Westies tweak structure in search of next step
SITTING seventh and seemingly struggling after Round 7, West Adelaide Women’s coach Mark Moody admitted there was some head scratching going on. Fast forward five weeks, and the Bloods were into their maiden South Australian National Football League (SANFL) Women’s Grand Final off the back of five consecutive wins. Though the young team ultimately fell short of lifting the trophy, Moody said the season was a memorable one.
“It was very, very good,” he said. “To get to where we finished was pleasing considering after Round 7 we were sitting at the second bottom and were starting to scratch our heads. “We then dug a little bit deeper and went through and changed a few things up, changed our training methods, just regrouped and it was really, really good for the group to get together and then win those last five games, so three of them minor round and then the two to get them into the grand final was really good. “To win five straight and to beat three out of the four in the top four was great to actually get through to the grand final, so it was good.”
Despite the relative success for a side that had previously never made finals, Moody said the club would not rest on its laurels, and was determined to tweak a few structural areas to get back to that point, and hopefully go one better. He said the 2022 West Adelaide side would have some “major changes”.
“We were always known as a surge football club and in and under and hard tackling, closing down space,” Moody said, “Some of that will still continue, but we’ve moved away to a completely different gameplan, people and all the coaches and the opposition will see our movement will be different to what it was last season.”
Moody said the personnel that had been brought in allowed for the change, but despite “the surge” taking a backseat for 2022, the team would remain a “free-flowing” running side.
West Adelaide has brought in 27 new players to its football program to cope with the increased demand due to the Development League. Moody said the preseason had been “really good” and that a high volume of numbers from the previous season returned for 2022.
Though having a large presence of return players, West Adelaide has welcomed ex-Norwood talent Jess Macolino and former West Coast AFL Women’s player Beatrice Devlyn. Moody said both would be “really good inclusions”.
“J-Mac (Macolino) in particular has been a regular star in the SANFL for a good period of time and she will just add heaps and heaps of depth to our onball,” Moody said. “Then also she will be dangerous when she pushes forward, so that’s a real good get for us. Beatrice Devlyn from WA, that’s just as good of a get. “Obviously Beatrice is a good inside, but she’s a real good outside runner as well.”
Along with the pair of well-known mature age recruits, the Westies have also picked up a trio of players from interstate including Tasmanian duo Ebony Berenger and Lily Johnson, and Tash McKay from Canberra. Moody describes Berenger as a “hard tough nut with a beautiful kick”, McKay as a “hard-running half-back” and Johnson as a “young gun” to keep an eye on for the future.
The other major change from a West Adelaide perspective was the unfortunate injury to SANFL Women’s League Best and Fairest Lauren Young who tore her anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) over the preseason. Moody said she would not have a heavy off-field role. more being an observer that would aid in her development from a football IQ perspective, and would reap the benefits from the sidelines.
YOUNG GUNS TO WATCH
AFL Women’s Academy member Keeley Kustermann looms as the key draft prospect to watch out of the Bloods side this year Moody said Kustermann had “improved two-fold” since entering the West Adelaide program, and her athletics background showed in the way she played. Though having become known for her work off half-back and pushing up the ground, Kustermann is set for a role change in 2022.
“She’s going to have a stint inside the game,” Moody said. “I think that her skill level’s picked up, her actual physique’s picked up. she’s done some work over preseason and looks a treat on the track and she looks very solid. “Her runs haven’t dropped off in any way, all her runs have been great.”
Moody also added that Kustermann was purely focusing on football this year, taking a break from her athletics.
“We identified Keeley a couple of years ago that she was going to be a star, and she’s starting to come to fruition,” he said. “She’s still got a little bit of work to do, but I’m sure Port Adelaide will be licking their lips when draft time comes up because she’s one they’ll look at straight away.”
Among the other names to keep an eye on are Johnson, Jess Chyer, Emma Kilpatrick, Gracie McNichol and the highly-touted Lucy Boyd.
“Lucy has been in most of the state programs,” Moody said. “She’s only a 15-year-old individual, but very, very good physique, very football mind and she is in the same mould as Lauren (Young) where she was really keen and ready to play footy last years in seniors but we had to hold her back until she we was actually 15. “She’s keen, eager, really ready to go.”
Moody said both McNichol – who had a taste of League football last year – and Kilpatrick were accurate kicks, whilst Chyer has the potential to become a regular after cracking into the side for one game last year.
SIDE & RULE CHANGES
In 2022, the Development League is not the only addition to the SANFL Women’s competition. The quarters will increase by three minutes (to 20 minutes) and the matchday sides will decrease from 18 on-field players to 16, and have five bench players (instead of four).
“I’m really happy with the 16 on-field,” Moody said. If we’re going to have our AFLW girls come back and play, we’ll obviously want to promote our kids and give the opportunity for people to play AFL, I think having the same as them is good.”
Though “not a fan” of the anti-density rule, Moody said he liked the increase up to 20 minutes per quarter and the additional interchange spot.
“I don’t mind the 20 minutes, I think that’s a good change,” Moody said. “The SANFL has done the right thing by increasing the bench so we have an extra rotation now that we’ve had two players removed and increased by three minutes. “To have that extra rotation and that extra player on the bench will work out pretty good for all the players and coaches.”
It is no surprise with so many burgeoning young talents that the West Adelaide coach is a fan of the Development League. Moody agreed that the reserves competition would ease the burden on selection given each player could earn a League spot on their merits through performance, and not just on the training track like in previous seasons.
“Last year and the year before, you’d pick your 25 and you don’t get to see those girls because the seasons aren’t aligned with the other clubs, so to have at least eight rounds with them is going to be a bonus for them, and to have them in the squad is fantastic,” Moody said.
“On top of that Westies have an Under 18s program, so both that development squad and the Under 18s program is where we pull our players from to develop our squad so looking forward to the development squad. “It also gives us a great opportunity to have some project players inside our program and to be able to develop those project players. “Most of those project players are code hoppers, so to be able to have them in the development league is good for us, the program and the SANFL in its entirety.”
ROUND 1 FOCUS
Moody was feeling confident ahead of Round 1 against fellow contender, and 2020 premier North Adelaide. The West Adelaide coach said though he did not expect it to be a large margin, he believed his team could get the job done if the Westies played to their potential.
“We’re going in with a positive attitude that we can match it with anyone in the competition, we’ve just got to come and play with our new structures,” Moody said. “We beat North to make the finals last year and there’s nothing that scares us about North Adelaide so as far as we’re concerned, we’ll go out and worry about game one, play to our structures, play to our gameplan and everything else should take care of itself.
“(We’re) very excited that it’s Round 1. “The girls have worked hard since October, and coaches as well. It’s really good, hopefully COVID doesn’t have any impact like it did a couple of years ago, so looking forward to Round 1 and looking forward to having some competition.”