Pios excited about athleticism and depth

LUCKY not to be too interrupted over the preseason thus far, Bendigo Pioneers Girls senior coach Danny O’Bree has his “fingers crossed” about the upcoming season. Bolstering a new-look list with plenty of talent across various age groups he is ready to unleash on the NAB League Girls competition, O’Bree said it would be great if the season could escape unscathed in 2022.

“Fingers crossed we can actually get started. Obviously with so much Covid around there’s a bit of uncertainty,” he said. “I think we had one game that needed to be postponed last year, but we got every game in, so if we could have that again this year that’s all we’re asking for. “A lot of consistency, I think the kids have had enough go wrong in the last two years that it would be just good to allow them to play each week and continue to develop as footballers.”

The Pioneers have had a “relatively smooth” off-season, with only a few hiccups due to restrictions, but O’Bree described the club as “reasonably lucky” when it came to pre-Christmas preparations.

“Hopefully we can get into the games etc and have some team meetings and some team meals,” O’Bree said. “If the rules say we can’t we’ll have to find some other ways to tick those boxes. “We’ve got to stay optimistic I guess, we’re really keen to hopefully get into some games and get the 10-week program completed without any hiccups.”

The majority of the Pioneers list is able to attend the Bendigo satellite, with between five-to-10 in each of the other regional satellites. O’Brien said the 2022 list would have more of an athletic feel to it, with the club opting to follow the trends of the modern game.

“We’ve made a conscious decision to set these girls up to succeed, so we feel that the game is going in that direction,” he said. “We feel that if we can keep developing these girls, we’re going to prepare them for the next level at VFLW or potentially AFLW, so that’s a direction we’ve chosen to go.”

Bendigo Pioneers’ 2022 AFLW Draft crop is headlined by AFL Women’s Academy member Octavia Di Donato who has proven to play on any line with some outstanding attributes. O’Bree said it was her ridiculously high work rate that saw her reap the rewards.

“‘Tav’ just works so hard and she’s been consistent for six years now,” he said. “Very rarely misses a training, it would have to be illness or injury that would hold her out and because of her consistency she’s very rarely away from training. In the gym, consistent with her skills, consistent with her running, she’s got an exceptional routine, and as we all know, you put in the work you get the reward.”

The other top-age talent with Di Donato in the Vic Country hub is versatile tall Tegan Williams who possesses plenty of natural footballing ability.

“Tegan has an exceptional skill set,” O’Bree said. “I think she can be suited in the key positions anywhere and we will give her an opportunity to play up forward this year. “She’s a really good mark, she’s an excellent kick. “If we can potentially get the footy to her more often this year, she could spend more of her life up forward. “But if we require her down back, we’re really comfortable playing in those positions as well.”

Bendigo also has two other Vic Country hub representatives in the form of bottom-age duo Bryde O’Rourke and Lila Keck. O’Bree said the pair just loved their footy and the Pioneers program.

“I think these girls love their spot, they love being a part of the team and they bring so much energy to our group When you’re happy and enjoying what you’re doing you generally improve really quickly,” he said. “They work exceptionally hard, they do all their extras so again they’re getting all the reward for their work.”

Outside of the Vic Country representatives, O’Bree named a couple of other ones to watch this season who could improve rapidly off the back of strong preseasons.

“Yeah we have quite a few, we’re quite excited about that actually,” O’Bree said. “Arkie Donnelly is definitely one who will booster our midfield. She has good endurance, she’s a very smart player and has very good skills. Looking forward to what she has to offer this year, she’s had a super preseason as well. “Another one is Niah Bacon who is new into our program, I think she’s a 176cm or maybe more. “She has a really good fitness base, she’s developing her skills quite quickly so I think she’ll be one to watch as well.”

Looking to future years, O’Bree said there were plenty of names who had impressed him on the training track, but would wait to see what they could show in matches. As always, he was hoping a number of the younger players could gradually build up their leadership skills to take over roles for the following year.

“We’ve got some really talented youngsters which I don’t need to add any pressure to their time in the Pioneers,” O’Bree said. “We’re just really keen to get them in with a few of the older girls to find their feet in the program and then really take over towards the end of the year I’m hoping with a bit of leadership and experience.”

Bendigo Pioneers take on Murray Bushrangers at Yarrawonga from 1pm on Saturday, January 22 to open the 2022 NAB League Girls season.

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