Sharks youth set to shine in 2021

A NEW squad that has changed “dramatically”, coached by a fresh face, and a new role for one of its talented up-and-coming youngsters in Rosie Walsh has East Fremantle buoyant about the season ahead. The Sharks were back-to-back premiers in 2018-19 and then preliminary final losers last season in the West Australian Football League (WAFL) Women’s competition, but are now firmly focused on a fresh season which is much earlier than usual.

For Walsh who received a Draft Combine invite last year after stepping up to the League side, she has enjoyed the preseason and meeting new faces as the experienced Sharks prepare for most of the season without their AFL Women’s talent.

“It’s actually been really good,” Walsh said of the preseason. “We had a new coach so that’s been really good. “It’s been a bit of a change, trying some new footy styles with a different coach, and we’ve had a really different team to last season. It’s changed dramatically, but I reckon it’s changed in a good way, see some fresh faces.”

“We haven’t been hit by COVID too bad (this season). “We missed out on one week of training, (but) luckily games hadn’t started then, so I reckon that we honestly got it easy compared to all the other states who have had it bad. “It’s been really good, the girls got to do their training from home for that week, and we all came back and we’re eager to get back into it for Round 1 coming this weekend. “I don’t think that’s stopped us from getting where we want to be which is good.”

New coach Simon Quayle knows just how formidable the Sharks can be, having coached against them as Subiaco’s mentor in the 2018 West Australian Women’s Football League (WAWFL) Grand Final. Walsh said Quayle had come in and put an emphasis on skills and decision making, something that the Sharks have identified as an area to focus on with so many new players in the team.

“His (Quayle’s) coaching style is working on skills a lot more,” Walsh said. “Hitting those targets, working on our kicking, on our handpasses, just those really basic skills that those little things that will get you to where you want to be. “I reckon switching different coaching styles is hard, but I reckon it’s been really good with the new coach and from winning two premierships in a row, and going down last year in the prelim, I think that working as a team honestly and getting that really club culture going, is what we’re working on really hard.”

For Walsh herself, she has not let missing out on the draft worry her as she focuses on a new role – in the ruck – for the 2021 season. Having played predominantly as a key forward and aiding the ruck when the ball was inside 50, Walsh has identified that fitness and her ruck craft were key areas to base her preseason improvements around.

“Getting to every contest, getting my first hand on the ball which would be really good, getting that front position, my bodywork, building that strength in my arms and my core so I can jump higher and get my hands on the ball first,” Walsh said. “That’s what I’m working on, getting my ruck work up to scratch.”

Despite being bundled out of the 2020 WAFL Women’s finals series by the Thunder, Walsh said the team had not changed their thought process or how they wanted to play any differently knowing that Peel was their opponent for Round 1. Walsh said both teams had changed, but the Sharks were also experienced in how the Thunder played, and had to play at their best to try and stop them.

“I don’t really think that anything changed when we knew we were playing Peel,” she said. “I think we didn’t think about Peel, we were thinking about what we needed to do to win the game, what we needed to do as a team, what we needed to do to improve. “With half a new team, it’s going to be different with having those new faces and obviously not played together before.”

With so many new faces coming into the team from either the East Fremantle Reserves or Rogers Cup sides, or returning from a year off, Walsh said there were plenty of names to keep an eye on in 2020. Specifically, Walsh said ruck/forward Laura McClelland stepping up from the Reserves last season, and Mia Schleicher and Mylee Leitch coming in from the Rogers Cup team. Rachel Ashley – who played in the 2019 League Grand Final – returns after a year off to add extra strength to the forward line.

“Mia Schleicher, it’s her first year playing League as well, she played Colts last year and I definitely think she is a gun to look out for,” Walsh said. “Her sister plays for Collingwood, Ruby Schleicher. “I definitely think she will have some experience there coming into our League team.

Mylee Leitch, she has come up from the Colts, she has gone into the League team, she’s a small forward, really kick and knows how to put the ball through the sticks, she is pretty good.”

East Fremantle will call upon its youth and depth like every WAFL Women’s side this season, when players such as Ruby Schleicher are out due to AFL Women’s commitments. Walsh said it would be “different” without the AFLW talent, but said it was a double-edged sword in that regard.

“It’s going to be different without the AFL Women’s players, because obviously with their experience and expertise of the game, that really helps with their leadership qualities, but I also think it’s a good opportunity for us to have some of the Under 18s players, the Colts players come up and play in the League team,” Walsh said. “It gives other girls opportunities to play at that level which they’ve always wanted to do. “It’s always good to bring in new talent and bring in experienced players into the League team to potentially, who knows where they’ll end up.

“It’s really good to see the new faces and some of the girls have been down there which is good, because they’re still getting around the club, still helping do some training and coaching, but they’re just not going to be playing with us, which is unfortunate, but I think it’s really cool but I think we get to see a lot of other girls come through to the club.”

For Walsh, she still has her eyes on the ultimate prize – getting drafted – with the 20-year-old a late developer and one who is constantly improving areas of her game to be a more complete player.

“I definitely by the 2021 Draft, I would hope to get drafted to an AFL club,” Walsh said. “That would be number one. “But even just improving myself as a footy player, so working on my ruckwork as I said, I haven’t played ruck for a whole season before, so this is going to be my first season, so being the best ruck that I can. “Being the number one ruck in the team which should be great, and also just building my culture for myself and building the team so we can become one and have that strong community.”

East Fremantle take on Peel Thunder at David Grays Arena on Saturday, February 20 from 5pm local time (8pm AEDST).

Picture credit: East Fremantle Women’s Facebook

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