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AFLW: What's so special about likely No.1 pick?

Nina Morrison is a likely top pick in this year's draft - AFLW,AFLW Draft
Nina Morrison is a likely top pick in this year's draft

IT COULD be the story of this year's NAB AFL Women's Draft.

Geelong enters the AFLW competition next year and is highly likely to select a talented Geelong Falcon and co-captain of Geelong Grammar – who has bolted into top draft contention – with the No.1 pick on Tuesday.

But a tennis match could have halted Nina Morrison's football career before it started.

A talented athlete who had grown up loving the Cats, Morrison was encouraged by her father to go to a Geelong talent identification day in late 2016.

The day was split in two – an under-18 section for the Geelong Falcons, and an over-age section for Geelong's VFLW side.

Morrison was due to play tennis on the morning of the talent identification day, ruling her out of the appropriate session.

She rang organisers to say she was no longer available to try out for the under-age group, but was encouraged to come to the senior session.

Watching the trials, Geelong officials were blown away by the quick player with a long ponytail and excellent balance, eager to find out who she was and ask her to play VFLW.

They were astonished to find out the girl running rings around much older and bigger women was still a month shy of 16.

It's been a rapid rise through the ranks since for the 18-year-old Morrison, who is juggling her football commitments with VCE subjects including biology, chemistry and maths.

Morrison went straight into the Falcons squad and played for Vic Country in 2017, her first year of football. She was also playing locally for St Mary's in the under-19 AFL Barwon competition in Geelong, where as a midfielder she kicked 35 goals in eight games.

She played in a TAC Cup premiership with the Falcons this year and followed that up with a dominant performance in the NAB AFLW Under-18 Championships, being named Vic Country's MVP and co-player of the championships, alongside Vic Metro’s Maddie Prespakis.

So, what's so special about Morrison?

"She's a good runner with strong endurance. She's hard at the contest and just a really good decision-maker. I'm a huge rap on Nina as a player," Vic Country coach Sam Ahmet said.

"There's a lot of upside, which shows she's a good listener. She takes everything in. There'll be no issues at all when Nina goes to the next level, because they'll mould her into the way they need her to play and she'll take it in easily.

"She captained one of our under-18 games (Vic Country rotated its captaincy) and as soon as we announced it, you could see in her face that she really cherished it. She led beautifully. The players really respect her and enjoy her company," he said.

Morrison loves playing on the wing, where her deadly combination of endurance (she set records at the recent NAB AFLW Draft Combine in the yo-yo test and 2km time-trial) and her quick decision-making causes opposition headaches.

"I really enjoy playing on the wing and being able to use my outside run and endurance. I don't mind rotating through other positions to give a bit of variety," Morrison said.

"I love getting that tougher ball in the middle and I really enjoy the physicality of the game. When I'm in the middle, I often lay more tackles, which is fun.

"I follow Geelong, so I enjoy watching a lot of the Geelong players, especially Joel Selwood and Patrick Dangerfield,” she said.

"I don't know if I'd call them 'footy heroes', but I enjoy watching players like that. Joel especially is so hard at the ball and so courageous. He's pretty admirable."

Morrison's endurance comes from a combination of natural talent and training. She quickly fell in love with long-distance trail running when she was at Geelong Grammar's year nine campus, Timbertop, at the base of Victorian Alps.

"The longest race I've done was in year 10, a 50km run along the Surf Coast, so it was nice scenery. I think it took me five-and-a-bit hours to do. It was pretty rewarding," she said.

"I don't listen to music when I'm running, I do a lot of thinking. Getting out for a run gives you a break from other things, so you can think to yourself.

"At Timbertop, you slowly build up the distance throughout the year and finish with the 33km 'Timbertop marathon'. I really enjoyed it, so while I wasn't competing that much after that, but kept training.

"I'd do a long run once a week, around 20km. I got more into my footy last year, so my running dropped off because I had less time and I was tired."

The step up to AFLW level shouldn't hold too many fears for Morrison, who has nominated for the Geelong zone of the state-based draft.

The midfielder played four VFLW games for the Cats this year. She was named in the best in three of those, including best-on effort in the elimination final win over the Northern Territory Thunder, and was second-best in the Grand Final loss to Hawthorn.

She was also a member of this year's NAB AFLW Academy.

"One of our focuses has been to play with instinct. It’s pretty big thing to back yourself in during the game and do what comes to mind first," Morrison said.

"If you think of something first, it's probably the right thing to do, so just back yourself in, have confidence in your ability and you'll know how to play best."