TAC Cup Girls preview: Oakleigh Chargers

THE Oakleigh Chargers will aim to be a more settled side in 2018 after tasting TAC Cup Girls football in 2017. While they finished the five-game season without a win, there were a number of players who stood out with impressive performances, of which a number of them have gone on to sign with VFL Women’s clubs ahead of the 2018 season, including three players to Collingwood.

Perhaps the biggest signing was former Charger Chelsea Mitchell to Hawthorn’s VFLW side, joining her brother and AFL disposal-leading Hawk, Tom at the affiliated club. Mitchell played through the midfield for the Chargers last season, and has an elite endurance base – similar to her brother – registering 11.05 on the last beep test conducted for the TAC Cup Girls in the 2017 pre-season – fourth overall in the competition.

The Chargers copped a heavy loss against the premiers Calder Cannons, but showed amazing resilience to almost knock off the undefeated Murray Bushrangers in the final round of the season – just a week later – falling four points short of victory. They were unlucky not to defeat Sandringham Dragons, having led for patches in the low-scoring contest at Frankston, while kicking their highest score of the season against Dandenong Stingrays in round one.

Among the top prospects for the 2018 season is rock-solid defender Hannah McLaren, who was best-on-ground against the Eastern Ranges, and was rarely beaten one-on-one throughout the 2017 season. Towards the end of the year, McLaren – who is the daughter of former AFL umpire Scott – showed her versatility by moving up the ground and impressing through the midfield and forward 50. Her performances throughout the year earned her the Oakleigh best and fairest award.

McLaren will be the reliable leader who second-year coach Luke O’Shannessy looks to as Oakleigh aims to tackle the season with a strong understanding of how competitive the TAC Cup Girls competition is, especially fast forwarding 12 months.

A familiar name for cricketing fans might be Isabella Gietzmann, who is one of the many dual-sport athletes running around the TAC Cup competition. Gietzmann plays high-level cricket but has also been a regular performer on the football field, booting 11 goals in the 2015 Vic Metro Championships for Youth Girls Under 16s. In that competition she represented Yarra Junior Football League, booting nine goals in back-to-back games against the Northern Football League and South Metro Junior Football League.

A top-ager that has always been close to the top in football circles is Bridie Winbanks, who was initially selected in the Sandringham Dragons Youth Girls squad in 2016 – the competition pre-dating the TAC Cup Girls. Once the latter started up, Winbanks was picked up by Oakleigh and was solid in her bottom-age year, and her high work ethic was obvious for those who watched the Chargers in 2017.

They start their campaign off against Gippsland Power on March 3 at Moe, as a curtain-raiser to the Collingwood-Western Bulldogs AFLW clash. Following on from that, the Chargers face neighbours Sandringham Dragons – a side they got to get a glimpse of in a practice match recently, before meeting Eastern Ranges a week later.

Like every TAC Cup club, Oakleigh will focus its efforts on development, and after a shorter inaugural season in 2017, are ready to hit the ground running in 2018. With the likes of McLaren, Gietzmann and Winbanks covering each area on the ground, the Chargers will have more depth than last season and will look to improve throughout the season as more players begin to stand out.

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