AFLW Draft Q&A: Jess Vukic

IT was a triple treat for Hawthorn fans last week after the brown and gold officially named a trio of pre-listed Eastern Ranges to join their AFLW list. Ruck/forward Jess Vukic  joined Hayley McLaughlin and Laura Stone at the elite level. We spoke to all three players at the AFLW Draft Combine, and in a special Hawk series we will take a look into their journeys and aspirations. Our final part of the three-part series focuses on an in-depth chat with Vukic.

>> AFLW Draft Q&A: Laura Stone

>> AFLW Draft Q&A: Hayley McLaughlin

Q: Talk us through your footballing journey over the past few years.

“It has been a long journey being in Eastern for three years now. I did interleague then that got cut by Covid and then the next year got into Ranges and it was the best day of my life. I was like ‘oh my God no way’ and then everything’s kind of gone from there, got all new coaches, and then my ruck coach James Kennedy came down and that’s when I fell in love with football.

“It gave me a purpose, something to do in life, something to get better at, just having something there that you can always look forward to every day. Then forming those friendships, those lifelong friendships that you’re always going to have, even when you’re out of the system, you’re always going to look at those people and be like ‘oh my God you’ve actually been there through everything with me’.

“That’s my journey and this year it’s ramped up a lot with being in the National Academy, being in the state team from last year to this year as well. But definitely the coaches that I have had during my whole entire career, I definitely wouldn’t be where I am without them, so it’s just putting everything together over the last few years to getting to where I am today, I couldn’t be anymore thankful for anyone who has been in my life.”

Q: Speaking of the National Academy, how was the build up to that game (against the Under 23 All-Stars) and playing at Marvel, what was that like that experience?

JV: “It was so surreal, I didn’t actually know if I could play the game because I had got a stress reaction in my foot. I had gotten cleared the day before basically. I couldn’t really process everything, but as soon as you ran out onto Marvel, you were just like ‘oh my God what am I doing?’ it’s just so surreal.

“It doesn’t really kick in until after you’ve played and you’re just lying in bed trying to go to sleep, and you’re just like ‘I’ve just played on Marvel for Australia’. You don’t really think of that until after. You just have to just take a deep breath, and take it all in the moment and be like ‘look how far I’ve come from playing junior football with my local team to now playing for Australia, that is huge.”

Q: Playing through Eastern, you’ve always have a stack of talls, you’ve played as a ruck/forward. Do you prefer the ruck, and how do you deal with being told you’re a little undersized compared to AFLW rucks?

JV: “Over the past two years I’ve always just been told I’m too small, I’m not going to be tall enough to go into the ruck at a higher level. I haven’t seen that as a bad thing, I’ve just taken it under the wing and try and be like ‘how can I be better than everyone else in this different aspects of my game, to be able to play in the ruck?’ so I take that and it’s going to make me better, it’s going to push me to be able to jump higher, it’s going to push me to be stronger to beat me in contests.

“Ruck is definitely my position, I love being in the ruck. Just the aggression, the competitiveness of the ruck. It’s just taking that and being like ‘I’m going to use this for good’ and I’m not going to let it bring me down, I’m going to use it to make me bigger, better, stronger, jump higher, just work harder, which if I didn’t have that, I don’t know if I would be as good of a ruck as I was right now and I would definitely be playing more forward. I’ve just used it for the better.”

Q: Your ruck craft is amongst the best going around, do you tell clubs you can play ruck at that level? Do you try and convince them?

JV: “Everyone comes to me and was like ‘you’re too small, play more forward’. They’ve told my coach to play me more forward, maybe play me back, play me different positions. But I definitely throw myself out there as a ruck, definitely I want to be a ruck, but if I get to that level and I find a different position and I’m growing in a different position, then I’m definitely going to take that. If I’m in a club, I’m going to work my way up, but it is what it is, I can’t grow miraculously overnight, so I just have to work with whatever I have.”

Q: What do you look at as some of your strengths?

JV: “My competitiveness. I am very competitive, my aggression. When I’m on the field, I’m just like ‘I have to give my all for the team’. I don’t care how I play, it’s just those little pressure acts, just the team things like the second and third efforts, putting on a block for someone. That’s not going to get you a stat, but it’s going to make the team better. We could kick a goal out of it, if I just put on a little block and they can kick the goal.

“That’s definitely what we have especially with Eastern, the one percenters. Just being a team putting on those pressure acts, so that’s a big part of what I’m thinking about during the game. But definitely my ruck craft is my best attribute as well. I’m learning other positions on the field and to try and take more marks, and getting my aggression and putting it in other places.”

Q: Marking is an area you’re trying to work on, is that a particular focus for you?

JV: “For the past two years I’ve been working on my marking and it has been showing over the past year, but you can’t just stop once you’ve gotten it, you’ve got to keep on working hard if you want to keep being able to do it. Then my ground balls. As a tall, ground balls aren’t everyone’s best, so I’ve just been working on them and then my forward craft as well. Having to put everything in, just working hard at training., If you work hard at training, the games are going to be easy.”

Q: What AFLW club do you support?

JV: “I support Hawthorn.”

Q: That leads perfectly into the next question. They’ve got the link with Eastern, they’ve got the chance to pre-list, is that something that’s been discussed with you, is that something on the table or thinking about or is it more of an open draft?

JV:“Yeah it’s definitely on the table, been training down there so it’s definitely on the table.”

Q: Given you usually play ruck and forward, you were going to play more forward in the last part of the Talent League season. Jacinta Hose doing her knee forced your hand to play ruck, what was that like for that knowing it changed your role for those last few games?

JV: “The start of the season, I was just waiting for Jacinta to come back, she’s my partner-in-crime, we’ve been best friends since we’ve been five years old. We’ve grown up together and we just love being that duo. We were just waiting and then she came back from the Metro game, and then the first Eastern game but I was injured for that first Eastern game so she went out and then did her ACL, and I was just devastated. That’s all we were looking forward to the whole entire year. It’s just hard that we didn’t get to play at Eastern together the last five rounds.

“But I just had to step up and take that and be like ‘I have to go out and play for Jacinta as well, it’s not like I’m going out to play just for me, I have to play for Jacinta’. I get the opportunity to go out on the field, I’m healthy, I’m ready to play and I know that she doesn’t have that, so I wrote a ‘J’ on my wrist, so that whenever I would look down at it, I would be like ‘I’m playing for Jacinta as well’ so my intensity would go all the way up and I would be like I have to put all my effort in. If Jacinta was out there I know she would be doing the same so I have to mentally be like I’m playing with Jacinta as well.”

Q: Going forward from here, what is your focus between now and the draft?

JV: “Getting fit. I have done my shoulder. I’ve partially torn my labrum. It’s all good, no surgery or anything like that, but just getting straight into rehab, getting as fit as possible, my endurance up for preseason next year.”

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