From a state debut at 14, young ruck now ready to take the leap into AFLW

AFTER four years representing South Australia, Montana McKinnon's time to be drafted has finally come.

McKinnon's very first game of football was for her state in 2016, lining up in the ruck against New South Wales in the under-18 championships in Melbourne at just 14 years of age.

She was a late inclusion to the squad to begin with.

McKinnon had heard about trials for the under-18 side and was keen to give football a try after years of playing defence in netball, including at underage state competitions.

Aware she was unlikely to be selected, she thought she'd attend just for fun before finding a club at which to play.

The selectors liked the promise she showed, so applied for special dispensation for McKinnon to play for South Australia despite her age.

It wasn't forthcoming, so she continued to train alongside the state squad in preparation for the following year. But a handful of injuries the week before the tournament saw McKinnon on the plane to Melbourne.

"I played in the ruck with (former Crow, now Giant) Jess Allan, I was the second ruck to her. I was very nervous, but I got a few touches, had fun, it was a great experience and I definitely learnt from it," McKinnon told womens.afl.

"As soon as I found out I was in the state team, the next week I was out at Morphettville football club. Courtney Cramey was our coach in that first year. Deni Varnhagen, Georgia Bevan, Ebony Marinoff were all out at the training, so I got to know them all really well.

"When you're in the ruck, you're running, attacking and defending, not just one main role. You run the full field so you get a lot more experience and learn a lot quicker, whether it's in the air, the contest or at stoppages."

Montana McKinnon takes part in the sprint test at the AFLW Draft Combine

McKinnon, a member of the NAB AFLW Academy, is now a two-time under-18 All Australian, with her game awareness and ball skills in particular standing out during the last few national carnivals.

She manages to more often than not be in the right space at the right time to take a strong intercept.

"For me, I'd say one of my big strengths is my marking and aerial contests. I'm one who much prefers to take a pack mark, if anything, I just love the contest," she said.

She was somewhat torn watching friends play for Adelaide in the 2019 AFLW Grand Final, which saw just over 53,000 fans pack Adelaide Oval in a groundswell of support.

"I'm a big Carlton supporter, me and dad used to go to the football at least once a year, and we'd fly to Melbourne or Sydney to watch the Blues play. We've been big fans ever since I was little," she said.

"[The Grand Final] was pretty tricky, half the family were Crows and half were Carlton.

"That atmosphere was just unreal. Seeing so many little girls and boys supporting as well, so many families, it was really good. It was such a big support base for the girls."

Back on the field, McKinnon is focused on just one thing.

"Being in the ruck, I'm obviously the starting player on the field, so I'm trying to focus on the tap, making sure I get that so it's a good set up," McKinnon said.

"It's really satisfying when you get the first tap and it's a perfect play right through the midfield and even better when it sets up and leads to a goal.

"A lot of the time in the changeroom before I like to keep my cool, especially this year around all of the younger girls. But as soon as that first ball is bounced, I'm on, I'm ready."

The 2019 NAB AFL Women’s Draft will be live streamed on womens.afl, the AFLW App and the AFLW Facebook account from 10:40am EDT on 22 October.