2019/20 AFLW off-season review: Western Bulldogs

AFTER claiming a maiden AFL Women’s premiership in 2018 and looking impressive from the get-go in 2019, the Western Bulldogs fell away in the second half of the 2019 season to finish wooden spooners in Conference A. There was far from any shame in that, because had they been in the other conference, chances are they would have played finals, but it is what it is and the Dogs missed out on finals in 2019.

The AFL Women’s most active team over the off-season – which is saying something considering there are four expansion sides – the Western Bulldogs had eight players walk out the door to other clubs, and made three further changes with Hayley Wildes the sole retiree. Of the 2019 departures, Katie Brennan and Monique Conti would sting the most, with both genuine top 10 players in the competition, but now will don the yellow and black in season 2020. It leaves the Western Bulldogs with one elite established talent in Ellie Blackburn, but unlike a lot of sides, the Dogs have plenty of next tier talent either ready to break into that elite group, or sub-elite group.

Given the departures over the off-season, the Bulldogs headed into the draft with eight selections having only brought in Melbourne’s Ashleigh Guest as part of a trade that saw reliable defender, Libby Birch off to the Demons. With four selections in the top 10, and a new coach in Nathan Burke at the helm, AFL Women’s Draft Day was always going to be an optimistic one. The recruiting team leaned on Vic Metro Under-18 coach Burke, with the seven selections taken on the day coming from his Metro squad. It not only meant the chemistry between coach and players would already be established, but the team cohesion would also be impressive.

Gabby Newton was picked out as the first selection in the draft and can play any role across the ground, but will likely start in the middle. She could be joined by Northern Knights teammate, Britney Gutknecht in there, while Western Jets’ Elisabeth Georgostathis has the versatility to play anywhere, particularly in that back half. Gemma Lagioia and South Adelaide’s Hannah Munyard – the latter of whom was taken post-draft after the Bulldogs passed and the Crows opted not to select her – running down the ground will be a sight to see for Dogs fans. The Bulldogs also addressed the fact they lost some talent inside 50, with father-daughter selection Isabella Grant and Nell Morris-Dalton providing an aerial presence, as well as ground support in the form of Amelia van Oosterwijck.

OFF-SEASON CHANGES:

IN: Ashleigh Guest (Melbourne), Katy Herron (rookie – Gaelic), Danielle Marshall (rookie – soccer), Gabby Newton, Nell Morris-Dalton, Britney Gutknecht (Northern Knights), Gemma Laioia, Amelia van Oosterwijck (Oakleigh Chargers), Elisabeth Georgostathis, Isabella Grant (Western Jets), Hannah Munyard (South Adelaide).
OUT: Katie Brennan, Monique Conti (Richmond), Selena Karlson, Emma Mackie (St Kilda), Tiarna Ernst (Gold Coast), Belinda Smith, Kate Bartlett (West Coast), Libby Birch (Melbourne), Tessa Boyd, Jesse Davies (delisted), Hayley Wildes (retired).

2020 TEAM LIST:

Deanna Berry
Ellie Blackburn
Eleanor Brown
Nicole Callinan
Naomi Ferres
Ellyse Gamble
Elisabeth Georgostathis
Angelica Gogos
Isabella Grant
Ashleigh Guest
Britney Gutknecht
Bailey Hunt
Isabel Huntington
Gemma Lagioia
Kirsty Lamb
Brooke Lochland
Aisling McCarthy
Kirsten McLeod
Celine Moody
Nell Morris-Dalton
Hannah Munyard
Gabby Newton
Kim Rennie
Hannah Scott
Lauren Spark
Bonnie Toogood
Aisling Utri
Amelia van Oosterwijck
Rookies: Katy Herron, Danielle Marshall

POTENTIAL SIDE:

B: Nicole Callinan – Hannah Scott – Ashleigh Guest
HB: Eleanor Brown – Lauren Spark – Elisabeth Georgostathis
C: Gabby Newton
HF: Bonnie Toogood – Isabel Huntington – Aisling Utri
F: Aisling McCarthy – Isabella Grant – Brooke Lochland
R: Kim Rennie – Ellie Blackburn – Kirsty Lamb
INT: Angelica Gogos – Nell Morris-Dalton – Gemma Lagioia – Naomi Ferres – Britney Gutknecht
EMG: Deanna Berry, Hannah Munyard, Celine Moody

DEPTH: Kirsten McLeod, Amelia van Oosterwijck, Bailey Hunt, Ellyse Gamble, Katy Herron*, Danielle Marshall*

Trying to work out a best 21 for the Western Bulldogs in season 2020 is near impossible, with so many fresh faces coming into the side. It will be a challenge for Burke to balance experience with youth, given that naturally the youth coming through are more developed than their predecessors and could have a greater impact sooner. But the balance is there to ensure that they are not complete pups, and that there are experienced heads guiding the team. Of the new recruits, Ashleigh Guest could fill a role in defence, with the Dogs’ back six going to be interesting outside of Hannah Scott, Lauren Spark and Nicole Callinan, with Burke possibly looking to adopt a running game, which means Eleanor Brown, Elisabeth Georgostathis and Gemma Lagioia could rotate through there, with all of them easily in that best 21. Gabby Newton should play from Round 1 with Knights’ teammate Britney Gutknecht also in the running, as could Isabella Grant and Nell Morris-Dalton, but the forward line structure will be one for the Bulldogs to try and work out given the depth of both talls and smalls up that end. Of the draftees to miss out at this stage, it was the later selections of Amelia Van Oosterwijck and Hannah Munyard, though all two could come in and play a role, with Munyard having tasted senior football, while van Oosterwjck is more of a long-term prospect, but a real goer inside 50. Of the five experienced Dogs we left out – Deanna Berry, Ellyse Gamble, Bailey Hunt, Celine Moody and Kirsten McLeod – Moody is one who could play depending if the Dogs opt for a second ruck with Kim Rennie, Berry is a player who could be in the starting line-up on talent, it is just finding that consistency, while McLeod played six games last season, but with the influx of talent coming in, will be competing for a pot. Hunt and Gamble were on the fringes last season but still managed the three games.

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