Midfield spot beckons for zippy Eagle after injury-hit pre-season

WEST Coast speedster Niamh Kelly is on track for round one after recovering from a hamstring injury as the Eagles prepare to unveil a bolstered midfield in their AFLW season-opener against Adelaide. 

Kelly, who was an important member of the Eagles' inaugural AFLW team in 2020, missed last week's practice match against Fremantle but will be ready for the start of the season. 

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The 25-year-old could also rotate through a new inside midfield role as the Eagles assemble more support around club champion Dana Hooker and captain Emma Swanson.  

"Last year I played mainly on the wing and then the last game against Gold Coast I played inside," Kelly told womens.afl

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"I'll play wherever I'm needed and is best for the team, but I have been playing in a few different roles in training.

"I feel like it will be an exciting season if I'm switched around between the wing and forward and maybe have a look at the inside mids."

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Hooker (19.7 disposals a game) and Swanson (17.0) were the Eagles' leading ball-winners in 2020, with a significant gap to the next group, finishing top two in the best and fairest. 

The Eagles hope Kelly's speed, agility and courage can add a new dynamic to their midfield in 2021 if she rotates through the centre square, but she won't be alone in bolstering the engine room. 

Club champion Dana Hooker and coach Daniel Pratt at the team's official photo day. Picture: AFL Photos

Fellow Irish recruit Aisling McCarthy has made a big impact in training and practice matches since crossing from the Western Bulldogs, while impressive draftee Bella Lewis looks set to make an early debut. 

"Certainly last year Dana Hooker and Emma Swanson were two key players for us, so it'll be good to have other players around them to support them," Kelly said. 

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"Aisling McCarthy has been playing as an inside midfielder and the likes of Hayley Bullas, Mikayla Bowen and Bella Lewis too. 

"There is a lot of competition for places, which is great to see, and they're linking with the forwards really well."

The Eagles launched their AFLW season on Thursday night at Mineral Resources Park and Kelly said there was a good vibe around the group after a disappointing 2020. 

The club's new players were presented with their jumpers by members of the Eagles' AFL team and past premiership players, while first-year coach Daniel Pratt spoke about the steps made this summer.

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"Our focus last year was building a foundation for the next few years and the focus was on building culture and it was really exciting to be a part of an inaugural team," Kelly said. 

"But this year we want to be more and it's been really exciting. The vibe is very good around the group."