Ash Centra marks the ball during the match between the Marsh AFL National Academy Girls and U23 All-Stars at Ikon Park on April 6, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

POTENTIAL No.1 draft pick Ash Centra has spent a lot of time in the car in her 17 years.

Living more than three hours east of Melbourne, the Sale City product has plied her trade across the state to emerge as Victoria's top talent ahead of the 2024 AFLW Draft.

A country music fan, the teenager relaxes by listening to music on the long drives, before shifting to rap in her pre-game routine.

The opportunity to see one of her favourite artists, Taylor Swift, in February was a highlight in an already big year for Centra.

"I wish I could go back; it was so good. I went with my best friend and her mum … she played Getaway Car which was very cool," Centra told

An unassuming character, Centra quietly goes about her business on and off the field, but as an introvert, starting to build friendships in new environments did present a challenge.

Ash Centra (R) and Tunisha Kikoak compete for the ball during the Marsh AFL National Academy Girls vs U23 All-Stars match at Ikon Park on April 6, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

"At the start of last year when I was in Vic Country, I was a bit timid and I didn't really want to put myself out there," Centra said.

"But then I came across Bryde (O'Rourke) and Lila (Keck), who have obviously been drafted to Geelong and Carlton, and they helped me put myself out there and form relationships with other people. So yeah, it was challenging at the start, but I've definitely gotten used to it."

Once those friendships have been formed, however, they are firm and fast. The bond Centra has developed with Keck, who was drafted to the Blues with pick No.7 last year, is one she hopes to reignite on the field next year.

When asked if she would be interested in being drafted to Carlton to play with Keck once again, Centra was quick to respond.

"Definitely. Yes. For sure," she said.

Their connection on the field came to the fore during the U18 Championships in 2023, executing a pre-planned handshake as goal celebrations.

"She's the queen of celebrations," Centra said of Keck.

"I was like, 'I want to be a part of this', so we teed it up at training … I didn't finish it when she got the goal (against Vic Metro), I think we were supposed to do horns or something, and I just left her hanging."

Ash Centra celebrates a goal with Lila Keck during the U18 Championships match between Vic Country and Queensland at Brighton Homes Arena on July 30, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

That sort of boldness Keck plays with is something that still baffles Centra.

"I don't know how she has so much confidence. I don't know how she does it," Centra said.

But while Centra might be slowly learning to become more extroverted, her ability with the footy is unquestioned.

Playing basketball at a high level as a junior, that physical ability to find space and slow time with a low centre of gravity sets Centra apart in games.

Ash Centra in action during the U18 Championships match between Vic Country and Western Australia at Pentanet Stadium on August 19, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

"I didn't even notice it until I heard the commentary," Centra said.

"People who were commentating said 'oh, she's got so much time with the ball' and I didn't even realise. I do have a basketball background when I was younger, so that might be it."

Time spent learning from former Geelong and Melbourne AFLW player Mel Hickey when playing for Vic Country last year was significant in Centra's propulsion into No.1 draft pick calculations.

"At the start she was very intimidating, but as you get to know her, she warms up and she's good. I really liked being coached by her," Centra said.

Ash Centra celebrates with coach Mel Hickey after the U18 Championships match between Vic Country and Western Australia on August 19, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

"I really liked being coached by her, she was hard, but a good kind of hard. She pushed us to be the best we could."

It was under Hickey that Centra progressed from a role in the backline in the Coates Talent League in 2023 to more time playing through the midfield, where she is now flourishing.

"She tried to just transition me into a forward/mid role. I had no idea and she helped me," Centra said.

Those lessons last year have allowed Centra to hit the ground running this year, including a 47-disposal, four-goal performance for Gippsland Power in the Coates Talent League last week.


Looking up to current AFLW best and fairest winner Monique Conti, and Essendon co-captain Bonnie Toogood, the freedom with which the stars play is something Centra hopes to emulate.

"I get more freedom with the ball, playing in the middle, you get to do more of your own thing … that's one of my strengths, being versatile across all three lines," Centra said.

Still eight months away from draft night, Centra is focused on putting her best foot forward with recruiters, but also enjoying time away from footy to establish balance.

"I live 50 metres away from the beach, so I find myself surfing a lot during the summer with friends, and I do surf lifesaving, patrol when I can," Centra said.

And in the meantime, there will be plenty of Taylor Swift to pass long car journeys on the way to footy.