Debut 15 years in the making for AFLW’s new breed of role model

«I really admire watching her play footy, and the way she goes about things,» Prespakis says.

«I know that when she lined up on me a few times on the weekend, it did make me a bit nervous that the best player in the competition was lining up on me. But I look at that as an honour.»

After a torrid 36-point loss against the Kangaroos where Carlton coach Daniel Harford said his side was «comprehensively mauled», debuting midfielder Prespakis was a shining light for the Blues with 13 disposals and subsequent selection in round one’s AFLW team of the week.

For me, I wouldn’t have cared if I went pick 100. I just wanted to get drafted, that was my main focus.

The teenager already seems an important cog for the Blues, who face Adelaide in a must-win game at Ikon Park on Sunday afternoon.

Yet up until the day of last year’s 2018 draft, there was every chance Prespakis would don the hoops of Geelong rather than the blue of Carlton.

The Cats, granted picks one and two, had made overtures to the Sunbury teenager and would have almost certainly selected her second, if not first. 

Prespakis isn't interested in talk of which number she was picked in the 2018 draft.

Prespakis isn’t interested in talk of which number she was picked in the 2018 draft.Credit:Justin McManus

“In a way it was weird, when you see people saying you could’ve gone number one, or top three or whatever it was,» Prespakis says.

«For me, I wouldn’t have cared if I went pick 100. I just wanted to get drafted, that was my main focus.»

Citing a desire to be close to her family, Prespakis ultimately nominated herself for the Melbourne metropolitan area, excluding herself from Geelong’s grasp.

«I was very nervous leading up to it, there were a few tears and things like that because I didn’t know what to do … I had a lot to toss up, and it did come to the last day of nomination when I made up my mind,» she says.

The Cats went on to select Geelong local Nina Morrison first, who delivered a best-on-ground performance against Collingwood in the season opener but was ruled out for the rest of the season after rupturing an ACL on Thursday night, while Carlton snapped up Prespakis as the first metropolitan pick.

In a league where masses of players had to give up Aussie rules as children because of a lack of female pathways, Prespakis is the new breed of role model – one of the first products of an increasingly inclusive and well-oiled female development program.

The onballing midfielder’s football progression has been archetypal: she began with Auskick as a 4-year-old, and, long before facing up against the likes of Kearney, Prespakis was matching her male counterparts with her local side in Romsey, in Melbourne’s north-west.

«I think playing with the boys growing up, that was probably the best thing I ever did. They didn’t treat me like a girl playing footy, they just treated me like a footballer,» she says.

A shift to girls’ football coincided with growing momentum both personally and across the country as a 15-year-old Prespakis, representing the Sunbury girls youth team, began to formulate a dream.

«Once I saw girls that I knew and had played with be drafted in that first year, that’s when I knew I could really have a chance.»

Prespakis' family travelled to Hobart for her debut last week - decked in Carlton blue.

Prespakis’ family travelled to Hobart for her debut last week — decked in Carlton blue.

She was invited to the under-18s academy and took part in some training with the Western Bulldogs and Collingwood over the past two years, culminating in her drafting in October.

While Prespakis is enjoying the «good vibe and culture» that new coach Harford has brought to Carlton, her own father will no doubt be watching attentively.

«My dad was a big influence on me. He coached me from the time I started playing footy until now, really … I know he’s always there by my side,» she says.

Herself an Essendon fan, Prespakis’ Collingwood-supporting father and Hawthorn-mad mother attended Prespakis’ debut in Hobart decked head to toe in Carlton navy blue.

«We’ve waited since I was four-years old to do this … seeing them rock up in their Carlton gear, knowing they’re on the sidelines, really helped,» she says.

Prespakis knows being a club’s first draft pick from 2018 brings pressure, but is clear in picking out her favourite of idol Kearney’s traits. 

«She doesn’t put herself out there for everybody to see,» the teenager says.

«I never put myself out there as much, I don’t like to be the face of anything. I just like to play my footy and enjoy it.»

Michael is a reporter for The Age.




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