Shifter's Eyecatchers: The young guns to watch at U19 championships

AFL Talent Ambassador Kevin Sheehan has been busy watching footy and trawling through vision as he unearths the next superstars of football. Here’s what he’s seeing in the first Eyecatchers for 2021.

WELL, it’s great to be back!

That is the sentiment whether you are a player, coach, staff or family member in our talent pathway after the challenges of 2020. There is great optimism around the grounds of all talent pathway competitions which has bought a smile to the faces of everyone involved including the AFL scouts.

For the past month I’ve had my focus on the NAB League Girls competition in particular assisting with the selection of the Allies squad for the NAB AFLW Under-19s Championships to be held on the Gold Coast from April 12. The Allies are one of six teams in the Under-19s and join Victoria Metro, Victoria Country, Western Australia, South Australia and Queensland in the two-match series in this emerging competition for our nation’s most promising female talent.

The Allies comprise the best players from Tasmania, the Northern Territory and NSW/ACT with the latter all playing for either the Sydney Academy or the GWS Academy with both playing their first ever match in the NAB League (and winning) in round five. Tasmania is of course part of the week-to-week schedule of the NAB League for girls with the Northern Territory in for two games commencing this weekend when they meet the GWV Rebels in Ballarat.

Heading my list of AFLW Eyecatchers are Tasmania Devils midfielder pair Perri King and Claire Ranson. Both have been prolific ball-winners with King’s gut running from contest to contest impressive and Ranson’s clean hands and vision weapons in setting up the Devils' great start in the NAB League. King has averaged 19 disposals and eight tackles in the six matches to date while 17-year-old Ranson has averaged 18 disposals, including 10 handpasses and eight kicks, helping create great run for the impressive Tasmania Devils.

Perri King lays a tackle in Tasmania's NAB AFLW All-Stars match. Picture: AFL Photos

Among the NSW/ACT players to really show eye catching early promise are Giants pair Ally Morphett, its 188cm ruck, and key forward Hayley Macdonald. Morphett, who is from Wagga and also plays for the Murray Bushrangers is mobile, takes the game on, is prepared to run and bounce and kicks with great depth. Macdonald is a creative type with good footy nous and awareness as well as natural goal sense and that important ability to find space and have time under pressure.

The Swans produced an impressive win over the Geelong Falcons in their first ever NAB League game and look to have unearthed potential AFLW players in Jessica Doyle, a clever and creative forward with innate goal sense and Maddy Hendrie, a tall midfielder/forward with good speed and agility suited to the modern AFLW game.

Cannons midfield duo Georgie Prespakis and Emelia Yassir have impressed in Victoria. Prespakis looks a star of the future (her sister Maddy is a current superstar with the Blues of course) with her contested ball-winning ability, pace away from stoppages, kicking depth and tackling all features of her game. Yassir, although a smaller type, was brave, composed with the ball, quick and direct for her team and had a big impact on her side's win over the Eastern Ranges in round two.

Emelia Yassir in action for the Calder Cannons. Picture: Getty Images

Oakleigh Chargers midfielder Charlie Rowbotton (brother James already a NAB AFL Rising Star with the Swans) is strong in the contest and a prolific ball-winner together with wing/half-forward Stella Reid, a lefty who had the ball on a string in gaining over 20 possessions as well as hitting the scoreboard in a standout performance full of elite qualities.

Others I’ve noted in early NAB League Girls rounds I look forward to watching in the Under-19 Championships include Geelong Falcon Tess Craven, a one-touch inside midfielder with great vision and ball-winning ability along with teammate Annie Lee who reads the play beautifully in defence, strong overhead and provides her team with great rebound. Falcons forward Renee Tierney is a dangerous and consistent target with clean hands and an accurate kick for goal making her one of her team’s most promising players.

For the Eastern Rangers two real AFLW eyecatchers for mine have been 182cm ruck Georgia Campbell, who is mobile with an impressive natural spring but equally clean at ground level and pushed forward to kick two goals, along with left-footed midfielder Keeley Sherar, whose electrifying pace set her apart from others in an impressive display.

Both Bulldogs and Demons fans may remember Georgia Campbell’s father Adrian as a key forward in the AFL in the late 80s and early 90s playing 32 matches and kicking 36 goals. Under AFLW rules Georgia is eligible for either team as even one AFL game qualifies under father-daughter provisions.

This weekend I look forward to seeing the Northern Territory’s first of two matches in the NAB League Girls and helping finalise a squad for Allies which will be coached by Sydney Academy coach and former Swans star Jared Crouch.

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