The youngest member of Hawthorn’s recent Swisse Wellness VFL Women’s premiership-winning team, Mikala Cann, remarkably hadn’t played a game of competitive football prior to 2018.
The 17-year-old (turning 18 in November) has elevated herself into the frame for selection at the 2018 NAB AFL Women’s Draft on October 23, rapidly progressing through the football ranks since joining the Eastern Ranges TAC Cup Girls program early this season.
Having harboured hopes of an American college basketball career only a couple of years ago, Cann has brought to football a love of basketball’s physicality and its requirements for sharp awareness and ball-handling skills as an on-baller who thrives in contests.
She played all nine games for the Ranges earlier in 2018 – later being named in the TAC Cup Girls Team of the Year – and represented Vic Metro at the AFLW U18 Championships before featuring in the last four games of the Hawks’ flag campaign (among six VFLW matches for the season).
“It’s been an interesting year,” Cann said at the recent AFLW Draft Combine.
“I stopped playing basketball to have a crack at footy because a lot of my mates from basketball started playing it. My first goal was actually just to get a game at Eastern; I didn’t know if I was even going to get one game.
“As I got on at the Ranges, they encouraged me and told me I can actually play. To get on a VFLW list after Eastern was my next goal and I was lucky enough that Hawthorn signed me.”
From there, Cann’s football education accelerated at pace. She needed to develop her foot skills and increase her knowledge of the how the game is played, with fellow Hawks premiership players Phoebe McWilliams and Pepa Randall among those who took her under their wing.
A whirlwind first season in football culminated in a hard-nosed VFLW Grand Final performance of 14 disposals, 10 contested possessions and nine tackles.
“I can’t even describe Grand Final day,” Cann said. “Running through that banner with so many girls that you’ve put so many hours into training with and getting the win, it was so good.
“I’ve played in basketball grand final wins, but the football one was so different – in basketball you have 10 girls, but there’s a whole squad in football. I just wanted to play my role and I did – that’s all Hawthorn ever asked of me.
“You really need resilience when learning the game; it’s not going to happen over a couple of weeks – knowledge takes time, foot skills take time, everything takes time. I stuck at it and fortunately it’s come together in just one year.”
THE AFLW DRAFT WATCH ‘FAST FIVE’ with Mikala Cann
Why should an AFLW club draft you?
“My contested ball, my tackling and my in-and-under work, which I really pride myself on.”
What is the funniest or weirdest question you’ve been asked by an AFLW club?
“My weirdest one is: ‘What is my hobby?’ and I said origami. I think they fancied that a bit, and I just liked that question – I think it was pretty interesting.”
Who is your football idol?
“Tom Mitchell (Hawthorn). He is just a contested-ball-winner. He gets on the inside and also on the outside and has such a large impact on a game.”
Who will be selected with pick no.1 in the 2018 AFLW Draft?
“You would have to back Nina Morrison (Geelong Falcons and Geelong Cats). She is a jet player and I think she is the best of the best.”
Which of your 2018 teammates should also be in draft consideration?
“Emerson Woods (Eastern Ranges and Hawthorn). She is such a good character, she has elite endurance and she has so much knowledge of football.”