Tag: Isabella Grant

2021 VFL Women’s Round 1 preview: Revamped state league returns after lost season

THE Victorian Football League (VFL) Women’s competition returns this weekend, with a revamped structure seeing the season run concurrently with that of the AFL Women’s (AFLW). As somewhat of a reserves league to aligned sides in the top flight, the VFLW features 12 teams in 2021, including Port Melbourne after the Borough took on Richmond’s license. Round 1 sees fixtures spread evenly over Saturday and Sunday, starting at Arden Street as North Melbourne hosts Port Melbourne.

North Melbourne vs. Port Melbourne
Saturday February 27, 10:00am
Arden Street Oval

North Melbourne welcomes competition newcomer, Port Melbourne to the VFL Women’s on Saturday morning as the two sides open season 2021 at Arden Street Oval. While still a proud standalone club, the Borough has taken on Richmond’s VFLW license and will thus have access to Tigers players who miss out on AFLW selection. Likewise, North Melbourne’s top flight alignment will see some senior listed Kangaroos line up in the blue and white each week.

The likes of Richmond forward Christina Bernardi and Melissa Kuys will be among the experienced names set to lead the Borough’s efforts, while an all-Richmond half-back line of Hannah McLaren, Sarah Sansonetti, and Laura McClelland should prove difficult to budge. Murray Bushrangers graduate Sophie Locke is another exciting young talent in Port’s side, named in the back pocket.

New Roo Katelyn Cox is set for a reserves outing in North’s midfield, lining up next to Meagan Kiely and Bethany Lynch with Lexi Hamilton a handy ruck to be roving under. Nikki Wallace, another with AFLW experience lines up in defence and Brooke Brown gets a gig at the other end of the ground. Brown was taken by North Melbourne as a surprise father-daughter selection in 2020.

Expect North Melbourne’s hardness and pressure around the ball to be a real feature, as Port looks to bring an exciting transition style to the fore in what should be a competitive start to the 2021 season.

Geelong vs. Collingwood
Saturday February 27, 12:00pm
Deakin University, Geelong (Waurn Ponds)

AFLW-aligned sides Geelong and Collingwood go head-to-head at Deakin University in Waurn Ponds on Saturday afternoon, looking to start their campaigns on the right foot. Both sides boast a strong mix of youth and experience in their Round 1 lineups, with the Cats benefitting significantly from their alignment to the top flight when it comes to the young talent at their disposal. Collingwood, of course, remains the reigning premier after the 2020 season was scrapped.

Among the exciting brigade of up-and-comers, Olivia Barber has been named at full forward and will spearhead the attack alongside skipper, Michelle Fedele. Paige Sheppard is poised to make her return to football in the hoops, named among an exciting midfield with Cats AFLW youngsters Laura Gardiner, Darcy Moloney, and ruck Rene Caris having all gained experience at senior level.

Collingwood’s tall stocks should trouble the Cats, particularly up forward. Senior ruck Bella Smith takes up the full forward spot with Sarah King set to take the first bounce, while Imogen Barnett is another to watch in Collingwood’s front half. Smith’s former Norwood teammate Matilda Zander looms as an exciting addition from the SANFL, with the Magpies’ forward depth pushing Amelia Velardo to half-back.

The Magpies will look to adopt a similar gameplan to their AFLW side, looking to take the game on in transition with an exciting handball style while also taking hold of the game when required. Geelong will also play an attacking brand, with youthful exuberance and instinct also poised to come into the Cats’ thinking.

Carlton vs. Casey Demons
Saturday February 27, 2:00pm
Princes Park

Another all-aligned clash takes place at Princes Park as Carlton and Casey Demons lock horns, rounding out Saturday’s fixtures. The Blues have hit the reset button on their VFLW program and will look a very fresh side this year, adopting a strong youth focus to help feed their AFLW squad. Casey also has strong ties to its AFLW-aligned team in Melbourne, with a fit and strong Demons unit out to prove just how fruitful their preseason has been.

The Blues will be led from the back with skipper Ally Bild lining up next to vice-captain Jen Lew across half-back, while Carlton-listed speedster Charlotte Hammans completes the line. Coming down from Cairns, Jasmine Ware is another to watch in Carlton’s defence, while Akayla Peterson looms as a high-upside type at the other end. Carlton draftees Winnie Laing and Paige Trudgeon will also get some run into their legs in the front half.

Casey captain Samantha Johnson is her side’s major off-season coup and will anchor the midfield alongside first year Melbourne midfielder, Megan Fitzsimon. Both will benefit from the ruckwork of Maggie Caris, while an all-Melbourne half-back line of Mietta Kendall, Isabella Simmons, and Irishwoman Lauren Magee should prove exciting to watch. Brenna Tarrant also features at full back, with three senior games under her belt this year.

With new coach Peter Mercoulia also embedded in Melbourne’s coaching staff, Casey will look to play fast and put heavy scoreboard pressure on. Carlton is led by a new coach of its own in Luke O’Shannessy, who should be able to extract great things from the Blues’ young talent with his vast pathways experience.

Western Bulldogs vs. Hawthorn
Sunday February 28, 10:00am
Whitten Oval

The Western Bulldogs kick off their 2021 campaign at home as Hawthorn rolls into town on Sunday morning, looking to take a big scalp early. The Bulldogs have built one of the best young AFLW lists, with the vast array of talent spilling into its reserves side and making for an exciting squad on paper. The standalone Hawks are also strong on youth, but have attracted some big-name experience with Bec Goddard set to take the reins as head coach for the first time since 2018.

An embarrassment of riches sees the Bulldogs’ forwardline stacked with five AFLW-listed talents, including Isabella Grant, Gemma Lagioia, and the experienced Lauren Spark. Mary Sandral is the lone VFLW-listed player to start in attack, though the likes of Nicole McMahon (ruck), skipper Riley Christgoergl (half-back), and vice-captain Katelyn Betts (centre) will be consistent VFLW figures this year. Under McMahon, the likes of Isabelle Pritchard, Brooke Hards, and Britney Gutknecht should be served well in midfield.

Some well-renowned names in female footballing circles will provide invaluable experience to Hawthorn’s fledgling side, with stalwart Meg Hutchins poised to take on a number of roles aside from her forwardline listing, while Abbey Holmes is a tough body at the contest who will rotate forward through midfield. Skipper Jess Trend is another with AFLW experience who should impact greatly, while Northern Territory recruit Dominique Carbone has serious potential. She is set for her VFLW debut on the same weekend the Darwin Buffettes play finals back home.

The Hawks should prove a well structured side under Goddard and will be sure to crack in hard, though the abundance of promising young options for the Bulldogs will be incredibly tough to overcome. Should they not rely on too few, the Hawks will be ultra competitive in the face of the Dogs’ rawness and fierce style.

Essendon vs. Southern Saints
Sunday February 28, 10:30am
The Hangar

Essendon is set to unveil its shiny new facilities at The Hangar on Sunday morning, hosting the Southern Saints in what should be a competitive clash. Gunning for an AFLW license, the Bombers remain standalone but have built a strong list with more continuity than other sides heading into 2021. The Saints have their St Kilda alignment to lean on, but are looking strong in their own right after a solid preseason.

Anchoring Essendon’s side will be skipper Georgia Nanscawen, who is part of a terrific spine in the red and black. Cecilia McIntosh lines up down back, while Courtney Ugle provides some grunt, and Mia-Rae Clifford gets a fresh start up forward. Of the up-and-comers, Eloise Ashley-Cooper and Alana Barba have already performed well in the sash, with a host of young prospects set to filter through Essendon’s lineup as the season progresses.

Tara Bohanna (full back) and Deanna Jolliffe (rover) will lead the Saints out as co-captain Frankie Hocking has not been named. Georgia McLean is one to watch off half-back having crossed from Casey, while Poppy Kelly and Alice Burke are the only St Kilda AFLW players to feature in the lineup – both named on the interchange bench ahead of three emergencies from the senior squad.

The Saints have not put a ceiling on their potential and promise to open the game up with unpredictable ball movement. The Bombers’ continuity as a group and greater poise with such experience could well play a factor in this clash, with both sides backing their cohesion after so long away from competitive action.

Darebin vs. Williamstown
Sunday February 28, 11:30am
La Trobe University, Bundoora

Pioneer club, the Darebin Falcons take on Williamstown in Round 1’s closing fixture on Sunday, set to play out at La Trobe University in Bundoora. Both proud standalone clubs, these two sides will be made up purely of VFLW-listed talent early on before gaining access to NAB League and potentially even AFLW talent as those seasons are run and done. The two sides already faced off during preseason, with Williamstown winning by 11 points at the same venue.

Led by the returning Stephanie Simpson, Darebin has a bunch of leaders set to build the standards under coach Mitch Skelly. In defence, Gena Lawson-Tavan is one who promises to do exactly that as vice-captain, while fellow leaders Cherelle Byrne (centre) and Alyssa Mifsud (full forward) are other leaders littered up and down the spine. One Falcon to watch is Stephanie Elarmaly, a youngster who has come through Darebin’s youth system.

2019 premiership coach Penny Cula-Reid crossed from Collingwood after her flag triumph, and takes over an exciting standalone squad. Skipper Erin Meade has locked in a spot at half-back, with reigning best and fairest winner Megan Williamson set to resume her midfield duties. Asha Price and Eliza Straford should be good value up forward, while Scarlett Dunell, the sister of former Seagull Sam lines up in defence.

There is often a great unknown around the standalone sides, especially after so long away from competitive action, but the two sides will know each other well after their preseason meeting and will get a good assessment of their 2021 chances in this bout.

Image Credit: Kelly Defina/AFL Photos

Hungry Dogs win the battle against fiery Cats

THE Western Bulldogs executed their first back-to-back win since 2019 in their AFL Women’s Round 3 encounter against Geelong, winning by 18 points in a tough slog until the bitter end. Whilst the Dogs put the first major on the board during the first, it took the side until the final quarter to really pile on the offensive pressure, eventually running out deserving 3.6 (24) to 1.3 (9) victors. 

The only Victorian-based match with a crowd for Round 3 was always set to be an interesting one, with two sides really looking to prove themselves and make the most of onlookers at the venue. The Cats had plenty of support behind them at home at Kardinia Park, but it was the likes of Ellie Blackburn and opening goal kicker Izzy Huntington who seemed to be the backbone of the Dogs side, especially early on as the former led all comers with both possessions and vision to set up a vital scoring opportunity.

Forced to taking a defensive approach during the first half, the Cats laboured away with Olivia Purcell working hard on and off the ball, aided by Amy McDonald who did not shy away from the contest, utilising her speed and evasiveness to collect a couple of excellent run-down tackles. Phoebe McWilliams also saw plenty of action, booting the Cats’ lone goal in the third quarter credit to an excellent forward press from the Geelong squad, battering the 50 and relentless on their pursuit. Bulldogs’ Ashleigh Guest was never far away from the contest, dealt a blow to the ribs from Steph Williams during the second before coming off in the last quarter with a nasty looking head knock, while all bar three players across both teams picked up at least one tackle, showcasing just how much physicality was felt across the ground.

The final quarter fate was sealed by a huge goal from Bulldogs young gun Jess Fitzgerald, with the former Northern Knights talent taking the footy for a run through the centre of the field, eventually finding the 50-metre line and booting a long goal for what is sure to be a goal of the year contender, extending the lead to the eventual 15-point winning margin. While the hardened Cats – led off the half-back by the combination of Amy McDonald, Aasta O’Connor and Meg McDonald – well and truly showed up in the third, getting within one point of the Dogs as the three quarter time siren sounded, it was not enough to reign supreme as the travellers proved no longer weary, piling on 2.3 in the final quarter to run away with the victory.

A tackle-happy Bulldogs trio of Blackburn, Kirsty Lamb and Gabby Newton landed a combined 26 tackles, and factoring in Blackburn’s 25 touches and Lamb’s 20, the Bulldogs realistically could not be stopped in or around the footy. For the Cats, their third quarter was highly successful not just because of their excellent pressure forcing the Bulldogs back, but also their ability to maintain possession of the footy under pressure. But it was a lack of access to viable ball inside 50, that was the real kicker, with the side only managing the one mark inside 50 compared to Footscray’s nine, with the sides measuring up virtually the same across all other major statistics. As for players, Amy McDonald (20 disposals, nine tackles, six marks) and Purcell (19 and five) were the go-to girls, while Bulldogs father-daughter selection Isabella Grant finally made her way out onto the park, putting the icing on the cake in her dad Chris‘ old number on debut.

GEELONG CATS | 0.0 | 0.1 | 1.2 | 1.3 (9)
WESTERN BULLDOGS | 1.1 | 1.3 | 1.3 | 3.6 (24)

GOALS:

Geelong: P. McWilliams.
Western Bulldogs: 
I. Huntington, K. McLeod, J. Fitzgerald.

DC BEST:

Geelong: A. Mcdonald, O. Purcell, P. McWilliams, A. O’Connor, M. McDonald
Western Bulldogs: 
E. Blackburn, K. Lamb, I. Huntington, G. Newton, B. Lochland

Image Credit: AFL Photos

2021 AFL Women’s: Round 3 preview – Four of the top six lock horns on blockbuster weekend

ROUND 3 of the 2021 AFL Women’s season sees two sets of undefeated sides lock horns to find out whose ‘0’ will go, while teams just outside the top six battle to emerge as finals threats. As was the case last time around, fixtures have been shuffled and one matchup – between Brisbane and West Coast – is on hold. But with a couple of mouthwatering clashes and one Victorian grudge match set to go down, there is still plenty to look forward to from this weekend’s action.

Note: All start times are local.

GEELONG (14th, 0-2) vs. WESTERN BULLDOGS (7th, 1-1)
Friday February 12, 7:10pm
Kardinia Park

History will be made in red, white, and blue on Friday night as the Western Bulldogs’ first ever father-daughter selection, Isabella Grant makes her AFLW debut against Geelong at Kardinia Park. The daughter of 341-game Bulldogs champion, Chris missed all of her maiden season through injury, but comes into a winning side in place of the injured Bailey Hunt (calf). Her team will be sniffing out a positive record here, especially seeing that Geelong is currently bolted to bottom spot after losses of a combined 91 points.

The Cats have made a couple of changes, with the experienced Bec Goring called up to help bolster her side’s defence, while mature-age coup Nicole Garner also comes in for her senior debut. The pair’s additions come at the expense of youngsters Darcy Moloney and Georgia Clarke. Having lost handily to premiership fancy North Melbourne at home in Round 1, the Cats will be keen to make good on their advantage this time around and give fans something to cheer about.

The Bulldogs’ youthful exuberance and counter-attacking nature may pose some problems for Geelong, especially given the home side has only scrounged three majors in its first two outings. The Cats are also known for their young talent, but that has seen them fall away in lapses of concentration after positive periods. That could be a worrying factor if they don’t get up or stay level early, because we all saw how the ‘Dogs came back with force against Carlton last week.

Tip: Bulldogs by 13

GWS (11th, 0-2) vs. GOLD COAST (13th, 0-2)
Saturday February 13, 3:10pm
Blacktown International Sportspark

Two sides coming off hefty losses will look to get off the mark for season 2021, when Greater Western Sydney (GWS) hosts Gold Coast in Blacktown on Saturday afternoon. The Suns were kept to the lowest-ever AFLW score (two points) last time out in a one-sided Q-Clash, which should serve as fuel enough for this game. GWS went down to somewhat a rival of its own in Adelaide last week, making this a clash between two winless teams in desperate need of a confidence boost.

An improved Suns forwardline saw hardly any of the ball last week, but showed in Round 1 that when given the opportunity, goals will come. GWS has also had trouble moving forward with its fluency on the ball – or lack thereof – underselling the dominance of Alyce Parker and Rebecca Beeson at the clearances. Whichever team can click into gear quicker and find its groove in the front half should coast clear for a much-needed maiden win.

Tip: Giants by 5

ST KILDA (8th, 1-1) vs. CARLTON (9th, 0-2)
Saturday February 13, 5:10pm
RSEA Park

Carlton faces a tricky must-win fixture as it rolls into Moorabbin to take on St Kilda on Saturday night, with both sides poised outside the top six. Touted as a premiership chance coming into the season, the Blues have stumbled in two surprise losses with short bursts from opposition sides hurting them in the long run. The Saints loom as another tricky test having beaten the Blues’ last opponent and remained competitive against North Melbourne a week later.

Perhaps mercifully, the Carlton looks likely to call upon the recently recovered trio of Lucy McEvoy, Mua Laloifi, and Gab Pound, who would all normally feature in the starting lineup. While McEvoy will prove another classy midfield choice, the latter two should shore up the backline. Sturdiness will be important against an improve Saints attack, spearhead by Caitlin Greiser.

The midfield battle will also be an interesting one, with the likes of McEvoy and Maddy Prespakis locking horns with in-form St Kilda jets Georgia Patrikios and Tyanna Smith. The hardened ball winning ability of Carlton’s pair against the classy running Saints should form an intriguing matchup of styles. Making the most of their impact will be key for either side, especially after their respective faults up forward thus far.

Tip: Blues by 15

MELBOURNE (4th, 2-0) vs. NORTH MELBOURNE (2nd, 2-0)
Saturday February 13, 7:10pm
Casey Fields

A mouthwatering contest between two undefeated Victorian sides goes down at Casey Fields on Saturday night, as Melbourne takes on North Melbourne. The Roos have been near-flawless across the opening two rounds; first dismantling Geelong on the road and then pulling away from the plucky St Kilda last week. Melbourne has found its grove after slow starts in both of its opening two fixtures, but now faces easily its toughest test to date.

While the Roos are renowned for their vast avenues to goal, Melbourne has proven somewhat of a surprise packet through its seemingly revitalised attacking nous. The engine room has played a big part, with Tyla Hanks slotting in seamlessly alongside Karen Paxman and Lily Mithen, but North is known to boss the ball and bat incredibly deep. A Kangas midfield quintet of Emma Kearney, Jenna Bruton, Jasmine Garner, Ash Riddell, and Ellie Gavalas has proven unbeatable across four quarters thus far, and will be tough to top.

The ruck battle will be another area of interest given how much class lies in either sides’ midfields, with Melbourne’s Lauren Pearce set to tackle an in-form Emma King. King, who has also rediscovered her scoring form, averages nearly double her opponent’s hitouts, but aide from rotating key forward Eden Zanker will likely even the contest up.

Tip: Kangaroos by 11

ADELAIDE (3rd, 2-0) vs. FREMANTLE (5th, 2-0)
Sunday February 14, 12:40pm
Norwood Oval

The round’s second top six clash sees Adelaide do battle with Fremantle at Norwood Oval, with the two undefeated teams battling to maintain their perfect records. Freo’s nine-game unblemished run has continued on from last season and while a tense derby only saw them get up by nine points with two majors on the board last week, the Dockers look every bit the premiership contender. Adelaide is right up there as well, emphatically returning to form in 2021 with the chance now to prove just how serious its flag tilt will be.

The Crows’ elite ball winners in Ebony Marinoff, Anne Hatchard, and Erin Phillips will be difficult to match, while the dynamic wildcard that is Chelsea Randall could prove a game-breaking factor in roles at either end. A heap of responsibility will fall on the shoulders of Fremantle’s Kiara Bowers in midfield, though a greater team spread up and down the spine is more the Dockers’ go.

It is no secret that Gemma Houghton poses a massive threat up forward alongside Sabreena Duffy, while Janelle Cuthbertson has been an absolute rock down back. With running power on the outer and many avenues to goal, Freo should have little trouble managing a winning score. Adelaide will again look to its midfield to fill out the scorebook, while the likes of Danielle Ponter, Ashleigh Woodland, and Teah Charlton loom as individuals who can break the game open.

Tip: Dockers by 1

RICHMOND (12th, 0-2) vs. COLLINGWOOD (6th, 2-0)
Sunday February 14, 3:10pm
Punt Road Oval

A late fixture shuffle sees traditional rivals Richmond and Collingwood go head-to-head on Sunday afternoon, set to provide some nostalgia to fans at Punt Road Oval. The Tigers are still out to claim their first points in the competition having shown signs of improvement thus far, but ultimately fallen short of better opposition. Collingwood looms as another difficult test, currently holding up the top six with a perfect 2-0 record.

The two sides have not yet met in the women’s competition, making for a fresh start and opportunity for either team to grab bragging rights. Collingwood’s rejigged forwardline which boasts Chloe Molloy and Brianna Davey benefitted last week with the inclusion of Sarah Rowe, and will again be in good shape to overpower the opposition. Conversely, scoring continues to be a sore spot for Richmond despite the dominance of Monique Conti in midfield and promise of Ellie McKenzie on the outer.

Tip: Magpies by 33

Note: The Brisbane Lions vs. West Coast Eagles fixture is TBC.

Featured Image: Western Bulldogs’ Isabella Grant (right) with her famous father, Chris | Credit: Michael Willson/AFL Photos

2021 AFLW Preview: Western Bulldogs

THE Western Bulldogs lay claim to one of the competition’s most promising young lists and after two dour seasons, will be eager to accelerate their return to the AFL Women’s summit. With head coach Nathan Burke at the helm for his second year in charge, the sky is the limit for these young pups in 2021.

2020 RECAP

A 1-5 record and sixth-place finish among the stronger Conference B makes for quite harsh reading, but does not tell the full story of the Bulldogs’ season. Expectations were not overly high on the rebuilding side heading into 2020, especially given the amount of inexperienced players yet to truly cut their teeth in the bigtime, with ups and downs abundant along the way.

The campaign began brightly with a 25-point win over expansion side, St Kilda, putting the Dogs right on track. Two losses by just over three goals followed, but were somewhat expected against hardened Melbourne and Carlton teams. A four-point loss to West Coast would have really hurt though, with Collingwood taking full advantage the next week but green shoots emerging in a 15-point loss to the undefeated Fremantle.

Overall, the Bulldogs averaged a losing margin of 18.4 points and remained relatively consistent throughout a tough campaign in terms of results. The five-game losing run will only have them more keen to hit the ground running in Round 1 this time around and turn their potential into marked improvement.

NEW FACES

The Bulldogs have had access to some of the best Metropolitan talent, particularly in the last two years, and were faced with an embarrassment of riches at the top end at last year’s draft. Northern Knights co-captain Jess Fitzgerald was their choice at pick two, a balanced midfielder who was labelled her side’s most valuable player by now-assistant coach, Marcus Abney-Hastings in 2019. She should slot strait into the engine room and can also rotate forward, joining a formidable group of Knights graduates at the Kennel.

Marking defender Sarah Hartwig was a steal at pick 11, instantly boosting her new side’s backline with a blend of aerial ability and poise on the ball. The Sandringham Dragons product also has the potential to move further afield or swing forward, such is her versatility. Isabelle Pritchard (pick 16) was another bargain and in a similar vein to Hartwig, is a tall prospect who can play defence while providing another positional threat in her midfield craft.

Katie Lynch proved the Bulldogs’ big trade coup as she switches from Collingwood to help bolster the Bulldogs’ midfield stocks. She is a former first round pick who lies in a good age bracket for her new side and should take some pressure off the Dogs’ established midfielders. Annabel Strahan is the other fresh face, a surprise selection as replacement for Katy Herron, who will be inactive in 2021.

ONE TO WATCH IN 2021

Isabella Grant is one to watch in red, white, and blue this season; a player who could well act as a completely fresh recruit given she missed her entire maiden season through injury. The versatile tall may take some time to find her feet at senior level given her lack of experience, but has already attracted plenty of hype given her family connection to Whitten Oval as the club’s first father-daughter selection. With Izzy Huntington set to switch ends, Grant could be one to provide relief and will only add to the Bulldogs’ dynamism.

WHY THEY CAN WIN IT

The Bulldogs may better be known as pups as it stands, but once those youngsters click at senior level, watch out. Burke has already coached a wealth of players in his squad at junior level and knows how to extract quality from young footballers, meaning his team’s development could be accelerated drastically as the next generation takes hold. Under strong leaders in Ellie BlackburnBrooke Lochland, Kirsty Lamb, Huntington, and co., the Bulldogs’ rate of improvement will strike fear in many an opposition coach.

QUESTION MARK

There’s two sides to every coin and while the Bulldogs’ youthful exuberance makes them highly promising, it can also be perceived as inexperience depending on the context. The rebuilding list is coming along nicely but suffered from some lapses in concentration last season and did not have the depth to regularly compete with top sides across four quarters. It is a factor which will only be ironed out over time, but the Dogs will give plenty of sides a good run throughout 2021 on raw talent and intent.

FINAL WORD

The future is bright for these Bulldogs but as it stands, they may have to put some more runs on the board before becoming a true finals threat. One win should be a very beatable tally this time around, with every side now wary of the Dogs’ growing depth and undeniable young talent. Expect some sharp improvement with even more to come down the line.

Image Credit: Kelly Defina/Getty Images via AFL Photos

Jets focus on fast-tracking talent

WESTERN Jets now have a “template” that they can use for their NAB League Girls squads after their success at the AFL Women’s Draft last year. Jets Girls’ senior coach, Zachary Read said the club’s five who were drafted – three straight out of the Jets program and an additional two who were former Jets alumni’s – meant the current playing group have players to look up to who had been in their shoes over the past two years.

“The Jets program’s still kind of in its infancy compared to a number of NAB League programs that have been going for a number of years and we’ve never traditionally been results on-field based, it’s always been about the talent and working with the girls to fast-track them for senior local footy, VFLW and of course making it to the AFLW,” Read said. “We were lucky enough to have three girls drafted out of our program last year, but then you have the other two girls in Caitlin Greiser and Sharni Whiting who played a year at VFL level and then got drafted so, whilst not everyone can go straight into the AFLW, to be able to prepare them for the different levels of footy means the door’s still open.”

Along with Greiser and Whiting who played out seasons with Southern Saints and Williamstown respectively, the Jets saw Elisabeth Georgostathis and Isabella Grant (both Western Bulldogs), and Cleo Saxon-Jones (Richmond) all land on AFL Women’s lists. Read said the players had come back to their roots to speak to the girls at training.

“They’ve all come and visited, so Sharni, Cleo Saxon-Jones who’s at Richmond, and the two Doggies girls have all been back to say g’day to the girls at training,” Read said. “One, it energises the group to see their friends go onto bigger and better things, but it’s the first year that we’ve had a template now that we can say ‘these are the girls that you’ve got to try and emulate their training standards, the way they prepare, how they look after themselves because they’ve got to the area you want to get to’ so I think that has helped us drive our training standards on the field a lot more because now we’ve got that tangible person to reference when our girls are striving to improve.”

While there will be plenty of new faces on the field, there is a change off the field, with new Female Talent Coordinator Alex (Agrotis) taking over from inaugural coordinator, Claudia Davey. It might be a new change, but Read praised both Agrotis and boys’ Talent Coordinator, Luke Williams who had done an “awesome” job over the pre-season.

“Luke who oversees the whole Western Jets program, he’s been awesome supporting the girl’s program whilst also managing the boy’s 16s and boy’s 18s,” Read said. “He’s been really charitable with his time while we did find a coordinator in Alex. “She’s hit the ground running too. “She’s awesome, she just allows the coaches and players to be able to focus on training and improving and setting the standards on the track while she looks after everything in the background.”

Having decided the Jets’ squad early last week following a practice match against Dandenong Stingrays, Read said he was excited about the youth coming through.

“The growth in the western region is super exciting,” he said. “It’s a really large pool that we worked with pre-Christmas. “(We) narrowed it down after heading into the Christmas break and probably had another three or four weeks as a group and finalised it last week and had our team-building camp on the weekend.”

Like a number of clubs, the bottom-age talent coming through is among the first to have played football throughout all their junior years and travelled down a more traditional pathway to their predecessors of years gone by. Read agreed with the statement that there are quite a number of 16-year-olds who are forcing their way onto NAB League Girls lists.

“Yeah, and if you look across the league that seems to be the general feel is that we’ve got the 16s now who are probably the first group who have been able to play at every level which is indicative of the youth girls space,” Read said. “We’ve got a couple of 19-year-olds who haven’t played much footy who have been given the opportunity to come back and a couple coming back from injury, so they got some concessions. “Then we’ve got a good crop of 18 and 17-year-olds, and the top-age 16-year-olds. I think there’s a good balance of talent across all the age levels for sure.”

While the bottom-age talent is impressive, the Jets have also brought in a few 19-year-old talents to help strengthen the program.

“We’ve got Olivia Forsyth who missed all of last year with an ACL,” Read said. “So just little steps as we go. “Every training session we get through she gets better and we’re not rushing her to get best on ground Round 1. “We want her to get back into her footy, and she’s a really good character to have around the group which is why we wanted to give her another crack. “Then we have a couple of code-hoppers from basketball and soccer who have some characteristics that are definitely looking like being able to play at a high level, but again we’re not putting any expectations on them.”

Looking at the top-age group, the standout prospect is key defender, Isabelle Pritchard who has already represented Vic Metro as a bottom-ager at the AFL Women’s Under-18 Championships. Read said there was “something special” about the intercept marking machine, and spectators could see her develop further up the ground after ticking all the boxes at half-back.

“She’s going great guns,” he said. “She’s working really closely with Aasta (O’Connor) in the (AFL Women’s Academy) program. “She did it last year and was in as a bottom-age Metro last year and she’s got something special about her. “She competes, one-on-one, they know she can play really good footy at half-back, but we’ll be looking to give her opportunities as a taller, bigger-bodied midfielder going forward and test her in some other areas. “She’s a great kid, really studious. “It’s one thing we preach at the Jets is that AFLW is not a full-time career so we try and develop them in other areas as well whether it’s casual work, studies, whatever it is they might be doing outside of footy, and she’s one that’s really focused on having a good crack at Year 12 and her footy will flow on from that.”

Another couple of watch are those at bottom-age level with Montana Ham and Charlotte Baskaran already showing signs that they will be talents for years to come. Read said Ham had “shot up two feet” and had a competitiveness like few others, admitting she hated to lose at anything, whether it was a match of football or a game of tic-tac-toe. Baskaran is another who has impressed in the pre-season showing off her “elite skills and decision making”, with the bottom-age player already able to kick on both feet and make few mistakes with her ball use. While those two might be ones for the future, Read said there would be a less reliance on individuals and more on team performance, with speed a key characteristic of the Jets’ game.

“I think we’ll be quick,” he said. “I don’t think we’re overly tall, but if you look at the trend of the NAB League to this point, the ball spends a fair bit of time on the deck, so to have some clean, fleet-footed, almost a mosquito fleet running around, will play into our favour. “But we want to play a pretty tall spine to play around, and we’ve got the players to do that, but I think our asset with definitely be our speed.”

Following the hitout with Dandenong a couple of weeks back, the Jets will play their final practice match this Friday night against Calder Cannons at RAMS Arena. Read said the club had been lucky – “touch wood” – with few injuries over the pre-season, praising his staff for their work in keeping everyone fit and healthy. As for expectations heading into 2020, the Western Jets’ coach said there were none.

“We’re just looking to fast-track the girls for whatever footy lays ahead and I think the key focuses for us were improvement on our skills, just having those elite characteristics at training and on game day,” Read said. “They’ll be our two focuses for the year.”

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.

The ‘big three’s’ take on how the AFLW draft unfolded

GABBY Newton, Lucy McEvoy, and Georgia Patrikios; dubbed pre-draft as the three players vying for the honour of being taken first off the AFL Women’s Draft board.

But ask all three about whether they knew what was to unfold on Tuesday afternoon, and all three almost unanimously insist they had not the slightest clue.

“I wasn’t sure going in,” Bulldogs’ number one pick Newton said. “I knew Lucy and Patrikios were obviously also big contenders but I’m so glad (the Bulldogs) picked me up, I can’t wait to be a part of it.”

“I sort of had no idea coming in so it was just ‘Whatever happens, happens,’ St Kilda’s Patrikios added. “I’m happy to be at the Saints and (I’m) just going to move from there.

“Carlton did say they were keen from the start and I was pretty keen… to get to pick two,” Carlton’s McEvoy told the club’s media team with more conviction. “It’s so good though, so exciting.”

McEvoy was incidentally the one to inadvertently create the ‘big three’ tussle, throwing a spanner in the works as she nominated for the Victorian Metro draft zone. Hailing from Geelong and rising through the Falcons’ junior pathway, it seemed the Cats’ AFLW side was destined to pick up another top-five talent at a cut price after snaring Olivia Purcell with pick 14 last year. That was not to be, with McEvoy’s choice “to get out of (her) comfort zone” planting even more intrigue into the top-end.

“It was pretty much based off my studies next year, I’m hoping to do paramedicine,” she said. “I’ve got my exams coming up so hopefully I can put my best foot forward in that and get the score that I need.”

“I would’ve loved to play at Geelong, I’ve got really good friends there but I think for me to grow, as a person, it would’ve been to tick the Melbourne box.”

In an interesting twist, all three players also had unique ties to pick two holder, Carlton. McEvoy’s father, Phil played 50 reserves games for the Blues during the 1970s and 80s, while Newton played two games this year for their VFLW side and Patrikios is studying sports coaching and development at the club’s College of Sport. Needless to say, they are all still stoked with how it all unfolded nonetheless.

“I just need to pinch myself because I can’t believe it’s actually happening to be honest,” Newton said. “All the girls drafted to the Doggies, Liz (Georgostathis) and Gem (Lagioia) as well and Izzy Grant, they’re all such good friends. “I can’t believe we’re all going in together, it’s so exciting.”

McEvoy, dubbed ‘Big Boy’ as the cousin of Hawthorn ruck Ben, had equal sentiment.

“It’s so exciting… to know that I’m starting at a new club, I get to meet all these new people which I’m so excited about,” she said. “Hopefully I can make a good first impression, I’m really looking forward to getting stuck into it.”

Going against the suggested unknown order of events heading into the big day, Patrikios came armed with arguably the best line of any draftee on the day.

“It’s going to be great to bring footy back to Moorabbin,” she said, becoming an instant hit with the Saints faithful – and likely the marketing department, too.

“Lucy and Gabby are amazing players and even (more) amazing people. “They deserved it, they’ve worked so hard, they’ve put a lot of work in over the last couple of years and they’ve been amazing. “I can’t wait to see how they go next season,” she added, becoming an even bigger hit with her fellow big three buddies.”

Fresh and familiar faces to build Bulldogs’ future

HOLDING four top ten picks – including the first – heading into Tuesday’s AFL Women’s Draft, much of the pre-draft chat surrounded how the Western Bulldogs would use their high-end selections.

They lost superstars Katie Brennan and Monique Conti to league newcomer Richmond after ending their premiership defence with just two wins and at the bottom of a strong Conference A. It called for rejuvenation, a new direction, and their raft of new pups would front it.

Brennan replacements now come in the form of pick one, Gabby Newton and pick six, Nell Morris-Dalton – both key members of the undefeated Northern Knights and Vic Metro sides. Skip a selection over to picks eight and nine and the themes become more evident. Classy speedsters Gemma Lagioia (Oakleigh) and Elisabeth Georgostathis (Western) plug the run-and-carry void left by Conti, with father-daughter selection Isabella Grant, Northern’s Britney Gutknecht, and Oakleigh’s Amelia van Oosterwijck filling out a rejuvenated Dogs list.

Player retention is currently a hot topic in the game, and one would think recruiting seven girls who had all played together under the very same coach they would look up to in their first AFLW season goes a long way to solving that issue. Indeed, new Dogs coach and former Sandringham/Vic Metro mentor Nathan Burke had a huge say in how his new side’s draft hand played out, and it saw his club remain a focal point carrying into the post-draft chat.

While the Brennan/Conti replacement theory is rather basic, wide-eyed and bubbly draftee Lagioia gave a similar analysis of how she might fit into the team alongside fellow outside runner, Georgostathis.

“Obviously there’s some pretty big shoes to fill,” she said. “I think working into it, we won’t be at that level this year but hopefully in the next few years we can really pay back what (the Bulldogs) have given us by taking us so early.”

“We’ve played together before, we’re quite similar players so maybe I’ll play on one wing and Liz will play on the other.”

“Obviously Gabby (Newton) and Nell (Morris-Dalton) are very close, they played at Northern and then we all played together at Vic Metro so it’s just really exciting to be able to stick together and go into a club where you know a lot of people already.”

Hailing from the Western region, Georgostathis’ sense of belonging at her new club comes two-fold, with the versatile runner proud to be the first Jet to find an AFLW home in 2019. Coming in alongside the likes of Lagoia, Newton and Morris-Dalton made the occasion that bit sweeter.

“Yeah I am (happy),” she said. “Being the first Western Jet girl is pretty good, the Jets have helped me so much over the past four years and I’m so grateful for them and all the development and all the staff there.”

“I’m sure the Bulldogs have a great development program and all they want is the best for the girls to help us develop into the future, not just this year but hopefully the next five years.”

“Seeing we’ve played with (Gabby and Nell) in the National Championships we know how they play and we all know how each other work a bit so we can use that on the field… I don’t know if Gem remembers but we played together in the Under-15 National Championships. “We didn’t know each other that well back then but then coming again this year and playing Vic Metro together, it’s pretty good and now playing Bulldogs with (Gemma) is really good.”

Rounding off the consensus sentiment among the new pups was number one pick Newton, who sounded a great advertisement for the Dogs’ tactics in the love shown for each teammate she is set to line up alongside for years to come.

“I love Nell, she’s one of my best friends,” she said. “All the girls drafted to the Doggies, Liz and Gem as well and Izzy Grant, they’re all such good friends. “I can’t believe we’re all going in together, it’s so exciting to have fresh faces in and around the club.”

The use of familiarity in building a future spine could prove to be one of the most fruitful draft strategies of recent times, but a lot has to play out until we can say so for sure. For now though, boy is the 2019 Bulldogs draft class chuffed with being reunited, ready to help Footscray find its way firmly back on the map.

Note: The Western Bulldogs also signed South Adelaide young gun and talented athlete Hannah Munyard today as a free agent.

Grant following in father’s footsteps

FOR 17-year-old Isabella Grant, the path to football has been a little bit different with a big interest in basketball shaping a lot of her junior sporting journey, while her father Chris Grant played 341 games for Western Bulldogs over a 17-year period.

“I initially played basketball for the majority of my primary school and into secondary school years, and then AFL Women’s came about and I was like ‘oh my god this is awesome, I’ve got to jump on this’ so I went down to Spotswood,” Grant said. “I went down to about two trainings and as soon as I started the culture just completely drew me towards it. I quit all my basketball commitments and went straight into footy I loved it that much.”

While having a football legend for a father could have seen Grant begin her footy journey a lot earlier, she was never pushed into the sport and was able to make her own decision about pursuing any sport she wanted.

“His passion has definitely driven me, absolutely,” Grant said. “But he’s just very supportive of whatever I want to do whether it was footy, basketball, whether I didn’t want to play a sport or not, he’s just really, really great so either way I definitely love footy.”

While she has now played football for a number of years, Grant said her development at the Western Jets has proved the importance and professionalism of the pathway even though it’s still in the early stages. Grant has also been given the opportunity to progress through the AFL Women’s Under 18 ranks, playing for Vic Metro in both 2018 and 2019.

“Everything about it, the professionalism, the development programs, just all the support they provide whether that be on or off the field, I’ve definitely developed as a person,” Grant said. “That (Metro in 2018) was really scary. “But I think coming together with other girls who are really skillful, it helped me learn off them it was so amazing, but definitely another development opportunity, they were all inclusive and great. “It’s a bit intimidating, it’s a bit scary but I think the support that Jets provide and family and friends, it makes it all a lot less scary.”

With a good kick and eye for the big sticks, Grant’s skill in front of goal makes her a massive threat able to adapt to anywhere on the field and have an impact. Grant said she prefers playing the midfield and wing, credit to her run and carry, but will play wherever she is needed showcasing her team-first attitude.

“I definitely need to improve on my left foot kicking, that’s something I’ve been working on towards the last couple of years,” she said. “Strengths maybe my fitness and run and carry, that’s something I’ve been better at, but again there’s so many things I could improve on there’s such a big list.”

2019 NAB League Girls Team of the Year announced

THE 2019 NAB Under 18 Girls Team of the Year was announced with five Northern Knights players named in the squad. The premiership side saw Sarah Sansonetti, Gabby Newton, Nell Morris-Dalton, Britney Gutknecht and Ellie McKenzie all make the team, while coach Marcus Abney-Hastings was named Coach of the Year after guiding his side to victory in the grand final.

The defence end of the Cannons impressed with Felicity Theodore and Georgie Prespakis both making the team while Georgia Patrikios also made her way into the side after a stellar 2019 performance. She was accompanied by Western Jets’ Elisabeth Georgostathis and Dandenong Stingrays’ Molly McDonald in the midfield thanks to their clever ball use and class across the field.

Western Bulldogs father-daughter prospect Isabella Grant was named at half forward for her efforts throughout the season for the Western Jets. Olivia Meagher and Murray Bushrangers’ youngster Olivia Barber also got named in the team of the season credit to their work in the forward 50 and ability to find the goals when their side needed them.

Molly Denahy-Maloney was named in the ruck with Geelong captain Lucy McEvoy and GWV Rebels player Sophie Molan earning a spot in the Team of the Year.

BP – 1 – M. TUPPER
CC – 3 – G. PRESPAKIS, G. PATRIKIOS, F. THEODORE
DS – 3 – I. SHANNON, T. SMITH, M. MCDONALD
ER – 2 – L. MCCLELLAND, O. MEAGHER
GF – 2 – L. MCEVOY, L. LESOSKY-HAY
GP – 1 – M. SHAW
GWV – 1 – S. MOLAN
MB – 2 – M. BROWN, O. BARNER
NK – 5 – S. SANSONETTI, E. MCKENZIE, G. NEWTON, N. MORRIS-DALTON, B. GUTKNECHT
OC – 1 – J. LIN
SD – 1 – M. DENAHY MALONEY
WJ – 2 – I. GRANT, E. GEORGOSTATHIS