BEL ON THE BALL: Isabel Huntington is pick No.1 in AFLW draft
The Western Bulldogs selected Isabel Huntington as their number one pick in the 2017 AFLW draft on Wednesday.
She then graduated from high school on Thursday.
Despite tearing her anterior cruciate ligament in 2016, and spending the past year out of the game, Huntington's raw talent and versatility saw her selected above others who may have had a more impressive year.
Key forward Chloe Molloy and speedy midfielder Monique Conti were also in the mix to be selected with the number one pick, but were drafted with picks three and four respectively.
Dubbed the “complete package” by AFL Victoria female football manager Darren Flanigan, Huntington’s talent and leadership capabilities separated her from her peers.
In addition to her footballing abilities, she was School Captain of St Michael’s Grammar School, and aims to study medicine at university next year.
Despite being classified as a tall forward, Huntington has the raw athleticism and years of football experience that enable her to play all over the ground.
“I’ve played since I was 5, and that’s a bit of a rarity because I was the only girl on the team,” she said.
“I sort of had to work my way up the boys’ ranks, which was great because it provided great competition, but it didn’t support me entirely.”
Without a structured footballing pathway for girls between Auskick and the AFLW, many girls have abandoned football and pursued other sports with a properly established women’s league.
Many of Huntington’s fellow draftees have recently swapped back to football following the success of the first AFLW season.
Monique Conti, who was drafted to the Western Bulldogs, has already represented Australia in basketball after changing from football at a young age.
Huntington acknowledges that she was “lucky to keep playing” football.
“I had to push through a few barriers,” she said.
“[Being told] you can’t be in a [football] team because you’re a girl. That was really deflating for me.”
Participation in women’s football rose by 19 per cent between 2015 and 2016, and this increase is partially attributed to the success of the first AFLW season.
More women have begun to play in the Victorian Amateur Football Association (VAFA) women’s league, and the Victorian Football League Women’s (VFLW) announced their expansion last week.
“Now the girls that are coming through who will be playing Auskick will now go through the junior girls’ footy pathway,” Huntington said.
“It will be amazing for them.”
Carlton Football Club’s Head of Football, Andrew McKay, says that proper junior pathways for girls will strengthen the AFLW.
“I think it will be a few years until we see a jump in their skill and talent level, probably until we get the girls that have played footy all the way through their junior sport days,” he said.
“They will be better because they would have played footy during crucial stages of their footy development.”
Huntington agreed that the future for the AFLW is bright.
"Every girl that’s going to come and play footy in the future now has a pathway," she said.
"It's so exciting!"