The words of Daisy Pearce echoed in the ears of every draftee at Docklands on Monday night.
“People’s lives will be changed tonight,” the Aussie Rules legend said.
“The networks you create when you become a part of the footy family, the awesome role models you have when you suddenly get yourself 29 new sisters.”
It was a message that struck a chord with everyone in the room as 53 players found their new homes for the 2023 season.
With the Bulldogs holding the strongest hand of the night and picking every commentator’s worst nightmare, Kristie-Lee Weston-Turner, it was a promising night for the future of women’s footy in the western suburbs.
But there were plenty of other great stories to come out of a special night for the league.
1. The massive gap between dad and daughter at Geelong
When Gary Ablett Jr’s name was called out in the 2001 AFL draft, it came just four years after his superstar dad of the same name had officially hung up the boots at Geelong.
At the AFLW draft on Monday night, the Cats did what they’ve done for so many years and went back to the family talent well, matching a Demons bid for Bryde O’Rourke at pick 23 to claim the athletic daughter of former player Ray O’Rourke.
Unlike the Ablett’s though, the gap between the O’Rourke’s making their way into the Kardinia Park inner sanctum was a little more pronounced — 54 years pronounced, to be exact.
The 18-year-old’s dad debuted for the Cats in 1969, playing two matches in Geelong teams that featured the likes of Sam Newman, Doug Wade, and John Scarlett, the father of club legend Matthew Scarlett — a pairing that had a 20-year gap between their retirement and debut.
“Bryde is an exciting and athletic player, who has had an exceptional year with the Pioneers and Vic Country,” Cats general manager of football Brett Johnson said.
“She will fit in well in our group, she has strong offensive attributes and is damaging with ball in hand.
“We are excited to be able to welcome Bryde to the club and look forward to her integrating in our squad in 2024 and beyond.”
2. Demons, Blues and Saints keep the family links alive
O’Rourke wasn’t the only father-daughter to make the grade in the 2023 draft class.
At the Demons, Jemma Rigoni’s name was called at pick 29 after the club was forced to match a North Melbourne bid for the explosive defender.
Rigoni’s dad, Guy, played 107 games for the club between 1998 and 2005, including Melbourne’s 2000 grand final loss to the all-conquering Bombers.
And at Carlton, Meg Robertson was picked at number 31 as a father-daughter selection, after her dad, Ben, played three games in 1992, which were interestingly all victories.
It could be a good omen pick for the Blues moving forward.
Meanwhile, St Kilda snared 19-year-old Charlotte Simpson at pick 47 after a stellar season in Geelong’s VFLW program. Simpson’s father, Sean, played seven matches for the Saints between 1988 and 1990, while her brother, Sam, played 25 games for the Cats from 2017 to 2023.
3. Bulldogs mad family celebrates their top pick
While we’re all still getting our heads around the fact that top pick Kristie-Lee Weston-Turner will have to juggle her new football career with her year 12 studies this year, it was heartwarming to see just how much the club means to her family.
The 17-year-old took a punt on nominating for the national pool, meaning there was a risk she would be drafted outside of Victoria, but it turned out well for the rising star.
“My nan and my great aunty, who is sadly no longer with us any more, were in a cheer squad for 30-odd years,” she told reporters after the draft.
And nobody in her family was more excited than her uncle, who proudly showed all and sundry at Docklands his gigantic Western Bulldogs tattoo stretching from his ribs down to his hip.
4. Sporting all-rounder turns her focus to the footy
The surprise of the draft came at pick 12, as Melbourne swooped on 170cm midfielder Ryleigh Wotherspoon.
With the exponential growth of women’s sport seeing talented athletes have to pick and choose between sports, the Demons leapt at the chance to lock the Queenslanders into an Aussie Rules career, stealing her away from the Lions where she had featured as a train-on player.
Wotherspoon, who is originally from Mackay in the state’s north, had represented Australia and Queensland in cricket a junior level, while also playing softball for her state and playing Premier League soccer for the University of Queensland, where she claimed the Young Female Player of the Year award in 2020.
“Ryleigh comes to us from predominantly a cricket background with a mix of some soccer,” Demons list manager Todd Patterson said.
“She is originally from Mackay and got back to footy at Sherwood this year before training on at Brisbane.
“We see Ryleigh as a powerful midfielder that can also rebound off half back and are excited to see her within our program.”
5. Grigg continues a growing legacy of African talent
With the Bulldogs holding a strong hand of picks in the first round of the draft, the club took a calculated punt on the exceptionally talented Elaine Grigg at pick six.
The South Australian 17-year-old has taken a long but increasingly common path to the league, having been born in Kenya before growing up in Adelaide.
The 161cm pressure forward picked the national draft pool — risking the move away from home — but it’s a comparatively small distance between Adelaide and Melbourne to the move she made from Nairobi as a kid.
Grigg and sister, Michelle, lived with their aunty in Kenya before reuniting with their mum in Australia, when the new Bulldog was just eight-years-old.
Grigg follows in the footsteps of the recently retired Makur Chuot, the first African to play in the AFLW.
“It’s really inspiring to me to see someone like her who is multicultural playing AFLW,” Grigg said before the draft.
“She’s a role model for me.”
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Source: AFL NEWS ABC