Despite earning All Australian honours, Eastern Ranges and Hawthorn VFLW utility Laura McClelland found it hard to match her form of previous seasons this year – especially given illness affected much of her 2019 campaign.
The 18-year-old kicked 17 goals in 14 games for the Ranges across 2017-18, earning selection in the 2018 NAB League Girls Team of the Year and representing Vic Metro at the NAB AFL Women’s Under-18 Championships in both seasons.
However, her own high standards have led McClelland to view her 2019 efforts as “up and down”, with a bout of glandular fever and eight separate instances of tonsillitis ruining any hope of consistent performance.
The Monbulk (AFL Outer East) product struggled to have the same impact in front of goal for Eastern this year but did find some timely form playing in Vic Metro’s back line at the AFLW Under-18 Championships, after which she was named in the AFLW Under-18 All Australian Team.
McClelland then graduated to make four Swisse Wellness VFL Women’s appearances for the Hawks, capping a junior career that has her in line to be selected in the NAB AFLW Draft on October 22.
“Maybe I do have high expectations of myself,” McClelland said at the recent NAB AFLW Draft Combine. “There’s a lot of pressure on you (in your draft year) and you have to rise to the occasion.
“I would say my previous years have probably been better. This year has been challenging, but that’s why I was happy to have a good week for Vic Metro in Queensland (three games in July).
“I just thought it was my last chance to present myself as a footballer and as a person, so I had to go all-out. I knew that if I didn’t do well, it could jeopardise my future in footy.”
A former Australian junior volleyballer, McClelland boasts the adaptability to switch between attack and defence – a trait that has already proven a circuit-breaker in a time of need.
“Maybe a switch of roles at Vic Metro got something started for me this year,” McClelland said.
“I think I need a few more years to figure out what I’m probably best at. I love playing forward and back, so it doesn’t really bother me. I guess everyone loves to kick a snag, but making a spoil is just as important.
“I think that versatility is a quality that AFLW clubs would like to see in the upcoming generation of footballers and I’m willing to take on the challenge if they need me to.”
McClelland continued her stay in defence at Hawthorn, where experienced heads like Meg Hutchins, Steph Carroll and Lou Wotton imparted their knowledge on her.
At the Ranges though, it was McClelland taking the leadership role alongside co-captain Madeline Edwards, with her previous stellar seasons at the club making her well qualified to mentor Eastern’s younger players.
“Maddy and I were quite different leaders,” McClelland said. “She’d be the one to address the team as a whole and I preferred to get around the girls individually and see how they were travelling.
“I liked to get around the younger girls. I know how it is to be the youngest and feel like you’re a bit out of your depth. I’d like to say I helped them feel at home and comfortable.”
NAB LEAGUE ‘FAST FIVE’ QUESTIONS
Most influential person on your football at Eastern:
“Tom Humphrey, my coach. He’s always been there for me and always told me to aspire to be the best I can be. He’s been a big influence on me.”
Most valuable lesson learned in the NAB League:
“Always get around your teammates and your friends, because it’s not all about you. You need to lift the people around you, and by doing that you’ll probably lift yourself.”
Teammate you’ve most enjoyed sharing the NAB League journey with:
“Charlotte Wilson (ex-Ranges and now Carlton AFLW). She’s been one of my best friends for a few years now and I think I deserve a cut of her pay for getting her from basketball to play with me at Eastern. She’s an amazing athlete and she never stops working.”
Most difficult NAB League opponent:
“Whenever you see Georgia Patrikios (Calder Cannons) running, you know you’re not going to get her. Gabby Newton and Ellie McKenzie (both Northern Knights) are quality players as well and you’re a bit scared when they come up next to you.”
Most memorable NAB League moment:
“There’s probably not one specific moment – just the moments you get to spend with your friends enjoying the game. You know when you’re all working as a group and playing together. It’s a feeling like no other.”
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