CASEY Demons VFLW head coach Peter Mercoulia expects a “contested” game in Round 1, as the new-look red and blue outfit prepares to return to competitive action after a year away. He says the club is “pretty pleased” with how his troops are tracking ahead of season proper, with the alignment to Melbourne Football Club also aiding players’ development.
“I think the first quarter will be quite contested with players wanting to really crack,” Mercoulia said. “From our point of view, the level of excitement from the group this week in training has been amazing, just to see how much they love the game and now that they have the game back, I think there’ll be a high level of excitement and physicality in the first minutes that’s for sure.
“We’re pretty fortunate obviously with the alignment with the Melbourne Football Club, we’ve been able to integrate both programs. The AFLW and the VFLW have come together really well and we’ve had the ability to combine staff, so our strength and conditioning programs have aligned and our players are looking really fit and strong. It’s pretty exciting to see what lies ahead.”
While Mercoulia and his Dees are “excited” to get back to true competitive football, they managed to squeeze in two useful practice matches during preseason. With such a high turnover of players and the loss of 2020, the incoming coach says it was most pleasing to simply see players get back out on the park against Collingwood and Port Melbourne.
“First and foremost, the best part of it was to see the girls back out and playing, that was the really exciting part for everyone after a pretty difficult year off the field,” he said. “Just seeing the girls go and do what they love was probably the highlight from the practice matches.
“From a football point of view, our list has turned over by about 80 to 90 per cent from two years ago, which was the last time we played as a team. Trying to get some connection is something that will probably take some time and I think we improved in that area. It’ll be something we also look to improve on throughout the season as well to be honest.”
The Demons will also look to adopt a style similar to that of their AFLW side, which has turned into a scoring powerhouse early in 2021. Mercoulia says his side will look to play fast and score quickly with a brand of football which is easy on the eye.
“To be realistic, we just want to score,” he said. “We want to try and have some nice, open ball movement to showcase the skill level of the players, and hopefully that allows for a high-scoring gamestyle. We kicked 2.7 on the weekend (against Port Melbourne) so we’re having shots on goal, but we’ve just got to make sure we finish our work, which was very similar to the AFLW team actually.”
In terms of key players around the squad, AFLW and VFLW list manager Todd Patterson has done a wealth of work to regenerate talent as many aligned clubs hit the reset button on their VFLW programs. Melbourne has hardly been different in its links with Casey, able to bring in some experienced heads and cross-code athletes with high upside.
“We were fortunate enough to get Samantha Johnson who’s obviously from St Kilda (AFLW) and is now captaining the club,” Mercoulia said. “She was someone that Todd was targeting and we’re obviously really happy to have on board. Kelly Thompson as well, a former St Kilda VFLW player has come across, Imogen Milford, and a couple of others have also signed.
“Eliza West, who was a basketballer, is going to play this year for us and combine that with her basketball, which is something really exciting as well. We seem to have gotten some cross-code talent from other sports which I think is really important as well, they bring a level of experience in other sports and a level of professionalism. Steph Topp was an Australian volleyballer, so that also lifts the professionalism within our club.”
With a reasonably clean slate in regards to injuries, the Demons have close to a full list to choose from in Round 1, with just a few players held back by the mandated 12-day concussion protocols. Around a handful of AFLW-listed players who miss out on senior selection will rotate through the VFLW squad each week, while all clubs will also have access to NAB League talent as each concurrent season progresses.
A midfield coach in the AFLW setup, Mercoulia sought to thank Melbourne and the AFL for the “humbling” support he has received in his new role, while also touching on the great work the AFL, media, coaches, players, and fans have done to promote the women’s game.
With resources aplenty and good team spirit driving a strong preseason, Casey is now on the verge of cracking into its VFLW campaign – which begins on Saturday afternoon as the Demons take on Carlton at Princes Park.
Image Credit: Melbourne Media