Will this ruck star's bizarre ritual pay off on draft night?


THE BIZARRE tale of now-retired Cat Harry Taylor and the ham in his footy boot is well known, but draft hopeful Tahlia Gillard may just go one better.

The Calder Cannons and Vic Metro ruck appeared fairly serious by nature in her interview with womens.afl, speaking about her wish to study international business once she graduates from Penleigh and Essendon Grammar in Melbourne's north-west.

But a question about superstitions sparked the prospect's interest and unearthed a startling revelation.

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"Originally, I had an orange [peel] in my sock. One of my friends ate an orange at half-time and I just kept it, I put it in my sock," Gillard said with a grin.

"From then on, at Cannons games, she gives me an orange at half-time, like an orange peel.

"I don't think it's a superstition, it was just, I don't know – and then we won that game from when I put the orange in my socks, so I was like, oh maybe it's that? We joke about it, but it's a bit different."

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Gillard has had a varied sporting background, including tennis, swimming and softball through primary school before picking up local football (with Moonee Valley and then Essendon Doutta Stars) as a way to keep in contact with friends who went to different high schools.

She was selected for the Calder Cannons' under-15 program, initially as a key position player before graduating to the ruck this year.

"I watched a lot of footy growing up. My family are huge Richmond fans and I've also seen my brothers playing. It's a good contested, pressured contact sport with a lot of running, and different than a lot of other sports," Gillard said.

"You play as a midfielder, so I feel like that's what I enjoy the most. I get to run around, get a few handballs, kicks, and can implement the game differently than in other parts of the ground."

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A member of the NAB AFLW Academy, Gillard is a strong tap ruck with a good leap who's not afraid to get involved at ground level.

She's worked closely with Academy coach and former Collingwood AFL midfielder Tarkyn Lockyer in identifying tap zones and watches top-level matches with a critical eye to pick up tips.

Gillard said she needs to keep developing her core strength to help balance her height of 190cm, but considering she won't turn 18 until a few weeks into the new NAB AFLW season in December, she's got plenty of time.

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"I definitely need to increase my strength and conditioning programme. Obviously, I'm not as big as the other girls so I feel like I need to improve on that and build a bit more strength in my lower body and arms," she said.

"And then obviously fitness fundamentals. I feel like when you move into a culture such as AFLW, there is definitely like a higher standard that you need to make so anything I can do to improve that, I definitely will."

>> Watch the 2021 NAB AFLW Draft LIVE on womens.afl and the AFLW Official App from 6.45pm AEST on Tuesday, July 27