Sophie McKay celebrates a goal during the Marsh AFL National Championships U18 Girls v All Stars match at RSEA Park on June 9, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

Draft Diaries is back, this year following Vic Metro's Sophie McKay and Western Australia's Zippy Fish in their final season of junior footy. Both are eligible for the Telstra AFLW Draft at the end of the year, ahead of the 2025 season, with McKay a potential father-daughter signing at Carlton.

This is the second check-in with McKay, catch up here.

YEAR 12 is a big enough load for anyone, let alone combining elite sport at the same time.

For those who want to do well with their ATAR scores to maximise their chances of getting into university, it can be a stressful period.

Throw in a year of 18th birthday parties and social occasions, the ability to earn your licence (in Victoria, at least) and myriad other factors, and it can quickly become overwhelming.

Sophie McKay hit a wall earlier this year.

"I found I was a lot better at [coping] at the start of the year. Footy's really picked up now. I have been really struggling with juggling it all and keeping my mind in a great space, so I (also) play my best football," McKay said.


"I have such a great support system around me, my family and my friends and all the coaches, they're all awesome. And especially the staff in this (AFLW Academy) team, are really supportive and have guided me through that rough patch I had.

"There was a point where I felt really overwhelmed with everything. I am really trying at school, and I want to do really well at school, and putting time into that whilst also having to go to training (with Sandringham Dragons) – training is 40 minutes away, so it's a three-and-a-half hour [total] trip, three times a week. 

"Then the game, and the self-recovery you have to do, and all the other things, it just got a bit too much for a second. We have SACs, which are VCE tests. So I did have a tough time about a month ago, but we used all the resources I'm given here, which I'm so lucky for that, and I bounced back. I'm all good now, juggling it all."

Sophie McKay celebrates a goal during the Marsh AFL National Championships U18 Girls v All Stars match at Ikon Park on April 6, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

McKay's school friends, for the most part, aren't into football. They're proving to be a vital balancing tool, a handful of them attending a game of hers for the first time as the Marsh AFL National Academy Girls' side took on the under-21 All-Stars at the start of June. McKay would point to them with every piece of good work she did throughout the game.

Her whole family also attended, including father and Carlton champion Andrew, leaving older sister Abbie to plug away in the VFLW on the same day by herself (she was absolutely fine, recording a comfortable 21 disposals and eight clearances).

"Did Abbie play VFL(W) today? Then no one watched her then. Everyone was at my game, actually her boyfriend (player manager Charlie Hocking; Abbie is managed by a different company) was actually at this game, so Abbie had no one watching her," McKay said with a grin.

Abbie McKay handballs during the VFLW R13 match between Carlton and Southern Saints at Ikon Park on June 16, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

"My friends are super important and super supportive. I'm so lucky that despite them not having any idea about the load and the physical and mental side of it, they are so supportive and understanding. Obviously, I can't attend everything or show up to everything, because footy has its sacrifices. 

"They're so great, and they allow me to switch off so I can completely detach myself from footy. When I do need to focus on footy, I can switch back to that, and they're supportive of that."

McKay's halfway through her season with the Dragons, who have struggled somewhat this year, sitting ninth of the 13 regular sides (excluding non-Victorian invitational teams) in the Coates Talent League.

Despite a shift to the forward line and the challenges associated with a new role in a team that isn't always winning a lot of the footy, the lifelong midfielder has still been named in her side's best in four of five occasions.

"It's different, I feel really comfortable in the midfield, so the forward line I can get a bit lost, I find. I like kicking a goal, so it's all right in there," McKay said.

"I get stuck trying to [both] be in the stoppage and then being less than a kick forward, so I find I get lost a bit. I do like the challenge, it's fun in there, but I do love the mid.


"My goals have stayed the exact same. My main one is to just have fun, I think with all of the really high-profile games, it tends to put a lot of pressure on everyone, and you can make it really serious. 

"So my goal is to just have fun while doing so, and even though it is a stressful year – in the back of my mind is the draft, obviously, I just like to think that I just want to enjoy the last year of my junior footy. Playing high level footy and playing at my best. I think I do that when I enjoy it."