FOR the second successive year, Collingwood heads into the Victorian Football League Women’s (VFLW) finals series as the team to beat, sitting atop the table and claiming the minor premiership. But while that history repeats, coach Penny Cula-Reid is keen to ensure that the 2018 finals series history – which contained back-to-back losses and a straight sets exit – will not repeat. Cula-Reid said the “uneasy” nature of the AFLW season has the players determined to prove a point, and also take the learnings from last year in the VFLW to go deeper in 2019.
“I think the group itself has really evolved and developed from last year into this year, and same with AFL girls having such an uneasy AFLW season, coming into VFLW they really wanted to prove something and work on the things they needed to work on,” Cula-Reid said. “(We’re doing) nothing differently because I think that the girls have the experience knowing what it was like in the finals series. “Still going in with the mindset of anything is possible. “Obviously we wanted to make sure we have a winning mentality and making sure our mental game is strong. “We all know finals series are a completely different game and anything can happen on day, and it’s really important for us as a collective that we’re all doing it together.”
The Magpies have enjoyed welcoming a host of Oakleigh Chargers players who stepped up from NAB League Girls and AFL Women’s Under-18 Championships level to don the black and white stripes at VFLW level. Cula-Reid said their fast-tracked development compared to predecessors and current AFLW players was noticeable, and while the game style had been tweaked, it was the young “superstars” that were having an impact in 2019.
I still think the anti-density rule that something teams can expose if they know how to stick to a gameplan,” she said. “But really important, I think it’s just the game, you see these young 18-year-olds coming through and they’re just bloody superstars. “You get them when they’re coming off a championships up in Queensland and we’ve got, Gemma Lagioia, Nicola Xenos and Amelia Van Oosterwijck who unfortunately did her ankle, but these are the kids who have been playing high-level football at the highest possible level they can at such a young age and they just bring a completely different dynamic into our team. “We’re just really excited for them and all the other 18-year-olds who are playing through the finals series, and obviously the draft is coming up so no better time to see them in action than the finals series.”
The Oakleigh Chargers link is one that is going strong for the Magpies, with Cula-Reid working with the NAB League Girls club, to continue their development pathway up to the top level.
“It’s been great,” Cula-Reid said of the two club’s affiliation. “We’ve been very fortunate, especially last year. We had two girls from the Oakleigh Chargers in Katie Lynch and Daisy Bateman both getting drafted to teams, so fantastic exposure for them and I get the chance to go down to training, watch a few of their games, have a chat to their coach Luke (O’Shannessy), and it’s just great for us that we get that talent pool. “But we’re juggling the fact that they play private school football as well, so it’s a bit of a catch-22, we get some of the best talent, but we’ve also got to make sure their schooling is number one.”
The Magpies held the key to the 2019 AFL Women’s Draft with multiple first and second round picks to select the likes of Lynch and Mikala Cann. It is a very different looking story heading into 2020, with the club not making a selection until Pick 67. But considering what the Magpies brought in, Cula-Reid said it was worth the wait.
“We had a great recruit in Brianna Davey and I think for that, she’s worth all the draft picks in the world to be honest,” Cula-Reid. “What she brings to the team is phenomenal. “There’s so much young talent out there, the exposure and the opportunity to have access to the resources that we have at Collingwood and we’ve got some of the best coaches there, like Nathan Buckley who was coach of the year last year and we get to tap into the men’s system as well, so fantastic for us that we get that development from a coaching perspective and now we’ve got a new coach in Steve Symonds, and again his expertise in what he brings to the club … look out for us in 2020.”
Cula-Reid said the introduction of Symonds to the club was a massive benefit and that the pair worked well together in terms of their focus on development and coaching beliefs.
“He came in July, so it was sort of just a one person show until then,” she said. “But he’s taken Norwood to three grand finals, he’s worked in coach development, he’s worked in player development, he’s worked coaching at the highest level too, he’s coached at Adelaide as well. “We’ve very excited and very lucky and fortunate to have someone like Steve come in and he’s taken me under his wing, and like I’ve been saying to a lot of the people that we actually read from the same book, he’s just a few chapters in front of me. I come in to say good morning to him and we sit there for like 40 minutes just talking about football and I’m like ‘we haven’t even started my day yet and we’re already talking footy’ but he’s great having around the club. “Very invested, very involved with the girls, especially in the VFL program. “Obviously moving into the AFL program, he wants to build from here and move into the AFL season.”
Potentially the Magpies could look from within to find the next AFLW star, developing their current and possibly future AFLW players.
“It’s really important for our AFL girls to get experience and exposure in other positions, because on gameday anything can happen and to have that flexibility to throw them from one end of the field to the other, chuck them on the wing or inside mid, it’s part of their football development,” Cula-Reid said. “If we think footy IQ is really important, there’s no way better than if you’re a one-dimensional player, you’re not going to get many opportunities, but if we can throw you up one end of the field or the other, that’s great exposure for them and great development for them, and we’ve got such a young list that anything is possible with these girls, so we’re pretty excited about that.”
Now with the finals about to commence, Cula-Reid has squarely focused on the next month as the Magpies look to win their maiden VFLW premiership. While the Saints are the biggest threat to the Magpies on paper, Cula-Reid said any one of the finals sides could take out the premiership.
“You can’t go past Southern Saints,” she said. “They’re pretty phenomenal all season. “We only met them in Round 1, and unfortunately for us we only had 24 players to pick from on our list then, so I think this weekend’s going to be a different story but they’ve come in leaps and bound. “You can’t go past Richmond, lucky enough for us to win after the siren, and Geelong’s back in the finals series again, you’ve got Melbourne Uni also affiliated with North Melbourne and then you can’t go past any of the other teams in the competition, so anything can happen on the day.”
Collingwood hosts Southern Saints at their spiritual home of Victoria Park from 12pm on Saturday, August 31.