood out: Winnie Laing, Sofia Hurley, Bridie Hipwell, Daisy Walker

The Dragons captain was unlucky not to be in the top group and deserving if we extended it out to a top six because she has been just as impressive as those above. Averaging a team-high 20 disposals, she has just put in four quarter performances and been consistent from the first game to the last winning plenty of the ball. Whilst those six, and Walker (who has enjoyed a strong start to the season averaging 15.7 disposals and 4.0 tackles per game) are top agers, the remaining two named are in their first seasons. Hurley and Hipwell are among a host of Dragons who are two years away from their draft year, though they have had a big impact already, averaging a combined 26 disposals, five marks and six tackles between them.