Talent League Player Focus: Kayley Kavanagh (Calder Cannons)

RETURNING to the Coates Talent League Girls competition off the back of a MVP-winning performance for Vic Metro at the AFL Women’s Under 18 Championships, Kayley Kavanagh had a day out against the Geelong Falcons. The top-aged Calder Cannons midfielder brought her own ball to the match, racking up a season-high 35 touches in a critical best on ground performance in Calder’s 39-point win.

Kavanagh’s performance was put under the microscope in our Talent League Girls Player Focus for Round 16.

2023 Coates Talent League Girls: Round 16
Calder Cannons 10.3 (63) def. Geelong Falcons 3.6 (24)

STATS: 35 disposals (14 kicks, 21 handballs), 6 marks, 3 tackles, 3 inside 50s, 2 rebound 50s


Kavanagh started in the midfield opposed to Sara Howley, but both as sweepers. She won her first possession immediately off the opening centre bounce, but was wrapped up by Howley. The fourth minute saw the Cannons talent win an official disposal she tried to pick it up, was immediately tackled, but also pushed in the back. Her subsequent kick inside 50 to Shauna McElligott finished with a direct goal assist.

Kavanagh’s work rate across the ground was on display, winning a touch in the defensive 50 by firing off a quick handball to a teammate running by. She also got a handball away up the other end of the field a minute later, standing up in a tackle but still able to dish off to Sarah Grunden.

After a rest, Kavanagh came back on an had a huge last seven minutes, going head-to-head with Stella Huxtable at the centre bounce, and showed too much experienced for her 2007-born opponent, reading the tap sublimely. Unfortunately she could not take it cleanly, but kept cracking in.

In the 17th minute mark, Kavanagh took a good mark on the lead in the front half of the ground and delivered a slick pass to her skipper, Amy Trindade. A minute later she was back in the middle, taking a super clean pickup, spinning out of traffic and dishing off to Ellie Sbeghen.

The midfielder would finish off with another couple of touches to end the quarter with another spin then kick to half-forward, as well as a handball from a stoppage but the latter was intercepted.


Kavanagh started the second term as the defensive sweeper again, and at the first stoppage won the hard ball, got tackled but stood up in the tackle and fired off a handball. She got into space to win it back if required but was not used. At the one-minute mark, the Cannons midfielder held her ground well at half-back taking a contested mark against an opponent, then produced a long kick to a two-on-one. Unfortunately the Falcons opponent marked it, but the kick to the favourable outnumber was a good decision.

Working into defence, Kavanagh dished off a lovely weighted handball in the back 50, then shortly after was at the coalface again. She lost her feet, slipping over but still got a handball clear to Jade McLay. She next got involved in the eighth minute when she won it, and used a nice sidestep to buy herself time before handballing away.

Kavanagh scooped up a loose ball at speed in the 13th minute as she ran through traffic. She was tackled but again still got an effective handball away as she was brought down. A couple of minutes later, Kavanagh was in defence, and though a little fumbly, did eventually get the handball away to Chloe Baker-West.

It was rinse and repeat in the 15th minute, when Kavanagh almost slipped going in hard and low at a contest, but her efforts won her the ball, and she was able to wear contact while effectively giving off a clean handball.

In the final few minutes, Kavanagh showed her work rate once again. She pushed forward, then when there was a turnover, got to the back 50. She won the ball close to the boundary line putting her body on the line. A smother in the final moments to save a kick going to a dangerous area summed up her team-oriented nature.


The third term was the quietest of the four for Kavanagh, who still started on-ball to begin proceedings She worked hard around the stoppages early, then rested through the middle of the term. At the 12-minute mark, Kavanagh put pressure on an opponent in the forward half, then marked it on the chest shortly after and put it to a one-on-one contest inside 50, but the kick was unluckily turned over.

Moving back into the on-ball group as a defensive sweeper after a goal in the 15th minute, Kavanagh won it at the coalface, sidestepped an opponent and threw it on the boot to go to half-forward. That kick was turned over, but the Cannons ball-winner was quick on transition to help in defence.

Kavanagh laid a strong tackle on the win in the 19th minute, and in her last touch of the term, showed great composure in the middle getting a clean handball away to Baker-West through traffic.


Kavanagh finished the match off strong with a big final term, winning the ball first on a wing after starting on the middle. In the second minute she dished off an effective handball, before going forward and taking a mark in the seventh minute. She put it to a good spot inside 50, but the Falcons defence spoiled the marking contest and took it away. Kavanagh won it back though, taking a sliding mark on the wing and kicking into the middle.

In the ninth minute of the term, Kavanagh marked at half-back and kicked down the wing to hit a target, also sidestepping an opponent and shrugging off the would-be tackler on the way A few minutes later, she came out to meet the ball from the attacking 50, and it volleyed off her legs.

Kavanagh laid a terrific tackle on Howley in the middle that went unrewarded, then at the next ball-up, received a handball, slightly fumbled but still got it away by hand. Continuing to remain focused on defence, Kavanagh applied a good block in the middle a few minutes later to allow her teammate to run on and have more time and space.

With the game winding down, Kavanagh won a nice clearance on the move, and then went forward to receive a handball and kick deep into the pocket. Then she finished off the quarter by getting back on the goal line for a Falcons kick after the siren. The ball cleared the line and did miss, but Kavanagh made sure she got a hand to it. The action also showed she was switched on until the end of each quarter.


Kavanagh has hardly put a foot wrong this year. Developing her game from a pure inside midfielder to impacting more on the outside as time went on, she showed her wares at the AFLW Under 18 Championships where she was rewarded with Vic Metro’s MVP and a spot in the All-Australian team.

Kavanagh’s defensive game is elite, with her tackling pressure, one percenters and work rate to cover the ground all among the non-negotiables in her arsenal. The area where she has been developing this year is her impact outside the contest, and having more potency with her disposals.

Her hands at the stoppage are where she took her game to another level in this game, and while her kicking is pretty solid, she is strong and generally able to find a target under pressure at the coalface when dishing off by hand.

In the win over Geelong, she provided a number of scoring assists, and was even able to mark the ball in space both at half-forward and half-back. While she still has areas to work on in her game, Kavanagh is among the most consistent players in the draft crop, having not dipped below 20 touches in any of her Coates Talent League Girls games.

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