NEW COLOURS: Former Imperials netballer Hannah Priest has had a meteoric rise on the football field, leading to her selection by St Kilda in the recent AFLW Draft. She is pictured fourth from the left, alongside fellow Saints draftees Tamara Luke, Nicola Xenos, Georgia Patrikios and Rosie Dillon.

By MITCH RODD

HANNAH Priest’s rise to the AFLW has been so rapid that some of her family and friends hadn’t even realised she was playing footy.

The 27-year-old, originally from Mildura, picked up a football for the first time in 2018, following a lifetime of playing netball at a quality level as a junior for both Werrimull and Imperials, and even at Netball SA Premier League level with Oakdale.

After just one season with Morphetville Park in the South Australian Women’s Football League (SAWFL), Hannah joined Norwood for the 2019 season and her impressive form for the ‘Lady Redlegs’ saw her drafted by St Kilda at Pick 41 in the recent AFLW draft.

The midfielder is excited to be an inaugural member of the St Kilda AFLW squad under coach Peta Searle, with the Saints being one of four new teams to join the competition in 2020.

“Having seen how the AFLW has taken off in the past few years, it’s really exciting to be part of the inaugural Saints list,” she said.

“It’s a great club with such a proud history and if we can make a good mark on the competition, it could be another chapter.

“I’ve been contacted by a lot of the players and staff and they’ve all been wonderful and welcoming. The new facilities at Moorabbin are fantastic, there are new AFLW rooms that have been built, and it’s really inclusive.

“It has started to sink in, now I’m starting to get organised to move to Melbourne.

“I’ll take six months unpaid leave from my teaching job here and hopefully get some shifts as a relief teacher along with footy.

“I mostly played on-ball as an outside mid and on the wing at Norwood, and had some time at half-back as well where I could read the play and intercept. I think St Kilda are more-so looking at playing me as an inside midfielder at this stage.”

During 2019, Hannah played 12 SAWFL games, averaging 13.5 disposals per game at a highly efficient 75 percent.

As the season went on, Hannah admitted she had no initial thoughts of trying to make it into the AFLW.

“I was just enjoying playing footy,” she said.

“It (getting drafted) was really exciting. Mum flew down from Mildura to be with me. It was a nervous wait but as soon as my name was called, the excitement kicked in.

“My family and friends back in Mildura were stoked for me, a lot of them didn’t even realise I was playing footy! They remembered me as a netballer.

“My family are also excited not just for the AFLW, but that I’m entering a new stage in my life, moving to a new city and trying my hand at something different.”

With elite junior girls programs still in their infancy, many players in the AFLW system are converts from other sports, with some skills able to be transferred from one to another.

“A lot of the AFLW teams are looking at girls from other sports to come across,” Hannah said.

“Netball has a lot of transferable skills to footy, but so does basketball, athletics, even cycling. Things like co-ordination, spacing, using teamwork and understanding the game have all helped.

“My family are all part of the mighty Green and White of Imperials, and I grew up playing netball at the club.

“I went to university to study teaching and joined a team there, and played State Premier League with Oakdale. It’s a very different style of netball at that level compared to the country.

“Obviously I’m very new to football, but both sports at that level are elite in their expectations of players, not just in game but to also be role models in the community.”