AFL Women’s best and fairest winner Maddy Prespakis is a shining example to a cavalcade of juniors players — both girls and boys — on how you can reach the pinnacle in your chosen sport.
A high level of natural ability is a good start, but dedication, application and opportunity all play a part.
It’s not hard to think back across generations in the Macedon Ranges and surrounds on who many thought might make it to or near the top.
Two who did from this area instantly come to mind: Romsey cricketer Peter McIntyre went on to play Test cricket as a leg-spinner for Australia; Chloe Stewart began rolling bowls around the Kyneton green at the age of nine, and reached the number one ranking in Australia in her early twenties, representing her country on numerous occasions, and claiming various titles — including the Australian and United States singles.
Maddy Prespakis made a rapid rise through the ranks, being introduced to football at Romsey Auskick at the age of four. She became “hooked” on footy, and two years later was in the Redbacks’ under-eight side.
Strong and determined, she was more than a match for most of the boys and only age rules on girls playing junior footy prevented her continuing with Romsey after she turned 14.
Prespakis attended Gisborne Secondary College and made a big impact with the Sunbury U15s girls’ football side. Then on to Calder Cannons, where she was captain and best and fairest. In 2017, she won the best and fairest with AFLW team of the year St Kilda Sharks.
The talent scouts had their eyes on Prespakis as the AFLW grew in statue, and Carlton was the beneficiary; she did not want to go to a club further afield despite several being interested.
In 2019, Prespakis showed her versatility and class with the Blues, taking advantage of coaching input and the opportunity to play against top level players from Melbourne and interstate.
She won the Blues’ best and fairest, and other awards, and not surprisingly made the All-Australian team.
There was more pressure on the dynamic midfielder/onballer this season, as other coaches tried to work out how to minimise her ball-getting ability and precise delivery by hand and foot.
Prespakis adapted and reaped the rewards, culminating in her five best afields in seven matches.
Kieren Bowers (Freemantle) was runner-up on 12, North Melbourne star Emma Kearney finished on 11, and Anne Hatchard (Adelaide) and the versatile Jenna Bruton (North Melbourne) were equal fourth on 10.
“It’s definitely been a year that I won’t forget. It’s been a great two years and I can’t wait to see what’s ahead,” Prespakis said after regaining her composure when it was clear she had the medal sewn up.
Her 17-year-old sister Georgia, also making her way in the AFLW, handed over the medal in a memorable occasion.
When Prespakis visited Romsey juniors’ training almost 12 months, it was a warm “welcome home” in lots of ways.
“There’s a clear pathway to the top for girls as well as boys,” she told the young Redbacks.
AFL head of women’s football, Nicole Livingstone (former Olympic swimming champion) congratulated Prespakis on her medal success.
“For Maddy to be a dual club best and fairest winner, a dual Toyota AFL Women’s all-Australian and the 2019 AFL Rising Star winner at just 19 years of age is a remarkable achievement.
“It is a real credit to the work Maddy puts in developing herself as a footballer and as a leader — she will be a fantastic player for a long time to come,” Livingstone said.
The Riddell District League has warmly acknowledged Prespakis’ remarkable achievement.
Playing with and against boys with the Trentham Saints juniors steeled Jenna Bruton for high honours, but she may not have realised lay ahead at that time.
Bruton eventually went to work on her parents’ potato farm at Trentham, and has been given the nickname ‘Spud’, a name synonymous with the late St Kilda champion Danny Frawley.
In 2013 Bruton played in the first AFL women’s exhibition match and represented Victoria as a junior.
In an inspired move she was drafted by Footscray, and Bruton became a premiership player in her first season in the AFLW, something she will never forget.
Last season she was recruited by North Melbourne, and her good form continued, winning the club’s best and fairest and being in the All-Australian squad.
With a contract at North Melbourne until the end of 2021, Bruton was again prominent in the 2200 season, and appeared unlucky to not gain All-Australian selection. Her form was vindicated by finishing five votes behind Prespakis.