Grunden grabs opportunities with both hands

AFLW Draft hopeful Sarah Grunden has left no stone unturned in 2023 after rising from virtual unknown to a Top 30 talent off the back of a promising start to the season for the Calder Cannons forward. The skilful top-ager caught the eye on debut for the Cannons, then kicked three goals in her second game to really rocket up draft boards.

Though hitting a mid-season slump before finding some more form and earning a spot with Vic Metro, Grunden showed her draftable traits at Talent League level, and held her own against the best in teh country.

“I definitely think my kicking and vision is one of my main strengths in games,” Grunden said. “I think just getting it down the field and into our 50 is one of my strengths. Mostly my goalkicking (is an improvement), just need to focus on the last few steps and just make it through the goals.”

Grunden has a unique journey of sorts, making it onto the Western Jets list in 2021 as and Under 16s player, completing the preseason, but could not crack into the side. Heading back to Keilor where she plied her trade, Grunden worked hard to earn a spot on the Cannons list.

“My football journey started when I was about seven years-old at Auskick down at Keilor Football Club,” Grunden said. “Played there for about 10 years and then got invited to the Cannons this year and I played this season here and it’s been really good so far.

“Definitely my fitness over a few years has increased a lot and just my game sense. This game is much faster pace to local, I think just my game sense in general has gotten better over time.”

Though her best work has been done as a forward, Grunden did experience midfield life in stints, and it was where she played at local level.

“At local I was more in the mid, but I think moving to the Cannons, being on a half-forward has really helped me being able to make an impact on the scoreboard as well as up the field,” Grunden said.

In a short space of time, Grunden went from Cannons talent to a sought after forward, earning a spot in the Under 23 All-Stars side which played the AFLW Academy at Marvel Stadium.

“That was the best opportunity of my life that I’ve gotten to play at Marvel,” Grunden said. “I just think it’s a great opportunity to be named in one of the teams for most of Australia and then versing one of the top sides for Australia is really great.”

From there, Grunden slotted into Vic Metro and played all three games across the national carnival, averaging 7.7 disposals, 2.3 marks and 3.3 tackles. Though she only kicked the one goal, Grunden still showed enough to suggest she could rise to that next level.

“Obviously the pace of the game was a lot faster,” Grunden said. “But with the skill at that level, you really adjust to it and all the coaches there help you adjust to the change of pace in the game which helped in the game for me.

“I think the education that we got from Vic Metro and the gamestyle and everything you’re taught there you bring it back into the game. Not necessarily teaching everyone but you can just show it on the field and show your skills.”

Grunden credited the Cannons’ coaching staff with her rise in development, with head coach Ross Smith in particular a great help for her personally.

“He’s (Smith) just always been there for everyone, but especially in trainings,” Grunden said. “He’ll tell me something to improve on and I’ll stay 10 minutes behind training just to work on it.

“There’s a different pace to the game (with Cannons) but all the coaches, if you need extra help with something you can always pull them aside. I think with things I struggled with they’d always just help me out and help with my game.”

With the Coates Talent League Girls season done and dusted, Grunden now turns her attention to the AFLW Draft Combine, after she was one of 40 Victorians to earn an invite to test on Sunday, October 8.

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