Best mates to go separate ways after being claimed at pointy end of AFLW draft

The AFLW’s top two draft picks will drive to school together on Wednesday morning, heading into the final weeks of their shared year 12 experience as their separate football journeys begin.

Best friends and Northern Knights teammates, Ellie McKenzie and Jessica Fitzgerald, were drafted to Richmond and Western Bulldogs with pick No 1 and No 2 respectively in Tuesday night’s draft.

“I’m best mates with Jess – we go to school together and she’s picking me up (on Wednesday) for school so I’m sure we’ll have a great chat about everything,” McKenzie said.

Unlike the men’s 2019 draft, where top picks and best mates Matt Rowell and Noah Anderson are plying their trade together on the Gold Coast, McKenzie and Fitzgerald – a similarly dynamic midfield duo – have been separated for the first time in their high-level football careers.

“We haven’t ever (played against each other), and I’ve been playing with her since I was about 13,” McKenzie said.

“So it’s gonna be really interesting to see what will happen. She’s a really good player … I really look up to her in her footy ability and as a person as well. So it’ll be interesting. I’m not sure how it’ll go, but I’m really happy for her and she deserves everything she’s got.”

On Wednesday, McKenzie will sit the three-hour GAT exam, then work out a time to get a Covid-19 test before she can join her Richmond teammates for pre-season.

Having studied online for much of this year, McKenzie will return to school at Maribyrnong College next week ahead of her final exams. She turns 18 on 17 October and plans on sitting her driving test in November.

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It’s a manic start to her AFLW career, but she has some help in her corner.

McKenzie is close to last year’s No 1 pick, Bulldogs player Gabby Newton, and can also lean on older brother Tom, who was drafted to North Melbourne as a rookie in 2018 but was delisted after one season ruined by a back injury.

“It showed me how difficult the AFL system is,” she said. “I know how hard it is to break into a team and how hard you have to train and how hard you have to work and it’s just a massive step up from playing in the NAB League.

“From his experience I’ve gathered that you just really need to be on your A-game and you really need to be resilient and work really hard.”



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