Published on November 6, 2019 11:00 am

New Roo Gavalas emerges from pack

Ex-Western Bulldogs VFLW midfielder Ellie Gavalas was the first mature-age player selected at the recent NAB AFL Women’s Draft – and that wouldn’t have seemed likely at the start of the 2019 season.

The 23-year-old was taken by North Melbourne with pick no.10 at the draft, ahead of the likes of Richmond VFLW’s Grace Egan (pick no.13 to Carlton) and Hawthorn’s Rosie Dillon (no.24 to St Kilda).

Perhaps most remarkable about her draft position is that Gavalas only started playing football last year, when a friend suggested she should come to a training session at Marcellin OC (VAFA).

 

The Tasmanian native had played soccer from the age of six but adapted to football as a tough and quick on-baller so well that the VFLW Bulldogs listed her for 2019.

She then averaged 16 disposals, four tackles and 3.5 clearances per game in 16 matches for the grand finalists this season, earning VFLW Team of the Year honours and the Bulldogs’ VFLW best-and-fairest award for her efforts.

Clearly, the AFLW Kangaroos were impressed as well.

“I can’t believe it; I’m pretty shocked,” Gavalas said after her selection at the AFLW Draft. “I wasn’t expecting it, but I’m so grateful North Melbourne has given me the opportunity.

“The aim was always to ultimately get drafted. I didn’t know whether I’d be able to do it this year or next year, but I’m pretty stoked that it’s happened.

“I had a lot of support from different coaches at the VFLW Bulldogs and was provided with plenty of feedback. I definitely developed, especially in the second half of the year.

“I’m definitely ready (for the AFLW) and excited to get started.”

Indeed, Gavalas’ competitiveness in contests means she could have an instant impact at the elite level.

Bulldogs VFLW senior coach Sean Kavanagh saw that competitiveness in Gavalas from early in the 2019 pre-season, telling vfl.com.au at the time that “her attack on the footy has been a real highlight”.

Learning on the job from clubmates and highly competitive AFLW stars such as Ellie Blackburn, Kirsten McLeod and Bailey Hunt, Gavalas helped the Bulldogs gradually turn around a mid-season form slump to finish the VFLW season with eight wins from their last 10 games.

 

Most recently, her never-say-die attitude stood out in the Bulldogs’ 37-point VFLW Grand Final loss to Collingwood as she recorded team-highs of 19 disposals and 14 contested possessions as well as five tackles and four clearances.

While she acknowledges her disposal efficiency needs “a lot of fine-tuning” in order to better bring her teammates into the game, Gavalas’ hunger to succeed has transferred easily into a new sport and driven her rapid rise to AFLW ranks.

“The AFLW has been such a great thing for women in sport,” she said.

“Whether you’ve been playing (football) since you were young or started your journey recently, it’s exciting for everyone, as you can get there if you put in the hard work.”

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