20/04/2024

Richmond Tigers young gun Ellie McKenzie. (Picture: Richmond AFLW: Design by Will Cuckson)

Richmond’s AFLW side has had a mixed start to season seven, winning two and losing two games is not ideal in a ten-week regular season. However, Richmond has shown some exemplary form throughout which will give it some confidence.

Losing in Round 1 to a more accurate Geelong Cats side by four points was not the optimal start the Tigers were looking for. This was unfortunately followed by a loss against the reigning premiers in the Adelaide Crows who came back in the last quarter to pinch the premiership points.

Their season was kick-started in Round 3 with a massive 35-point win against an expansion side in the Hawthorn Hawks, although it was expected it was a vital win for the Tigers who needed their first win.

The most promising result for Richmond was its Round 4 win, in which it kept its lead over a fast-finishing Essendon side.

Speaking exclusively to Richmond’s young midfielder/forward Ellie McKenzie, it’s clear that the Tigers are learning week-in and week-out from their losses and wins alike. She reflects on the close call against the Bombers and what it was like to play in the first Dreamtime game in the AFLW.

“I think for a moment there we were a bit worried that we were going to lose it again but we backed what we are doing as a group,” McKenzie told The Inner Sanctum.

“The last couple of weeks were pretty difficult for us, we probably should have won those games as well but we came out of those games learning a lot about our group and what we need to do going forward.

“It was really nice to get the win and at the first-ever Dreamtime game too, that was pretty cool.”

Being a part of the first AFLW Dreamtime game in Round 4, McKenzie was privileged to experience the lead-up to the game. She credited new teammate Steph Williams for her role in the proceedings during Indigenous Round this year.

“It was great, we had Josie (Atkinson), [who was] the designer for the jumper come down to speak to us and tell us a bit about her culture,” McKenzie said.

“[This year] having Steph Williams in our group as well. It’s pretty cool to have an Indigenous player amongst our group for the first time so obviously supporting her and what she had to say to the group and I definitely think that added to the spectacle of the game and to be a part of that is pretty cool.

“[Playing in] the first ever Dreamtime game and to come away with the win, it’s an added bonus.”

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Despite the 2-2 record from the first four games of the season, McKenzie is more focused on the games to come, especially the contest against the Brisbane Lions on Saturday.

“I think that we are in a really good spot, we are two and two coming into round five so we’re pretty happy with that,” she said.

“We know it would be great to be winning more games earlier on in the year but we’re backing what we are doing.

“We’ve got a really tough opposition in Brisbane this weekend but I think we spoke about it at training that we are not scared. We are ready for the fight and know if we play our way we are going to take it to them.

“I think going forward as well, we are just really excited to bring what we can week in and week out and we’ll see what happens.”

When looking at the clash with the Lions more closely, it seems like it will be a testing game for the Tigers with the Lions shaping up as one of the contenders for finals and arguably the best side all year.

McKenzie is measured insisting that the clash will bring out the best in Richmond and will only make it stronger.

“They’ve been a real force as of late and coming off a win against Melbourne, one of the best teams in the comp that will do a lot for their confidence,” she explained.

“I think for me, moving between the two lines, I’ll definitely [be looking at] both that midfield group and that defensive group. Their midfielders in Ally Anderson and Emily Bates have been killing it so we will definitely look to nullify them.

“And most of all we will just look to see what we can do as a group, we will try and play to our strengths and we will try not to focus too much on them. I think it will be a real cracker of a game to play on Grand Final day as well.”

The only game on AFL Grand Final day on Saturday is the Tigers’ match-up with the Lions at the Swinburne Centre. Growing up in Victoria as a Hawthorn supporter, McKenzie recalls her past Grand Final memories.

“For me, I was a Hawks supporter growing up so I had my fair share of Grand Final days, getting in and amongst the footy festival coming down here early in the morning before the game,” she said.

“I’m very excited, I know it’s such an exciting day to be a part of and hopefully getting the win will be pretty cool as well.”

With the games lining up with the AFL finals this season, some of the AFLW games have been played before the men’s finals.

“The early mornings are a bit of a different one. I’m not used to getting up that early for a game these days as usually, we have the afternoon game,” McKenzie said.

“We’ve had a couple of early ones so far this year so I think we will be pretty well adjusted to it.”

Having had a pretty torrid run with injury, McKenzie has had a blistering start to this season due to participating in a full pre-season for the first time since she was drafted. Three seasons in, a fully healthy McKenzie is averaging 14.8 disposals, four marks, 2.5 tackles, and 3.3 inside 50s per game in season seven.

The 19-year-old reflected on the confidence she now has in her body and how it’s resulted in her performances to date.

“[My] body is feeling pretty good, it’s really nice to have a full pre-season this year and it’s been the first one in three seasons now,” McKenzie said.

“Having that aerobic backing and coming in, knowing that I can run out games is a nice feeling and I feel a little bit more secure.”

The real highlight of the past few seasons in the AFLW is seeing the young women who have been playing football as juniors and their entire life come through as 18-year-olds. McKenzie is one of those young players who also has her eyes on an ex-teammate who’s one of the rising stars of the competition.

“It’s been really exciting to see those young girls coming through. They are really making that impact in the game straightaway and I think the year before me or even just my draft year, I think that was the first year coming through that had played from Auskick all the way through,” McKenzie explained.

“I think you can really see the difference in skill level and you can just see those girls have that natural ability. I think that’s really good to see them come through and the more and more of those girls we see come through, the more you will see the competition get better and better.

“I think it brings only positive things for the AFLW and to see those girls getting those rising star nominations.

“I think Rylie Wilcox, one of my former teammates at the Northern Knights, she got one recently. She’s been killing it down at the Doggies, so [it’s] really cool for those girls and really good for the AFLW competition.”

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