Alana Barba’s desire to join some highly-rated teammates in the Calder Cannons’ midfield led to her debut for Essendon’s VFLW team later in 2019 and elevated her standing in the eyes of AFLW recruiters.
The Cannons reached this year’s NAB League Girls Grand Final in big part due to the on-ball efforts of prolific top-ager Georgia Patrikios and 16-year-old competition best-and-fairest Georgie Prespakis.
But hard-nosed 18-year-old Barba was another key factor in a young Calder outfit’s rise this season, averaging 12 disposals and seven tackles (ranked second of all players) per game across 11 matches.
The Cannons fell to the Northern Knights by 33 points in May’s decider, but Barba went on to represent Vic Metro in the NAB AFL Women’s Under-18 Championships and make four Swisse Wellness VFL Women’s appearances for the Bombers.
The Roxburgh Park (Essendon District FL) product kickstarted her emergence as a prospect for selection in October 22’s NAB AFLW Draft late last year.
“I wanted to be able to play in the midfield this year, so I had my own pre-season before the actual pre-season,” Barba said at last week’s NAB AFLW Draft Combine. “I got my fitness up, focused on winning ground-balls and cleaned up my skills a little bit, just to give myself the best shot of playing in the midfield.
“They’re (Patrikios and Prespakis) such composed players, and being able to compose yourself in pressure situations gives you a lot more time to think and execute your skills.
“I was also able to stay more involved in the game and was able to make it to contests a little bit quicker than I usually would last year.”
Barba found motivation from external sources as well as from within, wanting to prove to others that there was more to her game than may have met the eye in 2018.
“I guess everyone faces a little bit of criticism in football, and maybe sometimes it’s about proving to yourself that you’re not what people make you out to be,” Barba said.
“I wanted to be a confident player this year – someone who takes the game on and holds up under pressure.
“I think with the way I’ve been brought up as a person and the way I’ve handled those situations this year, it’s boosted my confidence and capability in football.”
Those traits were on show when Barba played in Essendon’s final four games of the VFLW season.
She ran out in three of those alongside Patrikios – a potential high draft pick come October and role model to many more AFLW aspirants than just Barba.
“Being able to run out at the Bombers with Georgia and (fellow Calder top-ager) Felicity Theodore was a really humbling experience, because we’ve gone through the same sort of situation,” she said.
“We always kept an eye out for each other in the games; Georgia’s a run-off player, so I know to give her the handball. Knowing each other’s game is handy in those situations.
“Being able to see the physicality at the elite level was just amazing too. I love the physical side of football.”
NAB LEAGUE ‘FAST FIVE’ QUESTIONS
Most influential person on your football at Calder:
“Luke Russell (assistant coach). He’s really helped me with cleaning up my skills a bit. He’s supported me throughout the whole program and made sure I have the best opportunity to do what I love.”
Most valuable lesson learned in the NAB League:
“Don’t take anything for granted and to take in the moment. Playing on Ikon Park during the Grand Final was a big moment to take in and sometimes it’s important to look at your surroundings and think: ‘Wow, I’m here.’”
Teammate you’ve most enjoyed sharing the NAB League journey with:
“Alisa Magri – one of the under-17s. She’s been a great friend during the program. It’s amazing who you meet through football, because they’re friends for life. She’s doing a ‘pre-pre-season’ at the moment, so hopefully she’ll be here next year!”
Most difficult NAB League opponent:
“I’d say Ellie McKenzie (Northern Knights). She’s just elite in everything she does. She’s an amazing athlete and she’s going to go far.”
Most memorable NAB League moment:
“I think this year’s preliminary final (a win against the Geelong Falcons) was a pretty memorable moment. We all really supported each other and you could tell we were a team in that game.”
* CLICK HERE to see other stories in our 2019 AFLW Draft Watch series.