'I felt it a lot': Former No.1 pick freed from pressure ahead of second AFLW season

Down to Business is an AFLW pre-season content series, focusing on players and coaches from across the competition through videos and articles. A continuation of 2020-21’s Unfinished Business, Down to Business talks with those who have a point to prove in the new season.

ONLY a small number of people fully understand the pressures that come with being selected first in the NAB AFL or AFLW Draft.

Now in her second pre-season after a strong debut year, Richmond’s Ellie McKenzie knows it all too well.

She finished second in the NAB AFLW Rising Star behind Tyla Hanks, and was an integral part of Richmond's wins when the team kicked into gear in the second half of the season.

(L-R): Richmond players Sarah Dargan, Ellie McKenzie and Kodi Jacques celebrate during round three, 2021. Picture: AFL Photos

"I think early on, I felt a bit of pressure and a bit of weight externally," McKenzie told womens.afl.

"But a lot of it came from myself, just internalised pressure and wanting to live up to expectations of that number one title.

"Coming into round one, I felt it a lot, but I think post that game, I settled in. The girls were really supportive and I just really enjoyed playing, so I just had fun with it.

"It took me a couple of weeks to get into the swing of things, training every week and playing on the weekend and gelling with the team as well, building that chemistry."

Richmond's Ellie McKenzie evades her Collingwood opponent during round three, 2021. Picture: AFL Photos

McKenzie's Victorian draft group had a particularly rough entry into the AFLW, having played only two or three NAB League games and missing the entirety of the NAB AFLW Under-18 Championships in 2020 due to lockdown.

"It was definitely a shock. I played three games of NAB League in 2020 (in March), and then my next game was AFLW," she said.

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"It was definitely very scary coming into that level, particularly having not had experience in the VFLW and against the bigger bodies. It was a bit daunting coming in, but I settled in after the first few rounds."

At 176cm, McKenzie could be mistaken for a key position player rather than a line-breaking midfielder in the AFLW, where rucks generally sit at around 180cm.

She averaged 15.6 disposals, 8.6 contested possessions, 219.7m gained and kicked four goals from her nine matches.

Richmond's Ellie McKenzie takes a shot on goal during round three, 2021. Picture: AFL Photos

"After my first season, I've learnt I'm a bigger body in the midfield and I can throw my body around a bit, trust my strength and power," McKenzie said.

"Coming into next year, that'll be something I'll lean on and know I have an advantage over some other midfielders."

Richmond itself is only coming into its third AFLW season, and McKenzie has witnessed the team and staff learning and changing as it adjusts to the demands of top-level women's football.

"I think last year was definitely a big learning experience for the whole club. Having 'Ferg' (Ryan Ferguson) come in for his first season of coaching, and having some new girls come in and some fresh blood, we really built a strong culture," she said.

"I think moving into this year, everyone feels a bit more settled in their positions, we've got our match plan and strategy set, so we've been able to train it. I think moving forward things will be a lot more stable for us, which is good."

McKenzie showed off her aerial prowess with a Mark of the Year contender in Richmond's final game of the season, coming against the Western Bulldogs.

Is this Mark of the Year? Star Tiger flies high

00:20 Mar 26. 2021. 6:08 PM

Ellie McKenzie takes off with a massive intercept mark

It was a classic speccy, one that gained traction with the wider football world and sent a reminder as to the talent of this next generation of female players.

Does she have another one in her?

"I can't talk about it, Brooke Lochland will get too upset," she said, tongue-in-cheek.

"We'll see how we go, maybe I've still got a few more up my sleeve."