Speakman hoping to be heard after promising season
IT is often tough playing junior footy in the country. From the expansive travel, to making up numbers week to week, and facing extremely stiff opposition, coming away atop the tree is no mean feat. Just ask Jamie-Lee Speakman. Although, sh I’s one who likely fit the bill of being tough opposition for most.
“I started in Under 12s with the boys as a nine-year-old back in Ballan,” Speakman recounted. “Once I turned 12 I moved to the Bacchus Marsh girl’s team, it was Under 13s but I got told I was too big and too rough, so I had to move to the Under 18s side. “I had a good run in there, won three (best and fairests) in a row.”
Having stormed through her early junior career, Speakman earned an opportunity with the Greater Western Victoria Rebels (GWV) NAB League Girls program. That was where the whirlwind came to a halt, as the pandemic took hold in 2020, and she suffered an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tear which wiped out her 2021 campaign.
While part of the region for three years, Speakman finally got her chance to don the Rebels jersey as a top-ager and made the most of it. With inspiration from former teammates reaching the bigtime before her, the 17-year-old made a concerted effort to get in tip-top shape and have a real crack at the AFLW Draft this year.
“Going back to last year where all of my friends that got drafted, it was so good to see them get where they wanted to be and that’s where I want to get,” she said. “So I just pushed myself for this year and came out hard in the first few rounds so I could get my name out there. I think I’ve had a good year so hopefully it’s getting around to people.
“I’m looking forward to hopefully getting drafted, playing on the big stage with all my idols and finally getting to where I’ve always wanted to go. I think that would bring a tear to my eye if I got there.”
Her performances certainly got around to the right people. Speakman went on to represent Vic Country at this year’s Under 18 National Championships, and was part of the Under 23 All-Stars squad which took on the AFLW Academy earlier in May.
Initially cutting her teeth as a defender, the 162cm talent defied her size to become an aerially prolific player, averaging 15 disposals and five marks across six games for GWV. It comes as little surprise, then, to hear just who Speakman moulds her game on.
“I’m a Collingwood supporter so I look up to Darcy Moore and Jeremy Howe in the backline and I try to play how they play, I’ve pretty much based my game on them,” she said.
“It’s funny because I’ve never been a defender. “I started off my career as a centre. “I got chucked in the backline this year for the Rebels but it’s done me good, I’ve shown off what I can do. “Obviously I’m not a midfielder as the level goes up so I’ve noticed that and I’m pretty happy with being in the defence.
“I’m very good in the air, I’ve got good hands – I don’t know who from. “My defence in tackling and being hard at the ball (are strengths), I’ve got a good pick-up on the ground ball. But I’m predominantly in the air.”
While incredibly strong on the last line, Speakman has also swung forward throughout the year in hopes of translating that marking prowess in attack. With representative honours come opportunities to wax with some of the country’s top young talent, and Speakman has played both with and against the best.
“The best player I played with was probably Molly Walton, who also plays at the Rebels and Vic Country,” Speakman said. “She’s always got your back, she’s always doing the one-percenters and he might not get the disposals but she gets rewarded for her hard running and her defence.
“The hardest player I came up against was probably Zoe Barbakos, I played against her in the first Vic Country game and she actually got signed to the Hawks a week later. “She was very tough, a very good forward.”
Now, Speakman can look forward to this month’s national combine ahead of hopefully hearing her name called out on AFLW Draft day. In the midst of expansion, opportunity is as prevalent as ever for prospects like Speakman all around Australia.