Tag: interview

2021 VFLW season preview: Hawthorn

FOR the first time since 2018, Bec Goddard is set to take the senior coaching reigns during competitive action, when she leads Hawthorn’s VFLW side into battle for Round 1 of the new season. Heading a historic all-female coaching staff, Goddard says she is “excited” to be part of the Hawks’ initiative to provide greater opportunities for women in football – not just on the field.

“For me, and when I talk to the players about it, it was always about the best coach for the job and they happen to be women,” Goddard said. “I’ve got some great teachers on coaching staff that support me, have got a lot of similar values and they just hadn’t had an opportunity at the next level. This is their opportunity.

“It’s one of those things where in five years time when Hawthorn is in the AFLW competition, we could look back and go ‘well, what do we do to get more women in these positions at the club?’ and start from that point, or we could start now. It’s brave and overt leadership by the club to say that we want to change the industry and give opportunities to women, not just in playing but all elements of the football department.”

Goddard will have familiar faces at her disposal in 2021, leaning on some legendary names in the women’s footballing sphere while also attempting to get the most out of some promising young talent. 39-year-old utility Meg Hutchins is among the experienced members of Hawthorn’s revamped squad, described by Goddard as akin to “the timeless piece of furniture in an expensive house.”

“She’s got so much football experience and will bookend our team this year,” Goddard said. “Meg and I often talk about how the end of football is going to wrap up for both of us and I keep saying to Meg ‘well, you’re a long time retired so while you can keep playing, why don’t you?’.

“That’s where she’s at so it’s great to have her playing, and she’s fully fit. In fact, I look at Meg and I think she’s the fittest I’ve ever seen her across her years of women’s football. It’s exciting, hopefully she has a great season and you might see her in some different positions.”

With such vast experience in the women’s coaching ranks comes a handy list of contacts, which has played a part in Hawthorn’s recruitment of players like Abbey Holmes and new skipper Jess Trend. Both have been AFLW-listed players and the latter is a “surprise package” of sorts according to Goddard, hardly missing a beat since deciding to join the brown and gold. She was one of the many signings identified as key members of the side by her new head coach.

“‘I had a couple of texts with (Trend) and then she came down to training and she hasn’t missed a session,” Goddard said. “I think coming out of a global pandemic, we’re looking for a carrier of a good disease and Jess Trend is just that. She’s infectious with her attitude, her happiness to be around football and bringing good elite habits to the group.

“In the middle of the field we’ve brought in some experience in Abbey Holmes. Abbey and I obviously worked together at Adelaide for the inaugural premiership year. She’s got a wealth of football IQ that she brings and shares with the younger players in the group, as well as some great physical attributes for football. She’s tough at the contest, so it’s exciting to see Abbey contribute at Hawthorn.

Olivia Flanagan will play an important role this year. She’s coming back from a little bit of sickness in the last couple of weeks so she’s named as an emergency this week, but I expect ‘Liv’ to play a lot of football. She’ll make an impact up forward and on the ball this year to make her a bit more diverse in what she does.

“We’ve got young Territorian Dominique Carbone coming in from Darwin this weekend to play her first season in the VFLW, she’s a really exciting young talent with a basketball background. She plays low to the ground, looks like an athlete, is an athlete, behaves like an athlete, and she’s ready to take her football to the next level.”

Goddard is also excited to have full access to the next generation of prospects swarming through the elite talent pathways. Through a competition restructure, the NAB League Girls season now runs concurrently with that of the VFLW, allowing Under 18 and 19 players to also ply their trade in the state league system.

Their impressive skill and scope for improvement has impressed many a VFLW coach, no less Goddard who suggested tongue-in-cheek that she is “really looking forward to the (NAB League) byes” in order to gain access to said talent as much as possible.

“They’re such great footballers,” Goddard said. “Their skills are so impressive and they’re just growing in terms of their football IQ each week, understanding how we want to play football. It’s just great to have them there and contributing to a really high standard of training.

Speaking of training, the Hawks returned in “better than expected” shape after a year on the sidelines, though plenty of craft sessions and a heavy incorporation of match simulation into training has lifted their touch back up to scratch. A single scratch match, against Geelong provided even more insight into how the brown and gold are shaping up ahead of Round 1, with 29 players trialled and a bunch of magnets locked in on Goddard’s whiteboard.

Players returning from injury will also have a say on the side’s shape during the season, with a few players who earned high praise from Goddard expected to make a splash once fully fit. The new 12-day concussion mandate has also been a factor in availabilities across the competition.

“We’ve got a couple of players to come back still,” Goddard said. “We’ve got Tayah Kelly who obviously is a fairly damaging midfielder, she’s still out with a bit of an issue with her hip, so I think we’re at least three weeks away with her.

Chloe Bain, who I think is probably going to be one of the most exciting centre half-forwards in the competition – new to the game and she’s an extraordinary athlete with a rowing background, very long levers – is out this week with concussion. But when she’s fully fit and firing she will take the competition by storm, I’ve got no doubt.

Hawthorn’s first point of call in 2021 will be a clash against the Western Bulldogs at Whitten Oval on Sunday morning. Goddard says she is taking a “simple” approach when it comes to expectations, but is excited to be able to get back into action.

“I think we’re going to keep it really simple and we want to enjoy our first game together as a group, that’ll be the most important thing,” she said. “Also just being in the contest and making a real fist of Round 1 and getting to feel what it’s like to be with the team to achieve a common goal.”

Image Credit: Hawthorn Media

2021 VFLW season preview: Casey Demons

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

2021 VFLW season preview: Western Bulldogs

A BUNCH of Western Bulldogs VFLW players will finally get to pull on the red, white and blue jumper in a competitive match when they take on Hawthorn to kick off their 2021 campaign on Sunday. While 15 new players have entered the squad since 2019, there is a strong sense of continuity according to head coach, Sean Kavanagh after the lost 2020 season.

“It’s really interesting because quite a few of the girls who have been around, they came on board in that preseason before 2020, even as early as September of 2019,” Kavanagh said. “So some of the girls have been around for close to a year and a half, but have never had the opportunity to play.

“The age and experience profile has changed a little bit. We’ve gone for a certain type of player, a very similar methodology to our AFLW side and how we want to make the list up and play our footy. We’re really excited, it’ll take time and the girls will make mistakes… (but) we’ll learn from those areas and hopefully get some nice flow into our game as the season progresses.”

The Bulldogs have returned in “good condition” after a year away from group training and competitive play, testing their progress with dual practice games against Carlton during preseason. While pure results are not the entire focus of such hitouts, the ledger is squared at one win apiece. Kavanagh says his players “just went for it” in both outings.

“Over the course of the year off, we expected the girls to come back pretty rusty,” he said. “There was a little bit of work to do on skills but on the whole, our group came back in great condition and we’re looking forward to being competitive in Round 1.

“The first practice game we played at Ikon (Park) a couple of weeks ago… some girls hadn’t played since September 2019, so it’s a long, long time. It took a little while to adjust but we started to see some really good footy in the second half. We had quite a large bench that day so continuity in game time was a bit tough, but it was great to tick one off.

“We had an intraclub planned a week or so after that but obviously we went into lockdown then so we missed that opportunity and ended up playing Carlton again on the weekend. It was a similar type of game, Carlton jumped us early and played really good footy, then we changed some fundamental things which was great to see because we took great learnings out of it and that’s been a focus of this week.

“We came back in the second half and lost by a couple of goals so we’re pretty much even on the scoreboard with the Blues at the moment which is exciting. We’re 1-1 if we get to play them again through the course of the year.”

A six-person leadership group was announced last week, with Riley Christgoergl set to skipper the squad ahead of vice-captain Katelyn Betts. The pair featured among the names Kavanagh outlined when speaking on the core group of returning players set to head the side’s efforts. An “exciting blend of youth” will also play a part.

Nicole McMahon in the ruck has had another great preseason, Mary Sandral has also been incredible through the preseason, she’ll play at full forward. Riley Christgoergl and Katelyn Betts, our new captain and vice-captain, they’ve had wonderful preseasons and have been a huge support for the entire group during lockdown in 2020, so I’m expecting a lot from them to take that next step as mature and experienced players being around the system for a couple of years.

“Of our new girls, I think we’ve got some exciting under-22s; Brooke Hards, Eliza Vale, and Margie Purcell. Nikita Wright, who’s still eligible to play NAB League, so she’s played a couple of games with the (Western) Jets already and we were really keen to sign her.

“So we’ve got some young talent that’s come in and they’ll find their feet and adjust to the older and stronger bodies having come out of the NAB League only last year in a very shortened season. It’s a nice balance and we’ll see that progression in our returning players with our new, exciting blend of youth.”

With a strong group of young players coming into the Bulldogs’ system and access to even more as the NAB League season progresses, AFLW alignment is as important as ever for helping develop elite level hopefuls. Having that one-club kind of connection has seen many sides adjust their recruiting policies and style of play. The Bulldogs are no different.

“It’s wonderful for our young girls to see the level in conditioning and footy smarts that’s required to be identified as an elite player and to make and an AFLW list,” Kavanagh said. “It’s also nice to hear the feedback from the AFLW girls as well, these VFLW girls are really going in the right direction, they’re doing all the right things, and are really genuinely excited to get the opportunity to play together.

“With the change in the rules, we’ve changed from 18 on the ground to 16, which is the same as the AFLW program. Having the ability to run and cover the ground is really important so we’ve gone for those type of characteristics in our players. Obviously not only do we need to play the game well, but also have those physical and athletic attributes to cover more ground than they would normally have to because we’ve got less players on the ground.

“We’re looking to play a free-flowing game, but also it’s also been our mantra to be really tough to play against, to be strong and physical in the contest but also have the ability to spread hard and provide opportunities for our forwards to kick a winning score.”

Looking towards Round 1, the Bulldogs have a couple of lingering niggles but are “relatively healthy” according to Kavanagh. An accelerated and shortened preseason period has hardly helped in an injury sense, though just about the full list is there to select from.

A “wonderful” breakthrough was also made as Megan Chadwick made her return from an ACL injury during preseason. She came on for a minute against Carlton in the second practice game, which made cause for celebration amongst the tight-knit group.

In terms of expectations ahead of their opening game, Kavanagh says there is sure to be a heap of “pent-up energy” to be released once players cross the white line and attack the first bounce.

“It’s just going to be ‘let’s get out there and play’,” he said. “There’ll be mistakes made, but it’s going to be all about who can settle the quickest, who can get on top in regards to the arm-wrestle early on and  put scoreboard pressure on.

“We usually have so much longer to see where we’re at but it’s still a mystery, we’re hoping for a good result but it’s going to be a great game. I know both sides will be busting to get that first competitive four points in a long time.”

Image Credit: Western Bulldogs Media

2021 VFLW season preview: Geelong

GEELONG is not overcomplicating things when it comes to attacking the 2021 VFLW season, according to new head coach, Andrew Bruce. Taking the reigns after being appointed as assistant in 2020, Bruce says his side has worked hard to keep in shape and will try to bring an attacking brand of football to the upcoming campaign.

“We’ve had a really good preseason,” Bruce said. “Obviously most of the girls had most of the year off last year but came back in really good shape and they’ve worked really hard through the preseason. Our skill level has certainly jumped up from the start to where we are now, so we’re really comfortable with where they are.”

“We want to be nice and hard at the football and use it as best we can. It’s very much an attacking style of play where we give ourselves the best opportunity to score. We’re not overcomplicating it at all, we want the players to continue to develop in what they’re doing but also to attack the game as much as they can and try and get some good pressure on the opposition.”

“It’s a good brand of footy where the girls are really confident in what they’re doing and we’re defending really well, so we’ve kind of got both aspects of the game going okay at the moment.”

Having effectively lost a year of competitive football in 2020, the Cats are no different to many other teams in that they will enter this season with a fresh-looking list, “significantly” so in the words of Bruce. He says Geelong will field a group of mixed ages and experience levels throughout the season, with aligned AFLW and NAB League players also set to roll through the squad.

“There’s been a significant change in personnel in the playing list,” he said. “There’s still probably half-a-dozen players who have been around for a bit of time and are quite experienced.”

“Michelle Fedele, who has been with the VFLW group pretty much since it started at Geelong, she’s missed a couple of years with an ankle injury but she’s come back fully fit and is going really well, so it’s exciting to see her play.

“Jamie Woollett has also stayed around and with her experience will be really important for us – Rebecca Pearce is the same. Then we’ve got some newer players; Claudia Gunjaca, who’s originally from Geelong but the last few years has been studying up in New South Wales and played in their state league. She’s come back this year and has been absolutely fantastic for the group – can play at both ends of the ground, is a really strong mark and her leadership is fantastic.”

“We’ve got a couple of younger girls as well. Tamara Smith, who was originally out of the Murray Bushrangers and Paige Sheppard, who was going to have the year off last year anyway, but has come back to footy and has done really well. We’ve got a player who’s crossed from Germany, she was playing in the AFLW Europe League. She’s come across to try her luck here, has settled in really well with the girls and is a very good player.”

“We’ve had a few (NAB League) girls come train with us through preseason. Renee Tierney and Ava McKeegan from Geelong, Chloe Leonard from Greater Western Victoria (GWV), she’s their captain this year. We expect them to play with us at various times through the year and probably a couple of other girls as well like Tess Craven or Annie Lee from Geelong.”

“It’s really exciting for those girls, obviously playing at that high standard in their age group through the NAB League and then also getting the opportunity at different times to play in the VFLW will be fantastic for their development.”

Along with the perks of strong talent pathways, the Cats will also benefit from a green AFLW side in the same region. Brimming with young talent, five to six players from the Geelong AFLW squad will play in the state league each week should they miss out on senior selection. Bruce says the alignment has been “great” for both parties.

“Obviously with COVID restrictions there were restrictions on how many train-on players they could have from the VFLW into AFLW, however a few of the girls did get to do that for a few weeks and they came back saying how great it was, the inclusiveness of it,” he said.

“Without doubt, their training standards picked up from that point, obviously being around some more experienced players and seeing how they go about their business has really had a positive impact on the way our players do that. With the alignment, we have five to six AFLW players (depending on injuries) come back to our games.”

“Again, it’s fantastic for those players to play footy rather than having to sit out when they’re not selected, but also just to assist with the development of our players throughout the matches with direction and different advice that they can give. Both groups are a fantastic bunch of girls and they all get along really well.”

Another area which has gone relatively smoothly thus far is the injury front. Pearce (hip) and a couple of players rehabbing ACL tears are just about the only injury concerns for Geelong ahead of Round 1, with the fitness of the players also up to scratch. The Cats will face off against Collingwood on Saturday afternoon and while Bruce expects stiff opposition, he says it will be difficult to gauge how each side stacks up until competition commences.

The Cats will announce their leadership group at tomorrow night’s jumper presentation, and promise to be raring to go after showing marked improvement in their second practice game, against Hawthorn. Bruce says his troops are simply “excited to have footy back.”

“Everyone’s missed out on so much over the past 12 months,” he said. “To get some positivity through sport is fantastic for everyone; whether it be the players, staff or their supporters. It’s all really good and we’re all just very excited to get back amongst it.”

Image Credit: Sports Media Image/Marcel Berens

2021 VFLW season preview: Carlton

CARLTON has hit “the reset button” on its VFLW program and is looking towards long-term development in 2021 and beyond, according to new head coach Luke O’Shannessy. With vast experience in the talent pathways system, most notably at the Oakleigh Chargers, O’Shannessy says he is excited to see how the group progresses across his first season at the helm.

“It’s been a really interesting preseason for us,” O’Shannessy said. “We’ve had a significant list turnover for the last two years, so there’s a lot of new faces. “During summer and preseason there has been a big focus on squad bonding and that real connection between the playing group, and we’re starting to see that come to fruition. It’s great to see a group gel so quickly over a short preseason.

“I was really pleased with how the group came back after having 2020 put on pause from a structured and formal training sense, requiring players to drive their own training – whether that’s from a fitness or skills perspective. “When I came on board in late-October/early-November our first month was still online and I was really nervous I suppose, but I was very pleased that clearly they’d been putting in the hard yards over the Covid break and came back in really good shape.”

The long-term approach Carlton has adopted towards its VFLW program as a potential feeder to its AFLW squad has also pleased O’Shannessy. As an aligned club, the Blues will have access to AFLW-listed players who miss out on senior selection throughout the top flight season. O’Shannessy said the perks running concurrent competitions makes for a “win-win” for both programs.

“It can only benefit the program, he said. “We had nearly seven players go up and spend two weeks training with the AFLW program (during preseason). “It was invaluable for their development, the chance to go up and see how the AFLW program works, mingle and work with no-doubt their role models in the AFLW program and work under ‘Harf’ (Daniel Harford) and his crew.

“When they came back they were able to share some of their learnings, both positive and maybe some areas they needed to lift moving forward – whether it was their running capacity, the speed and intensity of training and match sim, the physicality – all those sorts of things that they learned.

“From the other side of things, over the last couple of practice matches, we’ve had the luxury of having between five and six AFLW-listed players spend a game with us and five of the six have been the same in both game, so we got a chance to get to know them from a staff point of view and the players have gotten to know them as well.

“They really slotted in seamlessly and we acknowledge that they’ve got aspirations to crack the senior side and we want to get them there through being able to perform with us, but at the same time we want to learn from them. “It’s only going to make us stronger and role model the sorts of match play and professional behaviours that we know they bring from an AFLW point of view.”

At the core of a fresh and young-looking squad are a couple of returning leaders who will head Carlton’s cause in 2021. Ally Bild was voted in as captain and will be supported by vice-captain Jen Lew, along with three others in a five-player leadership group. O’Shannessy identified his two official leaders as benchmark players for the side, while some promising recruits are also primed to make a splash.

“(Bild and Lew) are really setting the tone for the playing group and becoming real benchmarks for levels of professionalism on and off the field,” he said, “They’re ticking all the boxes and really role-modelling the sorts of behaviours that you’d like to see at VFLW level and beyond… there’s a reason they’ve been voted in as captain and vice-captain.

“We’ve got some players who have relocated down from Cairns in Jasmine Ware and Akayla Peterson. “Jasmine Ware is a small-medium defender, has really slotted in nicely and had her best showing in the weekend’s practice match. Akayla is a running outside player who can play tall but also run end-to-end. We see her being able to feature on the wing at times or as a half-forward hit-up target.

“Then we’ve got a lot of good young talent coming through as well… we’ve got Amber Micallef who’s a 19-year-old straight out of the NAB League, she’s going to feature strongly in the midfield. “They’re just a few names to keep an eye out for… I’m really keen to see each and every player in the squad because it’s my first year working with each of them, so I’m looking forward to seeing how they go this year.”

Carlton will also have access to 18 and 19-year-old NAB League-listed prospects, most significantly through its alignment to the Northern Knights talent region. AFLW Academy member Maykaylah Appleby has already spent some time training with the Blues, while 19-year-old Maeve Chaplin has had experience on the track with their AFLW program. Teleah Smart is also poised to join the squad, and was coached by O’Shannessy in the 2019 Vic Metro Under 16 squad alongside Appleby.

The Blues enjoyed two practice matches against the Western Bulldogs, going 1-1 in the games held at Princes Park and Whitten Oval. O’Shannessy said the repeat fixture ended up being “a blessing in disguise”, providing some valuable insight as his side prepares for season proper.

“We were able to benchmark ourselves against the same club twice to see what was the same, to compare and contrast our performance and that of the opposition,” he said. “From our point of view results ultimately don’t really matter, it’s all about what you see from game one to game two over a two-week period… we were really pleased to see that the girls put a really strong showing in game two.

“We liked a lot of game one, we saw some glimpses, but then we saw a really rounded performance in game two. “You could argue it was a real good three and a half quarters of really strong football that fills us as a squad with great confidence going into Round 1.

“We saw increased scoring from our point of view and an increased hunger for the contest, which is something we’re trying to build into the squad as two key pillars. “High-scoring and stronger around the contest with some good run-and-carry on the outside.”

Looking towards Round 1, the Blues are booked to take on Casey Demons at Princes Park on Saturday afternoon. O’Shannessy said the squad is about “90 per cent” good to go, with some returning players set to make team selection a difficult one come Thursday.

“We’re ready to rock and roll and I couldn’t ask to be in a better spot at this time of the year,” he said.

Image Credit: (Retrieved from) @carltonfc_w via Twitter

2021 VFLW season preview: Essendon

ESSENDON’S Victorian Football League (VFL) Women’s side is now bearing the fruits of extended work over a tough 2020, according to VFLW operations manager, Charlotte Miller. The tight-knit team is set to maintain much of its core despite last year’s lost season, with plenty of hard work during the most recent off-season seeing the Bombers gel together nicely heading into Round 1.

Miller says the Bombers have built “a feeling of continuity” with so many players recommitting, while some fresh faces and exciting young talent prepare to add another dimension to the building standalone squad.

“It’s a pretty similar squad to 2020 with just a few new faces added in and not too many losses, so there’s a feeling of continuity from then,” Miller said. “We had Ruby Svarc picked up in the AFLW so we’ve lost her, but a lot of the players who were intending to play for us in 2020 are still here and we’ve picked up a few new players.

“It’s starting to feel like we’ve had a squad that maybe was a bit inexperienced in 2019 but even without a lot of games in between now and then, they’ve had that time and training together to connect really well as a team, there’s a really good energy amongst the group. “I think that’s really going to pay off for us.”

Essendon’s 2019 best and fairest Georgia Nanscawen was announced as captain earlier this month and will head a five-player leadership group ahead of former skipper, Courtney Ugle. Along with the handful of players officially at the helm, Miller outlined an extended core of leaders which will work to drive the Bombers forward in 2021.

“(Nanscawen) joined us in 2019 as she was delisted from the North Melbourne AFLW team, but was previously a Hockeyroo with 200-plus games for Australia,” she said. “She’s a quiet leader but she’s super professional. “She’s been playing professional sport since she was 16 and she knows how to manage herself on the ground, she knows how to prepare, she knows how to speak to people and how to get through games without letting things get to her.

“So she’s a really cool head out there which I think is going to be a great thing for the team. (Ugle) has been voted in as vice-captain. “They’ve very different people, very different players, very different ages, and (from) very different backgrounds, but they’re a really nice combination.

“In the rest of the leadership group, there’s Mia-Rae Clifford who’s been around in AFLW teams for a long time; she’s played at Freo, Geelong, and Melbourne in her time. “She’s come back into the VFLW with us this year and is a huge voice out on the field, she really gets the girls going and keeps them moving.

“Then we’ve got Kendra Heil who’s our Canadian player who was our runner-up best and fairest in 2019 as well, and Eloise Ashley-Cooper who’s an up-and-coming leader. “She was our young player of 2019, she came through the Murray Bushrangers NAB League program.

“‘C-Bomb’ Cecilia McIntosh is still around as well as Simone Nalder our ruck, who was in our leadership group in 2019. “She didn’t run for leadership this year because she has a few other things going on, but she’s always an outstanding leader whether she’s in that group or not.”

Along with the established stars of the squad comes a new batch of talent ready to take the competition by storm. With ties to a particularly strong talent region in the Calder Cannons, Essendon will have access to some of the finest young talent in the country through different points of the season.

While under 18 prospects are yet to enter the Bombers’ program as the NAB League season continues, top-age 19-year-olds have been training at The Hangar and will feature even more prominently throughout the VFLW competition. Among the most prominent words Miller used to assess such talent was “exciting”, and AFLW recruiters would arguably agree with that sentiment.

“We’ve signed quite a few from the 18th and 19th-year Calder group and a couple of Bendigo Pioneers players,” Miller said. “Georgie Prespakis from Calder Cannons, that’s a pretty exciting one there. “She’ll come through as the NAB League finishes up for the rest of the season and I imagine she’ll go pretty high in the AFLW Draft this year.

“Also from Calder, Emelia Yassir is a pretty exciting little player and Tahlia Gillard we’re quite excited about as well, so we’ll see a few of them start to flow through as we can across the season – we’ve had the top-age 19-year-old flow come through, not the 18s yet.

“We’ve got two girls from Bendigo who have been training with us quite a lot as well, Elizabeth Snell and Jemma Finning, they’re both 19th-year players with Bendigo. “They’re playing in the NAB League season but we’re going to try and get them in games down here as soon as we can. “They’ve been training really well, their attitude is great and they’re bringing everything they can to the sessions.”

While the Bombers have come away from preseason with a relatively clean slate on the injury front, Miller says a couple of promising returnees could also make an impact shortly into the early rounds.

“We haven’t really had any significant injuries during our preseason,” she said. “We’ve had a few concussions and niggles here and there for different players, but overall everyone is pretty fit and ready to go.

“We’ve potentially got Gloria Elarmaly coming through, she played at Calder a couple of years ago and I think pretty much in her last game she (suffered) a really severe foot injury – it was a Lisfranc (foot injury) but she also dislocated all her toes. “She was told she’d never run again, never play football again but it looks like we’ll have her back out there by about Round 4, we’re pretty keen to see her out there.

Nicole Julian as well just started with us, she was at North Melbourne previously but comes from more of a kickboxing background. She came over and in one of her very first training sessions with us she did a knee injury, so she’s kind of been in rehab since the start of November but we’ve been working through that with her and we’re hoping she’ll be ready by about Round 2.”

With a mountain of off-season work under their belts and team cohesion backed by a bed of experience, the Bombers are set to “play fast” in 2021 and impress with their pressure game. There may only be one practice game to go off thus far, but Miller says she “saw a lot of good things” from the 28 players trialled in their 60-point win over Darebin on Thursday night.

“What we’ve been working really hard on is to get that ball movement happening,” she said. “I think in 2019 we had players who could play really well but they were rushing and maybe making decisions too quickly and they weren’t coming off. What we saw last (Thursday) night was a much calmer frame of mind, girls who were able to take that pause before making a decision and keep moving.

“They’re not doing anything they couldn’t do a while ago, but they’re just executing it much better now. We’re going for a fast game, lots of pressure, we’re a tackling team and we’re hoping our fitness is actually going to pull us through and give us the edge this year.”

Plenty is happening at The Hangar with new women’s facilities finally finished ahead of season proper and an AFLW license for 2022 in the Bombers’ sights. Miller wished to shoutout the work of head coach Brendan Major, as well as the physio and high performance staff who stuck with the team purely out of care during last year. With the fruits of that work now coming to the fore, it is fair to say the commitment is paying off.

No official fixture has been released, but the Bombers are set to commence their VFLW campaign next weekend and play out of The Hangar until April due to ongoing developments at Windy Hill.

Image Credit: Kate Heath/Essendon FC

2021 VFLW season preview: Darebin Falcons

DAREBIN Falcons are “relishing the opportunity” to compete against AFLW-aligned opposition in the upcoming VFLW season, according to head coach Mitch Skelly. In a revamped schedule, both seasons are set to run concurrently to allow those who miss out on senior action during the AFLW campaign to play each week.

The Falcons are one of the few true standalone sides left in the state league competition though, meaning that access to those top-level players will be restricted to the second half of the season – once the AFLW competition is run and done. Skelly says the new structure gives Darebin “a chance to be really competitive”.

“We’re completely standalone, I guess that’s one of the many points of difference with our club,” Skelly said. “We don’t have a men’s team, we don’t have an AFLW alignment, we’re pretty independent and get to do our own thing.

“The way the league’s structured, if there are AFLW players playing in the first half of the season it’s probably not the ones who are dominating that league each week. I think it gives us a chance to be really competitive. If we can build a competitive team in this first half of the year, then we can bring in a few AFLW players ourselves in the second half of the year and there’s no reason we can’t be competitive each week.”

A mixed bag of fitness and touch levels on the back of 2020’s scrapped season has now evened out, and Skelly says his troops are “flying” just a week out from Round 1. The Falcons managed to fit in two practice matches against fellow standalone sides in Williamstown and Essendon, going down in both fixtures but taking plenty away from each test.

“When we came back there were a few mix levels of workloads as a result of the lockdown and we didn’t want to put too much pressure on players,” Skelly said.

“By the time we got back from the Christmas break, everyone was flying. Some of our 2km time trials were really good, there were a lot of PB’s (personal bests). The skill and the touch by now I think we’re back to where we want to be at this stage of a preseason, even after having that long break.

“We played Williamstown a few weeks back and we lost that one by just under two goals. It was a good hitout and we learned plenty from that game. Tonight (Thursday) we’re playing Essendon out at Tullamarine so that’s another good test between two standalone teams who don’t have AFLW alignment.”

There have been some clear standouts on the track for Darebin as players prepare for their first taste of competitive action in almost a year. Skelly pin-pointed some of the leaders of the squad as ones to watch, as well as a couple of developing youngsters poised to make a splash at VFLW level.

Steph Simpson has just been brilliant, she sets the standards at training,” he said. “Every time we do a match sim she just stands out as someone who’s been around for a while and has that leadership as part of her game.

“Down the other end of the field there’s Gena Lawson-Tavan. She’s another one that I think she keeps getting better and better and I wouldn’t be surprised if in the future she ends up being drafted at some point.

“I think it’s really exciting we’ve got four girls who’ve come from our Under 18s premiership team in 2019. One’s Stephanie Elarmaly, she never played any rep footy or anything like that but I think she’s somebody who can have a really big impact at VFLW level this year.

“We have one player from (NAB League region) Calder, Peppa Poultney. She’s a Darebin junior, she came through the club playing all her youth footy here and she’s on Calder’s list this year. “We’ve also listed her, so she’s the one NAB League player that’s on our list currently, but we do hope to add a couple more down the line.”

Having had his first year in the role ultimately scrapped in an on-field sense, Skelly says he is “really excited” to finally see the Falcons take the field and show their worth. He was also glowing in his review of the “inclusive” club.

“The club is so positive and inclusive of people and everyone who comes down,” he said. A lot of people who come down, even if they don’t know much about the club’s history, they just embrace it and they dive in – whether it’s at VFLW level or NFNL. “I love the club and I’m just really excited about the opportunity to get into some games and test ourselves out. With the new season coming up, with the structure changing there’s a lot of unknowns and a great opportunity to start fresh and have a good crack at it.

Darebin is set to announce its leadership group in the coming days, consisting of six players. While no official fixture has been released, Round 1 of the 2021 VFLW season will get underway next weekend.

Image Credit: (Retrieved from) VFL

2021 VFLW season preview: Collingwood

REIGNING VFLW premier, Collingwood has added some “fresh faces” to a core group of remaining players ahead of season 2021, according to head coach Chloe McMillan. After her first year at the helm was ultimately scrapped in an on-field sense, McMillan says the Magpies are “going really well” but will inevitably look a little different this season.

“It was obviously challenging getting everyone back after not playing footy over the winter, but everyone’s come back in really good shape,” McMillan said. “We’ve worked pretty hard on our fitness and our skills early on to get the girls back being used to footy training and getting their loads in. “Now we’re just fine-tuning to be ready for Round 1 next week.

“(The team) will look a little bit different, which is a good thing I think. “We’ve got a core group that’s stayed around the club, we’ve got some really good people and leaders within that list who have stuck around. “But we’ve added in some exciting younger players and some mature players as well that’ll come in and play a role for us too.”

On top of retaining some key, senior figures for 2021, the Magpies will also be able to blood elite level talent each week due to their alignment to the Collingwood AFLW team. NAB League prospects will also be able to rotate through the program, while exciting new recruits promise to make a splash.

McMillan has been impressed by players which fall into all of those categories, and outlined a few standouts from preseason.

Sarah King has definitely been a standout,” she said. “She’s going to be our ruck for the season and she’s still only 23-years-old, but the way she’s carried herself (is impressive). “She’s been at the club since the start of our VFLW program and has developed a mile this preseason so she’s ready to take the competition on.

“One of the girls that we’re really excited by is Imogen Barnett, she’s a key forward that played in the VAFA and will look to play that key forward role for us. “She’s got really sticky hands and can move up and down the ground, so she’s been awesome for us.

“Another one that we’ve got is Matilda Zander, she came over from Norwood in the SANFLW where she won Norwood’s best and fairest. “So she’ll come over and play with us for this season and we’re really excited to see her come in and play for the Pies.

“We’re really excited to have Olivia Meagher with us for this season too. “She’ll play a few games at (NAB League club) Eastern Ranges and then hopefully come and play the majority of the season in the VFLW. “She was one who was probably unlucky not to get drafted so we’re hoping to keep developing her and prove to everyone that she can match it with the best and hopefully get drafted at the end of the year.”

Looking towards the strengths of Collingwood’s lineup, McMillan described her side as “mobile”, with a couple of key styles set to be leant on. With such a strong connection to the AFLW program, she says there may well be a visible crossover between how the two sides play.

“I think we’ll be a mobile side that can play a couple of different sort of ways,” she said. “We’re training that we want to promote exciting ball movement and get our handball game going a lot more than we have previously. “We’re trying to open up the game that way but also to control the it when we need to and probably play a bit more sensible footy.

“(AFLW alignment) is amazing. I think that’s certainly helped the program over the past couple of years and definitely for this year even having (AFLW coach) Steve Symonds down at training has helped develop all the girls. “I’m involved with the AFLW program as well so being able to cross over, we’re learning exactly what the AFLW team is learning and we’re hoping to roll out a pretty similar program to what the AFL girls are exposed to.”

The Magpies have been able to further monitor their progress via intraclub and practice matches thus far, taking on Melbourne’s reserves on February 6 and preparing to face North Melbourne this weekend. The scratch match will prove Collingwood’s final hitout before Round 1, which is expected to be a road trip – pending the official fixture announcement. Collingwood’s leadership setup is also set to be announced in the next day.

As McMillan says, “now the fun stuff happens” with competitive action right around the corner.

2021 VFLW season preview: North Melbourne

A NEW-LOOK North Melbourne VFLW side has been “promising” during preseason, according to new head coach Cheyne Webster. Having cut his teeth as an AFLW development coach at the Kangaroos, Webster is now set to take the reigns in his first senior gig and says the squad is in good shape heading into season proper – even after a heavy turnover and nearly 12 months off.

“It’s been a really promising preseason,” Webster said. “We’ve got a really good blend of youth and experience and adding into the mix the alignment with AFLW has helped the girls in terms of having some experienced heads around them to lead the way.

“In terms of fitness and touch, we’ve been able to take the opportunity to get back to Arden Street and our sessions have been really strong, so I’m happy with where we’re at.”

“I think having that 12 months off has made the group even more hungry to have success and to get back on the field and play some footy again. “It’s a really exciting time at North Melbourne, both from a VFLW and an AFLW space, so to have the girls back is really exciting.”

With the alignment to North Melbourne’s AFLW team seeing its reserves transition away from the Melbourne Uni title, the Kangaroos have overseen a “huge turnover”, one which Webster says spawned the opportunity for somewhat of a talent search.

“We’ve only kept about six Melbourne Uni-based players, obviously through that transition between the Melbourne Uni Football Club and North Melbourne Football Club,” Webster said. “We’ve searched far and wide and gone on a bit of a talent search, we’ve got some girls from interstate – from Canberra, Darwin, and also down in Tasmania.

“A number of girls that we’ve recruited from interstate either have family or are relocating to Melbourne, so it’s exciting that those girls from interstate see North Melbourne as a destination place to both grow their footy, but also for potential opportunities in the AFLW space.

“It’s a very new-looking list and I think it’s going to take some time, but we’ve got every opportunity with the quality of talent we’ve got to press for finals and to have a successful year.”

The Roos have returned to competitive action in the form of two practice games thus far, taking on Geelong and the Southern Saints. Webster says the hitouts served as a handy educational tool to “try a few things” and blood some youth, with some of the side’s key strengths in competitiveness and energy set to quickly come to the fore.

“In terms of where out list is at, it provided us with an opportunity to have a look at players which we haven’t signed and players that we feel like we need to get some gametime into, and try a few things,” he said. “For us it was more of a case of getting some girls into roles that we want to see them play this year in VFLW and in terms of our senior players, we’ve been very cautious with not overloading them in going through that process.

“I think out number one trait will be our competitiveness and our pressure around the football. “We’ve got a really strong and experienced defensive group and our midfield is young and hungry, so I think our challenge is going to be being able to consistently kick scores but for us, our competitiveness and our energy and pressure around the contest will be our number one attribute.”

Though a selection of around five to six AFLW-listed players will inevitably aid the Kangaroos’ cause each week, there is a bunch of strong talent set to impress weekly at the reserves grade. Webster pointed out some of the most promising preseason performers who will be at the forefront of their side’s finals push.

“We’ve got a couple of girls who have played some AFLW football in the past – girls like Nikki Wallace and Lexi Hamilton – but I think one to look out for is a girl that we’ve recruited, Meagan Kiely. “She’s been in and around (GWS) Giants programs up in Sydney for a little while but she’s someone that I think has every opportunity to play some good footy and to get on an AFLW list, that’s for sure.

“Two (signings) that really stand out are Ciara Fitzgerald, who’s come from the Richmond AFLW program to us, she’s been really exciting, and also a young ruck in Olivia Woods who’s played a little bit of college basketball. “She’s a cross-coder that will play in the ruck for us and she’s been really promising as well with how much she’s picked up the game in such a small space of time.

“We’ve got one (NAB League player) that is on our development list, Marli Klaumanns-Moller. “She’s currently with the Western Jets but has played in one of our practice games and also played in Round 1 of the NAB League. “She’s a really exciting defender and I think that she’ll get some opportunities to play VFLW football at some stage this year, that’s for sure.

The club’s leadership group is set to be voted in on Friday, with a core group of three or four players in the box seat to claim those roles. Though no fixture has officially been released yet, the Roos are set to line up for Round 1 later this month.

Image Credit: North Melbourne FC

2021 VFLW season preview: Southern Saints

THE Southern Saints are setting no ceiling on their potential in 2021 according to incoming VFLW head coach, Dale Robinson, who says her players are “super excited” to be back out on the track ahead of season proper. Previously a St Kilda AFLW development coach, Robinson has taken the reigns of the Saints-aligned reserves side this year as both competitions run concurrently.

AFLW-listed players will now gain the opportunity to run out each week even when they are not selected in the senior side, with VFLW talent feeding off the experience of their elite level teammates, and NAB League prospects also filtering into the grade as each season progresses.

Robinson says there is some promising youth coming into the program at an age where their development could be accelerated in a senior competition. She outlined some of the standouts who will look to have an impact on the side in 2021, as well as the style of play fans can expect from the Saints.

“There’s a lot of young kids coming through that are at that age where they might have been out of the NAB League program now for a couple of years, but they’re really ready to develop their senior stuff,” Robinson said. “I’m excited about what some of those young kids can bring with the girls that have been there for a few years and built a really good culture around the club.

“I’m excited to see what Rebecca Ott can bring – she was actually elevated into the AFLW list a couple of weeks ago when, unfortunately, Nicola Xenos had a season-ending injury. “I think this will be a great year for her transition out of basketball to see what she can do from a footy perspective. “Georgia McLean has come across from Casey and I think she’ll add some good experience across our backline.

Maddi Capsalis is another one that I think will have some significant growth this year, the way that she attacks the ball is just phenomenal and it’ll be exciting to see what she does. “Then there’s a couple of the NAB League kids like Abbey Jordan and Zoe Hill to come through the program as well, so there’s some good young talent there that I’m excited to see what they can do.”

“I think the way that we want to try and look at moving the ball is to really open things up and not be too predictable in the way we move the ball. “I’d like to see some really good defensive work all across the ground, that’ll turn into good offensive run.”

As St Kilda transitioned into the AFLW competition, it brought with it a heap of former Southern Saints-listed players who are now thriving at the top level. It meant the VFLW Saints would be forced into a heavy list turnover and talent search, which has been heightened by the loss of a whole season.

Still, Robinson says the group has remained tight and many of the players who were set to go around in 2020 have recommitted to the club. With a “one club” mentality further aiding the connection across both levels, the Saints were able to keep close throughout the unexpected break while maintaining good levels of football fitness and touch.

“We probably look very different from 2019 because obviously the girls that were playing at that time, a lot of them are actually part of our St Kilda AFLW side now,” Robinson said. “That was that real transition year where we led into our first year of AFLW, but we’ve kept the majority of the girls that we were bringing together at the start of the 2020 season and then we’ve added a few players from different areas that have fitted in really seamlessly.

“It’s been great to sort of have 12 months of connection with those girls even though it hasn’t necessarily been on the track… (now) they’ve brought that in and for built on it across the last 10-11 weeks.

“From a fitness perspective, the majority of them kept as much touch and fitness as they could so we found that most of them came back in reasonably good shape. “There’s been quite a bit of work around the touch side of things, just to get that feel of the ball back in the hands, but that’s coming along pretty well and that’ll only get stronger as the season goes on.”

The group’s togetherness showed as it was able to overcome North Melbourne’s reserves in a preseason hitout last week, winning by 28 points at Trevor Barker Beach Oval. With one more scratch match set before season proper, Robinson says the Saints will look to learn from their performances with the chance to cap off a strong preseason.

“There were some really good things to take out of the game from an education perspective,” she said. “To look at the things that we’ve been working on over the season – what works, what we still need to put a little bit of time into… I was really happy with the way they ran out our practice game last week and I think that’ll put us in good stead to have a good season.”

The Saints’ six-player leadership group will be headed by a trio of co-captains in Tara Bohanna, Deanna Jolliffe, and Frankie Hocking. Robinson says the leaders voted in were largely reflective of who the coaching staff had identified for the role.

“We announced our leadership about three weeks ago, we have three co-captains that have really epitomised the way we’ve gone about our preseason and the player vote was reflective of the leaders that I’d seen coming through,” she said.

While no fixture has officially been released as of yet, the Saints are set to commence their VFLW season in late-February, hoping to match the competitiveness shown by their AFLW counterparts.

Image Credit: Lawrence Raja/Sandringham FC Media