Category: Feature Articles

From young admirer to footballer: Patrikios lives out her dream

CALDER Cannons star, Georgia Patrikios was simply following in her brother’s footsteps as a youngster.

Now, she is one of Calder’s key players, a multiple Vic Metro representative and a member of the AFL Women’s Academy. Patrikios admits she cannot believe that young admirer of football is now a player herself.

“Ever since I saw my brother step onto the field, it’s sort of been a dream of mine to do what he does,” she said. “Now, it’s become a reality.”

Part of the reality has included being selected to travel to the Gold Coast for this year’s AFL Women’s Under 18 Championships back in July. Although she’s pulled on the ‘Big V’ before, the 17 year-old is still honoured to do it again.

“It’s pretty special to me, playing with the best girls at Cannons and playing with the best girls in Victoria,” Patrikios said. “I’m glad I got the opportunity to do so.”

This has been largely thanks to her development at the Cannons. Playing under the likes of top-agers, Madison Prespakis, Carla Rendelmann and Molly Warburton has really helped Patrikios develop her game.

“Being a bottom-ager, playing with the older girls, it’s been real good learning off them,” she said. “The coaches and the facilities are also amazing.”

Out of this development, Patrikios has developed some clear strengths.

“I’d probably say maybe my speed and agility, they’re probably my best assets,” she said.

Being eligible for next year’s draft, Patrikios has a year to finesse her skills, noting an improvement she’d like to make in her game.

“I’d probably say my overhead mark and probably my one-on-one contest, just getting my body a bit stronger and a be able to win those one-one contests,” the 17 year-old said.

Now with some time off football, Patrikios will get away, but she will not exactly relax.

“I like to go away so I do a lot of work at my beach house, a lot of running, go to the gym with my brother, kick the footy with them,” she said.

This work will undoubtedly help Patrikios play a big part in the Cannons’ 2019 season, and help her relive her favourite football memory, which was lifting up the premiership cup with her Calder teammates. She admits this year was a tough one to endure, but it started to come together towards the back half of the season.

“It’s just how it goes, the older girls move up, the younger girls just have to step up,” the Vic Metro representative said. “I had a pretty interrupted pre-season. “I found the start of my season a bit shaky but then coming to the last few weeks of the season, I put a few good games together.”

Despite the TAC Cup Girls season being over, Patrikios still went back to her local club, Pascoe Vale in a bid to turn a couple of good games into a solid season.

“I’ve gone back to local club, just working on my skills there and a bit of fitness,” she said. “Then we go back to the Cannons every second week and just do some training, fix up what we need to.”

The Pascoe Vale Football Club has played a big part in Patrikios’ football development, making the transition from boys football at West Coburg to female football seamless. Now approaching her top-age year of football, Patrikios hopes to combine her career choice of being a personal trainer with football.

“I’m hoping to maybe do a course after school after Year 12, so that would be good,” she said. “But I’ll probably hone down on going to the gym, getting my body right and just working on those basic skills.”

Brown learning off others to succeed

MURRAY Bushrangers bottom-ager, Millie Brown loves to learn.

She has had the privilege in being able to learn in one of the leading TAC Cup Girls sides, alongside coach, Sam Ahmet and AFL Women’s Academy member, Rebecca Webster. Brown says people like this not only help her learn, but make the learning process an enjoyable one.

“It was a bit slow when I was starting because I just transitioned from the boys and I found it a lot different but I’ve had some really good people around me like Sam Ahmet, he’s been my coach at the Bushies for the whole time of being here so him and a lot of the older players like Becky Webster are great to have around,” she said. “I’ve really enjoyed it.”

This learning attitude still exists for Brown even though she HAs been playing football for a long time. Her football journey started as a youngster and has now flourished into a thriving career.

“I have (played footy all my life),” the 17 year-old said. “I started Auskick in Grade One, I missed Grade Prep, I was always messing around with the boys at school playing footy and through up until top-age 14s then transitioned over to the girls.”

Since transitioning to the girls, Brown has enjoyed plenty of game time with Murray, playing eight games this season. Brown also made the Vic Country squad for this year’s AFL Women’s Under 18 Championships. Even before knowing she was in the team, Brown was excited nonetheless.

“I am looking forward to a chance at that (playing nationals),” the Vic Country representative said. “They’re always a great time, a really great standard of footy with all the girls and coaches so yeah I’m looking forward to that. “I’m pretty comfortable with a lot of the girls now, I probably won’t be too nervous heading into that. “I’ll just give it my best shot and see how I go.”

This would not have been possible if Bushrangers coach, Sam Ahmet did not get into contact with Brown’s father, Paul Brown, who played 84 games for Geelong.

“I think Sam got in contact with my Dad actually and I went down and watched one of the trainings when they (Bushrangers) were still with the Bendigo Pioneers,” the 17 year-old said. “Then I joined fully in the next year and I think I played a bit of the V/Line cup.”

Murray endured a difficult TAC Cup Girls campaign this year, and Brown says although she’s disappointed, she was impressed about the attitude shown in the side’s losses.

“We’ve had a few losses and we were expecting to go a bit better than we did,” she said. “But you know, that’s footy, that happens. “I think our team still showed a lot of courage in the games that we did lose so the effort was still really there.”

Looking back, Brown believes that the long travel time was sometimes a factor in the side’s losses.

“Sometimes it can be difficult with long trips, I think we had to travel three hours to go to Oakleigh so that can be a factor but it makes it hard more so with training,” she said. “We’ve got a very spread out squad so we have to travel and an hour and we can only train once a week so it does make it more difficult but you work with it.”

Brown has been able to work with the scattered training, where she has been able to develop her versatility. She believes this is a strength in her game.

“I think I’m quite a versatile player, I think I can pop into different positions comfortably and just do what the coach asks me,” Brown said. “I love to learn and play off the other people around me.”

But being the trademark learner that she is, Brown still has skills in her minds that she would like to improve on.

“I’m really working on my overhead marking at the moment because I’ve grown a lot recently,” she said. “So now that I’m a bit of a bigger body on the field, I need to clunk them.”

Brown is eligible for next year’s AFL Women’s Draft and could be picked up as a father-daughter selection, given her father played for Geelong.

Consistent Radovanovic always looks to lead the way

IT IS commonplace that the more ever-present and reliable players of a squad are the ones to take a back seat to the superstars, but that is not the case for Stefan Radovanovic at the Western Jets. In a team that boasts the likes of draft fancies Xavier O’Halloran, Zak Butters, Buku Khamis and Daly Andrews, the Keilor product went about his business in an admirable way this season, looking to prove his durability and leadership capabilities.

Off the back of a bottom-age year good for the Western Jets best and fairest award, Radovanovic came into the season looking to build on the foundation he had laid through steady development and simple goals. The plaudits he had already earned and that steady improvement was enough for Radovanovic to earn a call up to the Vic Metro squad, playing a key role in defence alongside Jets teammate Khamis, and behind their TAC Cup skipper, O’Halloran.

Football has been a constant in Radovanovic’s life, a passion which spawned at a time of great change for his family. When his parents divorced when he was just three years-old, it was Radovanovic’s football mad step-dad who introduced him to the game and helped to set him on the right path.

“My mum found my step-dad and he was heavily into football in his family so he got me into football, I started kicking with him, went to the park and kicked with him,” he said. “Then I got enrolled in Auskick at Keilor and went all through my junior levels with Keilor,” he said.

A club with a proud history and strong contingent of young stars to burst onto the AFL scene of late, Keilor proved a happy hunting ground for Radovanovic’s junior progression.

Seemingly surrounded by similar stories and success, Radovanovic also attends Maribyrnong College with fellow Jets top-agers Butters and Khamis, as well as bottom age starlets Josh Honey and Emerson Jeka. The balance between school, footy and social life is often central to the journey of a TAC Cup hopeful and is something that Radovanovic knows well, but is made easier by having those around him who are going through similar experiences.

“Obviously you’ve got school five times a week and that takes up a big chunk out of your life, then you’ve also got training,” Radovanovic said. “We train Tuesday and Thursday after school and on Thursdays we have dinner so that takes out your whole night basically, and then you’ve got the off-field commitments like gym so it does take a big chunk but it’s just about finding that balance with your social life as well.”

Despite these personal hurdles to contend with from week to week, Radovanovic maintained a selfless outlook towards his football and on-field leadership responsibilities, looking to provide a benchmark for his teammates.

“I just want to play a good, consistent brand of football, and also for the bottom agers I want to show them what needs to be done to play at this high level,” he said. “The leadership group is also working hard to try and bring the team as a collective together to play well as a team. So I just want to play consistent football and then also bring other teammates into it.”

Leadership is something that Radovanovic sees as one of his strengths, with the hard-running rebounding defender always looking to expand his horizons.

“(My) personal strengths are my one-on-one contests, and I believe that I’m very strong around the ball – I’m hard to get knocked off,” he said.

Having proved his worth in defence, Radovanovic has looked to utilise his contested ball nous by spending more time in the middle of the ground throughout the year, with a midfield role “definitely” something he is interested in adding to his game.

“We’re working on going to different positions to show that I’m more durable and can play different positions… it’s definitely a different look in the midfield but I’m enjoying it,” Radovanovic said.

And with expansion comes highlighting room for improvement, with Radovanovic well aware of the areas he needed to work on in order to reach his ultimate goal.

“I definitely want to improve my fitness, I think that’s a big flaw in my game,” he said. “Then also my leadership, I want to keep working on that and then also my kicking at full speed.”

And the Jet is not taking his spot in the Western Jests Under 18 program for granted, saying it was a privilege to be a part of in helping him to learn, and recognising the dedication required to make the step-up from local football.

“It’s definitely a privilege because there are definitely a lot of kids who would like to be here. It’s only cut down to about 40 and yet there’s like 80 that show up at try-outs so it’s definitely an honour and does take a lot of hard work to get here and you have to actually be dedicated with everything to do with it,” Radovanovic said. “You definitely have to prepare well for each training session and also for games, games are very high intensity. And fighting for spots is also a big thing as well so you have to do the best that you can to push yourself to play consistently.”

With the Jets navigating their way through this year’s Wildcard Round, only to be knocked out comprehensively by eventual grand finalists Oakleigh, it has no doubt been a season of ups and downs for Radovanovic and the Western side. But with over 25 TAC Cup games under his belt over two years, experience on the biggest Under-18 stage with Vic Metro, and one last chance to prove his worth to keen eyes at the Victorian State Combine, Radovanovic will surely view his year as a successful one – regardless of how it may end.

Keeping Tabs – Season Review: Part 1

TO finish off what has been a huge year for first-year players, we take a look at some of the top performers from each AFL club now the season is done and dusted. In today’s piece we look at the first nine clubs, from Adelaide through to GWS GIANTS, with the remaining nine clubs to come next week.

Adelaide 

Darcy Fogarty

The Crows were thrilled, perhaps even surprised, when their boy from south-east SA was still available to the Crows at pick 12 of the 2017 National Draft. Debuting in round one, Fogarty’s first kick was a beautiful set-shot goal – a theme Crows fans would soon become accustom to. He averaged 8.4 disposals (5.7 kicks and 2.7 handballs at 68 per cent disposal efficiency), 3.2 marks and two tackles for the year, also managing nine goals (just three behinds) in his ten matches. Fogarty played predominately as the third Adelaide tall forward, alongside the well-established Josh Jenkins and Taylor Walker, laying out plenty of fierce bumps – not a common thing for a draftee. No doubt “Fog” will have learnt plenty in his first season at AFL level. His main focus for the pre-season will be to again improve his tank, allowing him to spend more time on ground. However his ferocious attack on the football, beautiful foot skills and brute strength should see Darcy become a focal point of the Crows forward line for the next 10 years.

Lachlan Murphy

One of the success stories in a lean year for the Crows was the birth of Lachie Murphy. Fans of the TAC Cup may remember him fronting up for the Northern Knights back in 2016. Not being picked up in the draft, Murphy moved to Adelaide to play with the clubs SANFL side and was rewarded for his strong form with a rookie selection. The energetic small forward brought with him manic pressure, speed and an eye for the goals in his 11 games, in which he managed 12 goals and an average of 3.7 tackles and 8.7 disposals. “Murph” will look to maintain his place in the competitive Adelaide side as they aim to bounce back in 2019.

 

Brisbane 

Cameron Rayner

The number one draft pick always has a certain level of expectation associated with them, however being up at Brisbane, away from the media bubble of Melbourne, would have no-doubt helped Cam Rayner settle into life in the AFL. Utilised as a medium forward with stints in the middle, he played all 22 games for the club, averaging 13.5 disposals (73 per cent disposal efficiency), 3.5 marks, 20 goals (14 behinds), 1.7 clearances, 2.4 tackles and 2.5 inside-50s. His ability to launch for pack grabs was exciting for Lions fans. Like many draftees, he will look to build up endurance in his second pre-season.

Zac Bailey

The skilful small forward/balanced midfielder fronted up for 12 senior games games, averaging 13.5 disposals (74 per cent disposal efficiency), three marks, 2.3 tackles. Next season, competition for selection will be as tough as it has been in a long time at the Gabba, particularly given the likely inclusions of Lachie Neale and Lincoln McCarthy. However rest assured Zac Bailey remains well within the clubs plans for the future as the look to return to the glistening heights of the early 2000s.

 

Carlton 

Paddy Dow

It was a tough year for the Blues, however the encouraging performances of prized draft pick Paddy Dow gave fans a glimpse into the future. Playing a solid amount of midfield minutes in his 20 games, Dow averaged 14.2 disposals (67 per cent efficiency), two marks, seven goals, 2.6 clearances, 3.2 tackles and 2.6 inside 50s. Perhaps most impressive was his smarts around the stoppages for such a young player. There’s no-doubt Carlton will look to form their midfield core around Dow, Sam Petrevski-Seton, Patrick Cripps and potentially number one pick Sam Walsh as the continue to rebuild.

Lochie O’Brien

The top 10 draft selection spent the year playing across half-back where he was able to show off his classy foot skills and speed. O’Brien was given plenty of opportunity, playing 18 matches, where he averaged 14 disposals (at 71 per cent efficiency), 222 metres gained, 4.4 marks and 2.1 rebounds. His best game came in the final round in what proved to be a hefty loss to Adelaide. Here, O’Brien accumulated 22 disposals, sent the ball inside-50 on six occasions and took four marks.

 

Collingwood

Jaidyn Stephenson

The deserved Rising Star winner, Jaidyn Stephenson played a full-forward-type role for the Grand Finalists, which often allowed him to get out the back, beat his opponent one-on-one and speed away using his rapid pace to advantage. “Stevo” kicked a super impressive 38 goals in his 26 games, including two in the first quarter of the Grand Final, to go with an average of 12.3 disposals, 3.9 marks and 5.2 score involvements in what was a remarkable season. May spend more time on the wing next season where his blistering speed and athleticism will once again be expected to excite ‘Pies fans.

Brody Mihocek

Mihocek’s story is one of the best of the year. Rookie drafted as a mature aged recruit from Port Melbourne in the VFL, Mihocek came in as one of the best tall defenders in the state leagues, but was moved forward to fill a need for the Magpies. He crucially provided a decoy for tall teammate Mason Cox, with his ability to get off the chain and take a stack of marks important. Averaged nearly 2 goals per game, 11.6 disposals (73 per cent efficiency), 4.9 marks (1.4 contested) and 5.6 score involvements. With the Pies in pursuit of some tall timber, it remains to be seen where Mihocek will be played in coming seasons.

 

Essendon

Matt Guelfi

Essendon’s mature-aged recruit from WAFL side Claremont, Matt Guelfi came into the Bombers lineup and filled a variety of roles, showing off his strong versatility in his 15 senior games. He held his own at the highest level of football, averaging 15.1 disposals, 3.3 marks, one clearance, 3.1 tackles and also kicking five goals. In the WAFL his stoppage nous and contested ball winning were strengths, so it will be interesting to see whether he is able to push for more midfield minutes in 2019.

 

Fremantle

Andrew Brayshaw

The high draft pick managed to play 17 games in his debut season in the west. He spent a large chunk of time in the midfield alongside stars Lachie Neale and Nat Fyfe, from whom he will have learnt plenty. Averaged an impressive 15.9 disposals (69 per cent efficiency), 2.9 marks, 1.5 clearances and 4.4 tackles with his ready-made frame and willing attitude ensuring a strong start to life at the highest level for the brother of Angus and Hamish. However his season came to an early end when he was unfortunately on the receiving end of the now infamous Andrew Gaff uppercut, perhaps stealing the limelight from what was a sturdy start to his career.

Adam Cerra

Adam Cerra, the second of Fremantle’s 2017 first round picks, showed moments of absolute class off half-back. After debuting in round two, Cerra went on to play all remaining games for an average of 13.7 disposals (71 per cent efficiency), 3.3 marks and 3.4 tackles. Despite his precise foot skills and polish, Cerra showed he was not afraid of cracking in hard. Could potentially spend more time in the middle given the impending departure of Lachie Neale. The former Eastern Ranges midfielder looks destined to become one of the leagues most damaging onballers.

 

Geelong

Tim Kelly

Tim Kelly produced one of the greatest debut seasons ever seen at AFL level. He slotted into the star-studded Geelong midfield with ease, complimenting the likes of Dangerfield and Ablett. A key aspect of his game was the ability to push forward and hit the scoreboard, allowing the coaching staff to play one of their star on-ballers up forward for stints. His work at the coal face was super impressive, extracting the ball and evading would-be tacklers with class. Playing ever game for his side, Kelly averaged 22.9 disposals, 368 metres gained, 3.3 marks, 4.2 clearances, 3.5 tackles and kicked 24 goals. Additionally, the former WAFL star sent the ball inside 50 on an average of four times per game. Could not as for much more.

Lachlan Fogarty

Lachie Fogarty, Geelong’s first selection in the 2017 National Draft, came over the Cats from the Western Jets regarded as one of the better midfielders in the draft. Yet due to the Cats strong onball brigade, he was limited to a forward line role where Fogarty’s renowned tackling created plenty of forward pressure. Averaged 13.3 disposals and 3.5 tackles, but will aim to sharpen up his kicking in-front of and around goals, with a scoring accuracy of just 24 per cent. However he will have been pleased to have played 15 games for the finalists.

 

Gold Coast

Charlie Ballard

The athletic South Australian utility came from the clouds to be drafted in the third round of last years National Draft. Given his light-frame, the former Sacred Heart College student will be rapt to have broken through for 11 games, debuting against the Bulldogs in Bendigo. He was never going to set the world on fire with his statistics, but showed plenty of promise, particularly in the air, taking 39 grabs for the season (average of 3.5 per game). Was utilised down back and up forward, although those who have seen him play at school and club level with Sturt know of the X-factor he provides on the wing. Gold Coast will be patient.

Brayden Crossley

The big ruckman certainly has some spunk about him with his slick hair and mustache. A member of the Gold Coast Suns Academy, Crossley played 10 senior games for the battling club, averaging six hit-outs and 9.4 disposals (at 69 per cent disposal efficiency). Isn’t one to shy away from the hard stuff, averaging more contested than uncontested possessions and laying 22 tackles on the whole. Will need time to learn but is developing nicely and already has a strong frame.

 

Greater Western Sydney

Aiden Bonar

Having played just the four games for the Dandenong Stingrays in 2017, due to an ACL injury, Bonar managed a further four games this season, albeit at senior level in a strong GWS side. His supreme athleticism, explosiveness and acceleration were evident, as was his tackling intensity. The tall midfielder/third tall forward averaged 10.5 touches at a neat 71 per cent efficiency, to go with three marks, 4.5 tackles and a total of five goals. He shapes as being a star of the game, with his size and strength making him hard to contain at the stoppages. Will only improve as he increases his endurance.

Sam Taylor

Taylor, a key component to the Western Australian under-18 Championships side last year, played eight games for Greater Western Sydney in what was yet another injury-riddled season. He averaged just the 8.9 disposals per game, however it was his clean ball use out of the defensive-50 which really caught the eye. Given his foot skills were regarded by some as an area in need of improvement, he and the Giants will be pleased with a disposal efficiency of 80 per cent. Looks set to be a key defensive prospect the club can rely upon.

Future is bright for women’s football

IF anyone ever had any doubts about the future of AFL Women’s, then they need look no further than this week’s V/Line Cup. The best 14-16 year-olds from across regional and rural Victoria tackled each other in Gippsland in the annual tournament held at Moe, Morwell and Traralgon. Walking away from the event, I was blown away by the quality of the competitors, not just in terms of skill development, but in terms of game smarts and decision making.

Put it down to coaching, natural development or other factors, the women’s game is growing, fast. Having watched the inaugural TAC Cup Girls competition in 2017, you had your absolute standouts like Chloe Molloy and Monique Conti tearing it up for Calder Cannons, and everyone had been talking about Isabel Huntington for years. Then there were the next group of talented players that made their way onto AFL Women’s lists such as Maddy Guerin, Sarah Dargan, Iilish Ross, Bridie Kennedy and Georgia Gee, plus others.

Fast forward 12 months, and attending the TAC Cup Girls competition in 2018, I attended 26 matches in the nine round season, and instead of having two or three unbelievable players, that had grown into double figures – that is, of players who could seriously impact at senior level almost immediately. Geelong Falcons duo Nina Morrison and Olivia Purcell were outstanding against their peers, and had no troubles finding the ball at higher levels. Mikala Cann is a perfect example of how players from other sports can adapt in such a short amount of time, while Emerson Woods joined Cann as a premiership player at senior level.

Even at the AFL Women’s Under 18 Championships, having witnessed all the games on the Gold Coast, you saw those players who had starred at TAC Cup Girls level, go up to face the best players from across the country. Talents like Alyce Parker, McKenzie Dowrick, Nikki Gore, Nat Grider, and Chloe and Libby Haines showed why they had been held in such high regard in their respective states. All of the above earned invites to the National Draft Combine.

But what was just as pleasing at those championships, was the development of the bottom-age players who shone through. It is hard to believe the likes of Georgia Patrikios, Gabby Newton, Lucy McEvoy, Lily Postlethwaite, Montana McKinnon, Mia King and Mikayla Bowen should all be running around on the Gold Coast for their respective states again next year. Remarkably, the 2020 draft crop already has names that are worthy of representing their state, as Abbey Dowrick, Abbie Ballard, Netty Garlo and Zimmorlei Farquharson were among those double bottom-agers who still matched it with more experienced players. Add in the likes of Ellie McKenzie, Isabelle Pritchard, Renee Saulitis and Tyanna Smith who were all impressive for the Victorian Under 16s outfits, and the foundations for the future are certainly there. An extra element will be the possible father-daughter selections, with Abbie McKay (Carlton) being the first possible case study this year, while Tarni Brown (Collingwood) and Alice Burke (St Kilda) loom as two more.

While we will go into more detail about the V/Line Cup recap next week, the overall standard of the competition was arguably equal to or even better than the 2017 TAC Cup competition. Or in other words, the players are two to three years more advanced than their predecessors. In the Geelong Falcons game against Bendigo Pioneers, there were two players that were worth highlighting even early on in the game. In one instance, a player was against two opponents just inside 50 and the easiest option would have been to bring the ball out and cause a forward stoppage. Instead, she tapped the ball in front of her, not taking possession, but maintaining speed, and kept dribbling it ahead of her pursuing opponents, then without even taking possession, managed to kick it off the ground into the goal square, where a teammate soccered it through.

The second example was even better, and exemplified the game sense that players have developed over time. A player had the ball tight against the boundary line under pressure not far from the behind post. In year’s gone by, regardless of competition, most young players, especially at the age where goals are usually the only statistical measure you can brag about to your mates on the league website, would blaze away and go for the miracle snap. With so many opposition players inside 50, it would have been the easy option, and no-one would have blamed her for doing so. Instead, she calmly assessed her options and spotted a teammate amongst the chaos about 25m out, sending a nice kick to her advantage, setting up an easy shot on goal. Without being their live, you do not see these things, but it is little moments like that, which make all the difference.

Another example, just to show it was not just one game, was on the second day when a Western Bulldogs Next Generation Academy (GWV Rebels region) player won the ball at half-back. She won the ball in defence, had an opponent chasing her from a 45-degree angle to close her down, and backed her speed to take her on and get around her. She did just that, but looking ahead, the opposition had blocked up the easiest option along the wing. She would have to kick long to a contest, probably outnumbered. Instead she briefly glanced inside and in one of the toughest kicks to do, managed to hit that kick around her body to the defensive 50 where a teammate marked, and not only was it an effective kick, but it opened up the corridor, and the game, with the opponents already set in running towards the wing.

Aside from the few examples, there was more contested marking, more protecting of ball drops and ground balls, more fend-offs, more deft taps to teammates. Areas in which players generally do not always think of as first options. But the past week, it was happening more and more. There is no doubt there has been some serious critics of women’s football, and no doubt that will continue, but if you can stop and look hard enough, you do not have to look too far to see the game is blossoming, and I for one, am excited for what 2019 and beyond holds.

Recovery key for determined Georgia Breward

A promising footballer from New South Wales (NSW), Georgia Breward had an exciting year of Australian Rules ahead.

Then, an Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) injury struck and ended her year of football. Breward describes the moment it happened.

“It was in the first game in the first round of nationals so I’d been going to all the camps monthly, travelling to Sydney and Canberra and all that to get on the squad,” she said. “It was in the first quarter, I hyper-extended my knee so I went off and then they did all the knee testing for stability and stuff. “I ended up going back on, strapped up the knee, went back on for a minute and my knee gave out again. “When I got home my Dad was kind of like I think we need to have an MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) just to make sure it’s nothing serious and then I found out, and they said look, you’ve torn your ACL.”

From there, Breward had to make a swift move to get surgery if she was any chance of returning back to football in the near future. She said one of the NSW side’s doctors was a real help in the surgery process.

“I was really lucky, the NSW team and the team doctor, he just lives in Coffs Harbour which is about an hour and a half away, so I was able to get in and have a chat with him,” Breward said. “He got in contact with the surgeon I was with locally and they got me into surgery. “My initial thought was okay, I need surgery, I want to get it done as fast as I can so I can get on track to recovery so I can get back to playing footy so got into there, got surgery done probably about a week from finding out about my ACL, which is quite fast, and since then, I’ve been doing rehab.”

It is highly publicised that rehabilitation can be a frustrating process for up and coming players but Breward is seeing the positives and working hard to recover.

“Rehab’s been going really well,” she said. “I’ve been going to the gym for two and a half hours every day now. “I do cardio, my rehab exercises, and then I’ve been working on my upper body because that’s all I can do at the moment.”

Despite her hunger to get back into the game, Breward is content with taking the full year off to make sure she doesn’t encounter any issues with her knee in play. So far, her recovery is on track.

“There’s a general period of stages that they have for most people, so three months, you can start running and from there, you can start doing direction changing and stepping things and hopefully I can go back to local and start training,” the NSW representative said. “I’m definitely taking the whole 12 months because I really want to make sure my knee’s 100 per cent and try and squeeze in two or three games at the end of the year and hope for the best really.”

Not only is she facing the obstacle of a long-term knee injury, but Breward has challenging travel commitments. Even though she admits it’s difficult, Breward says it has presented her with a new challenge to overcome.

“It is very hard but you’ve got to do it,” she said. “It’s where I live, that’s one of the obstacles I’ve got to deal with because of my location but in the end, I’ve really benefited from it because I’ve been able to play at a much higher level and standard of football. “It’s challenged me. “There’s been a clear improvement in my football being from that sacrifice of travelling all those hours and miles.”

One of these trips involves Breward travelling two and a half hours to train and play at Coolangatta. While this experience is beneficial, it presents challenges in other areas, as she finds it difficult to communicate with AFL Women’s clubs. Despite this, she is appreciative of the support she has received.

“I have had a bit of communication with the Giants,” she said. “It is hard for me though where I live, because I’m so far away. “I do find it hard sometimes to get in contact with anyone. “They’ve been really good about it, both NSW and the Giants have offered lots of support and if I need anyone to talk to, they’ve offered that they’ll be there to offer some resources for me which is really awesome.”

This is clearly a good thing for the dedicated football fanatic Breward, who could not name a hobby outside of Australian Rules.

“There’s not a lot, football’s pretty much my life,” she said. “I live and breathe it.”

Zero players, coaches and support staff becomes one premiership

HAWTHORN Victorian Football League (VFL) Women’s premiership coach, Patrick Hill had to build the club up from scratch when he first walked through the doors.

He had no players, coaches or support staff on board, and was all of a sudden thrown into the deep end to create a team. After the club’s first trial day and training session, Hill admits he was worried. But now after an exciting blend of experience and youth culminating in a premiership, he says he couldn’t be happier.

“(In) the first training session, I didn’t know what I’d gotten myself into,” Hill said.

“It wasn’t great but we built slowly and slowly then just added some experience this year which has just changed our team around. “They played a great style last year and they were very compliant in what they wanted to do but we just needed the mature heads and some more physical bodies out there.”

The premiership also required some work behind the scenes from the coach himself, who is now 16 years into his coaching career.

“I remember working on a game style that would work on this ground (Etihad Stadium) all year and even last year,” he said. “To get here and be able to do it, I’m rapt.”

Another person who is rapt is Hawthorn President, Jeff Kennett. Hill says Kennett has been his side’s number one supporter all year.

“He really gets around the girls, he loves them as I do and it’s great to see someone of his age and where he’s come from to really embrace women’s footy for what it is and it’s beautiful,” the Hawthorn VFLW coach said.

Together, Hill and Kennett are out to prove a point that the Hawthorn Football Club is completely invested in women’s football.

“I still see on social media, there’s this thought process out there that we don’t care and we haven’t cared about women’s footy and we’re sort of late to the party and we don’t really care anyway,” Hill said. “Nothing could be further from the truth, we really wanted to come out here today and show that not only do we care about women’s footy, but we care about women’s issues. “We really want to excel in this as well.”

The players have also played a part in caring for each other, with Hill admitting that forward, Phoebe McWilliams has been one of the players who has bonded with the younger girls in the side. This has benefited the likes of Eastern Ranges duo, Mikala Cann and Emerson Woods, and former Vic Metro representative, Olivia Flanagan, who Hill says have been outstanding this season.

“Young Mikala Cann, we call her the bull and she just loves the contest,” he said. “She’s an extremely coachable player and she slotted straight into our midfield. “Emerson Woods just runs all day and even Liv Flanagan, we were able to get her up today after doing a hammy in Darwin, she re-twinged it again a couple of weeks ago and we thought the dream was over. “But for her to get up and get through and play an important role for us was fantastic. “They had youthful exuberance, they had some real vibe around the group. “Phoebe McWilliams has really taken to them and they’ve really taken to her. “It’s been fantastic to watch those relationships develop.”

Of course, it was hard to go past Chantella Perera’s game on the day, with the defender taking home the Lisa Hardeman medal for the best on ground. Hill was not only impressed with her game at Etihad Stadium, but also praises her consistent efforts throughout the year.

“She was fantastic last year, she played on all the best players in the league and never got beaten once,” he said. “Maybe Chloe Molloy at the start of this year kicked some nice goals, but today I thought she added the offensive side to her game. “She’s really cool and composed with the ball, her skills were great and she’s just a great athlete. “She’s been a champion WNBL player and now she’s a VFLW premiership player. “It just shows how good women are when you give them the opportunity.”

From Eastern to Hawthorn, Ranges duo celebrate flag

EASTERN Ranges duo Mikala Cann and Emerson Woods have basked in the glory of a Victorian Football League (VFL) Women’s premiership yesterday. The Ranges and now Hawthorn midfielder/forwards just “played their role” as they said, in Hawthorn’s 13-point victory over Geelong. Cann finished the game with 14 disposals, one mark and a team-high nine tackles, while Woods’ defensive pressure saw her also lay five tackles to go with two touches.

Both players were thrilled after the game, hardly believing the moment.

“It’s just surreal,” Woods said. “I definitely wasn’t expecting this, just coming at such a young age as well coming into the team, just to get a spot (is good) I suppose.” Cann was equally as excited. “You can’t describe it,” she said. “Winning a premiership with the best group of girls, it’s indescribable”

Woods said the speed of the game was the crucial difference between the TAC Cup Girls and VFL Women’s.

“It’s much faster, quick ball movement, pretty hard to keep up at times, but it’s good,” Woods said. Cann said she felt the bigger presence of opponents out there and stronger bodies. “(It’s) a lot more physical, the bodies are larger, but I guess you want to be playing at the highest level so this is one step closer.”

The last quarter saw the game on a knife’s edge and Geelong was attacking fiercely throughout the second half. Cann said the team knew the Cats would come at them, and had prepared for the momentum swing.

“We prepared what we had to do at training with our composure,” she said. “We just knew what we had to do and we implemented it.”

Woods said the most amazing feeling was with the clock counting down, knowing they would soon be premiership players.

“Yeah towards the end of the game, it was a bit of a surreal feeling with 30 seconds to go knowing that we’d won it,” she said.

Now both draft-eligible players will prepare for the AFL Women’s Draft Combine next week ahead of the AFL Women’s Draft in late October.

Marinoff inspires Jaslynne Smith to follow AFLW dream

South Australian (SA) defender, Jaslynne Smith was drawn to Australian Rules because of the sport’s physical aspect.

“I think I just liked the physicality of the tackling and watching it on TV,” she said. “I’d always really enjoyed kicking with my Dad so I just thought it would be really fun to give it a go.”

She says there’s nobody who articulates the physicality better than Adelaide Crows midfielder, Ebony Marinoff, who is inspiring Smith to achieve her dream of playing AFL Women’s.

“She’s (Marinoff) a gun footballer and she’s pretty much followed the same pathway as us girls,” Smith said. “She’s a really good representation of how the state pathways can develop and potentially you can become an AFLW player.”

Smith’s AFLW dream stemmed from kicking the football around with her Dad. After telling him she wanted to take up the sport competitively, he got right to work and helped his daughter play the sport she loves.

“So I just watched footy on TV as a kid and just always kicked in the backyard with my dad and I guess one day, I literally said to him I want to play,” Smith said. “Then he came home that night after googling some teams and he came home with a team that I could play for. “I’ve been playing for the last four to five years.”

Smith says her friendships have kept her in the game, as well as her enjoyment of the sport.

“I guess it’s just the friends you make,” the South Australian defender said. “Some of the relationships you make with your teammates, they become some of your really good friends. “I guess I still also really enjoy playing. “I want to see how far I can potentially get with my footy.”

Her goal to go as far as she can with Aussie Rules was inspired by the creation of the AFL Women’s competition in 2017. This ignited the hope in Smith to take her football career beyond club level.

“I think since then (AFLW being established), you’ve been told that you’re at the right age and its genuinely in reach,” Smith said. “If you work hard, and continue to develop, I think you can make it that level so I think definitely since the AFL Women’s started, I’ve really wanted to go.”

Smith has already enjoyed matching up against some bigger bodies in the South Australian National Football League (SANFL) Women’s league this year. She admitted that it was challenging at first, but she found her feet very quickly.

“It’s hard at first, it’s hard to get used to but once you’re there, you sort of just get in and under” the 18 year-old said. “I think it’s definitely helped, coming back to Under 18s. “You can bring more of it (physicality) to under 18s because you’ve been around some of the bigger bodies”

Once she got used to the physicality of the SANFL Women’s, Smith got to play in a premiership for her side, South Adelaide, which is one of her favourite football memories.

“That was a really special moment and we all worked really hard throughout the year and in the pre-season, so getting the Grand Final win was something special,” she said.

Smith has also enjoyed playing in some high-standard Under 18 games for South Australia and the Central Allies. She believes that the standard has increased each year and attributes this to the growth of female football.

“The standard has increased heaps and even just back at clubs and stuff, the amount of participants in the club and amount of teams has just risen so much,” she said. “That’s really helped to develop the standard.”

Under 18s football has also been beneficial for Smith individually, as she went from a utility to a defender.

“I initially didn’t have a position to play in, I sort of just played anywhere,” the Central Allies defender said. “Then in my first year of state with SA, our coach threw me in the back line and I sort of just played there ever since. “I think I’ve just become a bit more experienced as well, playing at a few national championships.”

This year, she and her South Australian teammates combined with the Northern Territory players in the AFL Women’s Under 18 Championships. Smith said that although there was limited time to get to know the players, she enjoyed the experience of playing with them on the Gold Coast.

“When you first come, you have to really bond quickly and you have to really get to know each other to then perform on the field,” she said. “It’s been great getting to know the NT girls.”

Like every young footballer, Smith is eyeing off a career outside of football to keep her options open.

“I think I want to go into the health field, I want to become a physio,” she said. “That would probably be the career of choice but anything sort of in the health field.”

Keeping Tabs: Standout players from Finals Week Two

Six teams became four from the weekend, with a number of first-year players standing out in the two semi-finals.

Charlie Spargo

The small forward has managed 17 solid games in his first year at AFL level, occupying a role in the Demons forward line and kicking 14 majors. In his second final, Spargo managed 12 possessions (seven kicks and five handballs) at a strong disposal efficiency of 83 percent. Spending the vast majority of his 83 minutes on the ground in the Demons half of the MCG, Spargo was able to pressure the opposition ball carrier and lay three tackles. The Murray Bushranger alumni took three marks (two inside 50) and also had three goal assists. His ability to get off the chain will see him make the trip over to Perth to face West Coast.

Bayley Fritsch

Having seamlessly slotted into the Dees best 22, Bayley Fritsch again proved their is still plenty of AFL quality talent running around in the state leagues. In the famous victory over Hawthorn, the wingman/half-forward gathered 16 disposals (eight kicks and eight handballs) at a typical 81 percent disposal efficiency. A key component of his game this year has been Fritsch’s ability to roam up onto the wings and half-back areas, take a lead-up grab then pin-point a target with precision. This, combined with his aerial strength and defensive pressure, has made him a handful for opposition teams to match up on. He also took a further four marks and laid three tackles in another consistent performance last weekend for the Dees, helping his side book their tickets to Western Australia.

Brody Mihocek

Coming on late in the home and away season, Brody Mihocek has proven to be a valuable addition to the strong Collingwood outfit. Given the Magpies battles with injuries to key players, his presence up forward has been crucial at times, proving the perfect match-up with teammate Mason Cox. In the victory over the Giants, Mihocek managed nine disposals (seven kicks and two handballs at a 67 per cent disposal efficiency), three marks, two tackles and a goal. Interestingly, four of his disposals came at true centre half-forward, allowing Cox to utilise his superior height closer to goal. The Port Melbourne recruit could be a vital cog as the Pies look to take down the high-flying Richmond on Friday night.

Jaidyn Stephenson

The NAB Rising Star winner was again serviceable, however his night could have been better if he was able to convert in-front of goal and by foot. Stephenson, who operated across the wing and forward-line during the win over the Giants, managed 10 disposals (seven kicks and three handballs), but only went at a 30 per cent disposal efficiency. In-front of goal, he had a host of opportunities, but managed just three behinds. His speed and aggression saw Stephenson lay three tackles, while he was slightly below par in the air, taking just two marks. The future-star looms as a serious x-factor in the all-important upcoming clash against the Tigers.

David Mirra

Despite the Hawks loss, the mature-age player from Box Hill could hold his head high. It is never easy returning to a team in the midst of a finals campaign, but an injury to Ben Stratton saw Mirra earn his place back in the team. He amassed 19 disposals, 10 marks and laid two tackles, playing on the outside with a disposal efficiency of 79 per cent, and winning the ball in the back half of the ground. He finished the game with four rebounds and two inside 50s as well, along with two score involvements.

James Worpel

Known as a contested ball winner, Worpel had a quieter night, spending two thirds of his evening in the forward half. He had the nine touches and kicked a goal, while also laying five tackles. Much like a number Hawks later in the game, the impressive first-year player dropped away with just the one touch in the final term. While it was not his best game of the year, he can be proud of his first season in the AFL.