U18 Girls season preview: Murray Bushrangers

A new season, new coach and new mindset is driving the Murray Bushrangers Girls’ into 2019 as they look to repeat their previous two seasons starts, while finishing the nine-game competition strongly. Helping lead the charge is new coach, Tim Madden – who has taken over from inaugural coach Sam Ahmet – and high performance manager, Aidan Edwards. Bushrangers’ Female Talent Manager, Briana Cossar said the training regime, intensity and extra input from the girls was clear on the track.

“We’ve got a new coach, he’s been super,” she said. “We’ve also got a futures coach and a couple of different assistant coaches as well so they fitted right in, and we’ve also got a specific high-performance guy for the girls so between Tim (Madden) and Aidan (Edwards), they do an amazing job.

“I think that by implementing the different phases at training and in workload, I think that that’s shown out on the track from the start of November and again in January when we came back, there’s been a marked improvement and we’ve also introduced some skill-based programs as well, so the skill has definitely improved to much better than what it was at this time last year.”

In the inaugural season of the TAC Cup Girls, Murray won all five of its games, but finished second overall given Calder’s percentage was higher, therefore handing the Cannons a maiden premiership. Twelve months later, the Bushrangers started the season with three wins and a draw in the first four games, but slipped in the back-end of the year as the top few sides stood out and Murray finished seventh.

AFL Women’s Academy member, Rebecca Webster was the standout for recruiters landing at Geelong in October’s draft, and has played all three games for the Cats in the AFL Women’s competition this year. Cossar said Webster showed she belonged after just one game, standing out in Geelong’s win over Collingwood under lights at GMHBA Stadium.

“Having ‘Becky’ get drafted was a dream of hers come true,” she said. “It’s obviously a testament to the elite program that we do via the players and the talent pathway. So we’re all really excited for Becky and she played quite well on the weekend, to get a game under her belt I think the future is really bright going forward for Becky.”

Like any side in the Under 18 competition, Cossar said the club would have loved more draftees but having seen the amount of mature-age talent coming through the draft, knows the draft dream is not lost for the top-age players who missed out last year, with a number of Bushrangers continuing their football pathway in the VFL Women’s competition with Richmond.

“We had a handful of girls who we though were draftable but unfortunately they didn’t get drafted,” she said. “But I think the good thing with the VFLW is that we’re aligned with Richmond, so I think giving those girls an opportunity to play VFLW, and also the National Championships like Eloise Ashley-Cooper, puts them in good stead because Richmond go into the AFLW next year. “This year they’re list building so I know the likes of Tamara Smith and Grace Egan are down at Richmond training and they’ll play there again this season so hopefully they manage to get on that list and going forward, play AFLW.”

Looking ahead to 2019, a fellow Bushranger could join Webster at the Cattery at year’s end, with Mille Brown – daughter of Geelong’s Paul Brown – eligible under the father-daughter rule. While Paul played 84 games – not enough to qualify under the father-son rule – the minimum amount for the father-daughter rule is just one game. Along with bottom-ager, Olivia Barber, the pair is a part of the AFL Women’s Academy this year. Brown is a versatile utility who would be stationed off half-back or on a wing, while Barber rotated between ruck and forward last season.

“We’ve got Millie Brown as a top-ager, part of the Academy – so this is her second year in the Academy,” Cossar said. “We’ve also got Olivia Barber, this is her first year in the Academy. Her background is basketball, she’s a really talented basketballer… We’re fortunate to have her as part of our program as well and hopefully we’ll see a few more games from Olivia this season which would be great.”

Cossar said the amount of bottom-agers from 2018 that returned for the 2019 pre-season was really promising and testament to the club’s program. It did however leave the coaches and list managers with some tough decisions. The Bushrangers’ Female Talent Manager is not only excited about the year ahead, but the next few years, with glimses of future talent on display at training.

“Most of them (bottom-agers from 2018) did come back, we had 150 girls nominate for our trial day back in September (2018) and then obviously we had to cut that, so we cut that back to 75, we took 75 into pre-season and just recently cut again to take a squad of 52 for the season,” she said. “It’s really exciting and it was a difficult selection process because there were so many talented youngsters out there so we’ve gone for a few more futures, a few more Under 16s, we’ve got some absolute ripping 2004-born girls and honestly, they could play Under 18s this year if the age limit allowed – we would have them in our Round 1 side. “So, exciting times going forward and we just can’t wait for Round 1 – Northern Knights at RAMS Arena on the 2nd of March – that’ll be a really tough game, we may think that they’re the team to beat throughout the season.”

As for those tearing up the track, Cossar named talented forward, Kate Adams, vice-captain Sophie Locke – who played four games in 2018 – and phenomenal athlete, Abby Favell (one game in 2018) as players who have impressed thus far.

“Kate Adams smashed 1:27 off her 500s which was really impressive,” Cossar said. “Sophie Locke has been really impressive on the track – Kate’s a 17 year-old, Sophie’s top-age this year. “Abby Favell, who’s a 17 year-old – she’s from Griffith, so she makes a three-and-quarter-hour trek one-way to training on Wednesdays and Sundays and she’s an absolute jet. “She’s quick, she’s got endurance, she ticks all the boxes. “She can kick on either side of her body, her awareness and decision making is really good – I could mention 10 other players to be honest and I could mention 10 futures.”

Murray Bushrangers kick off their campaign on March 2 at RAMS Arena against grand finalists, Northern Knights and in the nine game season, face off against every side except Eastern Ranges and Greater Western Victoria (GWV) Rebels.

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