U18 Girls season preview: Geelong Falcons

WITH as many premierships as losses over the past two seasons, Geelong Falcons have certainly set the benchmark in the Under 18 Girls competition. In 2019, the Falcons are the reigning premiers, having gone undefeated in 2018, and having a narrow two-point loss in 2017 as the only blemish on an otherwise perfect start to the underage female talent competition. Geelong Falcons Female Talent Manager, Katie Geerings said it was hard to fault what was ultimately a “perfect season”.

“It was pretty much the perfect season to be honest,” she said. “Going through undefeated and winning the grand final is one part of it, but the other side was the way the girls trained, the way they were as a group and the way they bonded and just all the effort they put in – that was really nice. “So yeah, it wasn’t just the success on the field, it was all the other aspects of it that made it a really good season.

The success of the Falcons girls in season 2018 had extra motivation with one of their closest friends and teammates Amy Gorell tragically killed in a car accident over the off-season the previous year. Geerings said the club addressed the playing group at the start of the season, but held off until half-time in the grand final to bring up their teammate.

“We actually spoke about it early on in the season and how we were going to approach that,” she said. “We spoke about the fact that we wanted just to let the girls deal with it in their own way, so at the very beginning we spoke about remembering her in their own way and they asked about wearing her number – so most of the girls every week had the number 30 on their hand which was really nice. “I mean, it honestly wasn’t really until the grand final at half-time where it actually got brought up – which we had pre-spoken about, that that would be the time we brought it up and used it as a motivation. “We said ‘all season you’ve been playing with Amy’s number on your hand, so if you need a little bit of extra bit of motivation just look down at your hand,’ but that was all that was said and we had pre-organised it. “It was always there at the back of the girls’ minds but that was the one time we used it as motivation.”

While the Falcons enjoyed premiership success, they also had three players drafted, with Nina Morrison, Olivia Purcell and Denby Taylor drafted to Geelong’s AFL Women’s side – Morrison with the first pick. While the talented speedster has devastatingly injured her knee and will miss the rest of the season, what she showed in the opening game was promising.

“I think they all played really great games for their first AFLW game,” Geerings said. “Nina (Morrison) obviously had a really outstanding game and so we’re pretty devastated for her around doing her knee but I think she showed in her first game that she’s more than capable of being there and I think throughout the game all three of the girls showed that they’re more than capable of being there – they played really great and were some of the better players out there, so it’s pretty exciting and I think it’s something to show for the what’s going to come through into the future and the game’s only going to get more skilful and a bit faster. ”

Seeing their teammates run out on television gives the now top-agers extra incentive to believe they too can achieve their dream of playing at the elite level in AFL Women’s.

“I think (seeing draftees play AFLW) is definitely inspiration, to see that pathway’s actually there and they can get there but I think it’s also given them a reality check of how hard you need to work to get there because we often talk about the extra work that those girls did, not just at training, but away from training to get to the point that they got to,” Geerings said. “So I think that’s the reality check for the girls to say ‘well if I want to get there I actually need to put in a lot of effort and have a really good mindset.’ “I think that’s the best part, it shows them what’s actually required to get there, they’ve seen it first hand and we obviously keep talking to them about it. “Now they’ve seen them out there playing so it’s inspiration, it’s motivation, and it’s a reality check for them.”

While the Falcons are reigning premiers, they said goodbye to a majority of their 2018 premiership team over the off-season and look a very different outfit heading into 2019. Geerings said the pre-season had been “really good” with plenty of fresh faces learning the game and developing along the way.

“We’ve got 50 girls in our squad but they’re looking really good – I think because we lost a lot of our top-agers last year with some of the girls getting drafted, we’ve got a lot of younger girls coming in this year and girls that have only been playing for one or two years and never been at Falcons before so it’s been different at the start, just having all those new girls that haven’t been around footy and just learning what they need to do to be at this level,” she said. “But they’re coming along really well. “I think we’ve just got a lot more (players new to football) now. “It’s just about helping them fit in, I think we have a pretty good culture so they just needed to work out how to fit into that and what’s expected of them. “Every time I watch them I’m like ‘oh, they’re looking pretty good’ so it’s a different squad from last year, different levels, but it’s good that it’s different anyway because you can’t just be the same all the time.”

Captain Lucy McEvoy enters the season as her third year in charge, with the now top-ager able to play anywhere on the field. She starred in defence for the Falcons last year, but then played exclusively forward at the AFL Women’s Under 18 Championships for Vic Country. Geerings said she will likely mix between the two, but do not be surprised to see the fearless leader thrown into the middle as well.

“I guess (playing defence and forward) is an advantage, she can actually play anywhere across the ground,” she said. “It’s also been thrown around a bit that she could be playing in the midfield a bit as well, so I think it will just be – Lucy will play where she needs to play on the day depending on who we’re playing and how the game’s going. “I don’t think there’ll necessarily be a set role for her, she will step up and play where she needs to depending on how the day’s going.”

A defender who could stand up and take that number one defensive role was a player who improved across the 2018 season and now stands as one of Geelong’s most important players this year in Abbey Chapman.

“She’s someone that’s had a really good pre-season, she’s worked really hard to get fit and worked on her running so she’s obviously a key part of our defence and has played that role really well in the past few years so it’ll be exciting to see her out there again,” Geerings said.

Up the other end, key forward Renee Tierney is another who is likely to cause headaches for opposition coaches.

“Renee played up forward for us last year and she’ll be up forward again,” Geerings said. “We’ve worked hard to get the girls fit or fitter over summer and pre-season so Renee’s definitely looking pretty fit. “She’ll be like a key forward for us; she’s a good strong mark and a good kick so I think that’s probably as a team where we’ve lacked in the past – up forward – we were talking about it the other week, all of a sudden we’ve got all these forward players coming through.”

If the bottom-age talent already on show was not enough, the Falcons’ stunning performance at the V/Line Cup was enough to show they have no shortage of future players set to run out in Futures games going forward, and in the coming years.

“We’ve got six Under 15’s within the group, so they’re obviously our development players and aren’t eligible to play in Under 18’s games, they’ll just play in the Under 15’s but all six of them are pretty great – not just talent wise, but the effort they put in and they’re really motivated,” Geerings said. “If they keep working like that, the standard is just going to keep on improving so between Mia (Van Dyke) and a few of the other girls, they’re looking amazing and honestly, if you could play them in the Under 18’s they’d fit in pretty well because they played amazingly at V-Line Cup. “That team, it was exciting to see them at V-Line Cup and know what’s coming through.”

Two exciting cross-coders Geerings is looking forward to unveiling this season are former basketballer, Zoe Garth and netballer, Alannah Sanderson.

“Zoe Garth’s been playing representative basketball so she’s crossed over to play footy,” Geerings said. “I just went and watched the local school footy last year and she played her first ever game of footy and stood out so I was like ‘who is that girl?’ and had a chat to her. “She’s looking really good for someone whose never played the game before, I think the girls who play basketball seem to cross over to football really easily, so she’s looking really good. “Until you get her out there in a game it’s hard to know but she’s training really well, she’s been working really hard, has worked heaps on her kicking and is a pretty good runner so I think it’ll be exciting to see how she goes. “Alannah plays representative netball as well in Geelong, she’s a really good netballer but she’s looking really good out there too. “She might be another one to just see how she goes, but most of the other girls are just footy-based.”

As for the premiership effect on the playing squad, Geerings said it was not really a topic of conversation as the Falcons wanted to take a new year, new challenge approach to 2019.

“To be honest, we haven’t really spoken about it very much,” she said. “It came up once last week and that was the first time we’d actually really spoken about it, it was sort of like ‘that was last season, it was great’ and we really only talk about it as in the fact that the girls worked so hard and they had each others’ backs and our strength was our tackling pressure so that’s the only time it’s really come up.

“We showed a bit of footage and just said the reason they came back and won was their tackling pressure which was really great and they never gave up, so use that as motivation – if this is where you want to get to, these are the things you have to do.”

This year, the Falcons are very different and while the names might change the goal is the same. Development is key and getting players drafted is the goal.

“I feel like it’s really unknown because with so many girls, they look really great out there but I know every region’s going to be strong,” Geerings said. “It’s exciting though, I would never expect that they would go out necessarily and win the premiership, I just want to see them work together and develop and improve – I guess winning a premiership at the end is just a bonus.”

Geelong Falcons begin their season against Sandringham Dragons on March 3 at Skybus Stadium, Frankston.

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