The 2019 NAB AFL Women’s Under-18 Championships came to a close on the Gold Coast on Friday, when many NAB League Girls players participated in what could be their last-ever games of junior football.
Vic Metro finished on top of the Division 1 standings after going through its four games unbeaten, while Vic Country rebounded from a 44-point loss to Metro in June to win all three of its matches in Queensland last week.
Top-age talent like Calder Cannons ball-winner Georgia Patrikios – who claimed Metro’s MVP award as well as being named the MVP of the Championships – and versatile Geelong Falcons utility Lucy McEvoy – Country’s MVP – will now turn their attention to competing at senior level in the Swisse Wellness VFL Women’s before October’s NAB AFL Women’s Draft.
— Sarah Black (@_sjblack) July 16, 2019
“The stats will tell you that some girls won’t go on and play in the AFLW, so they can look back on this and say they played in a national championship and were undefeated,” said Burke – a 323-game former St Kilda AFL champion.
“They were challenged. Western Australia played a great game and Queensland played a really great game – and for parts of the match they were better than us. The girls didn’t go away from what it takes to win a game of footy though. When it got really tough, they lifted their work rate and that enabled their skills to come to the fore.
“Some girls showed their best the whole way through and some built into the tournament, but at stages in games they all played their best and I think that’s what it’s all about. That’s the ultimate success.”
Metro was well served by the likes of prolific trio Patrikios, Ellie McKenzie (Northern Knights) and Gabrielle Newton (Northern Knights), goalkickers Isabella Grant (Western Jets), Nell Morris-Dalton (Northern Knights) and Cleo Saxon-Jones (Western Jets), and the toughness of Britney Gutknecht (Northern Knights), Gemma Lagioia (Oakleigh Chargers) and Sarah Sansonetti (Northern Knights).
Burke said Patrikios and Newton – also the captains of the 2019 NAB League Girls Grand Final teams – had demonstrated during the Championships why they could be high selections at the 2019 AFLW Draft.
“You’d expect them to be up the very pointy end of the draft, and whoever picks them up will not just pick up great footballers but outstanding young ladies as well,” Burke said.
“The good thing is that after the real pointy end you could throw a blanket over 20 girls (i.e. their draft chances), because the talent pool is wide and it’s probably going to come down to what each particular AFLW club needs on its list.”
Keep an eye out for Georgia Patrikios. 💫 https://t.co/CikEWzKIS0
— AFL Women's (@aflwomens) July 13, 2019
Under the coaching of former Western Bulldogs AFLW premiership player and current Geelong ruck Aasta O’Connor, Country prevailed over Queensland by 42 points, the Eastern Allies by 30 points and then Western Australia by two points in a successful week on the Gold Coast.
Driven by the ball-winning of McEvoy, Sophie Molan (GWV Rebels) and Tyanna Smith (Dandenong Stingrays), the scoreboard impact of Olivia Barber (Murray Bushrangers), Renee Saulitis (GWV Rebels) and Isabella Simmons (GWV Rebels), and the class of Molly McDonald (Dandenong Stingrays), Isabella Shannon (Dandenong Stingrays) and Paige Sheppard (Geelong Falcons), Country proved a formidable opponent.
“I was really proud of how our girls were able to put the team first,” O’Connor said. “We asked players to play out of position compared to where they played in the NAB League Girls season and not once did a player question that or complain.
“The game against Queensland was a real highlight for us in particular. We had a disappointing loss to Vic Metro in terms of not being able to play the type of footy we wanted to, and the way the girls were able to reflect, review, learn and then execute against Queensland was great to see.”
O’Connor said team MVP McEvoy’s ability “to sum up the situation and know what the game needs and when” set her apart from other players, with fellow Country co-captains Molan, McDonald and Millie Brown (Murray Bushrangers) also standing out with their consistency across the four games.
“Molly’s already pre-listed at (incoming AFLW team) St Kilda, but whichever clubs end up with those girls will have some really valuable young people who’ll come in and have an impact straight away,” O’Connor said.
“On the other hand, some of our 17-year-old players built more into the Championships, like Darcy Moloney and Laura Gardiner (both Geelong Falcons). As they were experiencing what it was like to play at the highest level, I thought they really came out of their shell and by the end of the carnival were playing really good footy.
“It reminds you why you’re part of this great game when you see young people grow and develop. It’s pretty special.”