AFTER a winless 2021 AFL Women’s campaign, the Gold Coast Suns are on the rise in 2022. Having won two of their three games – both coming back from last quarter deficits – the south Queensland side is building something special. Coach Cameron Joyce said the playing group had certainly benefited from its fighting victories over both West Coast and Richmond in the past three weeks.
“I think just some confidence and belief in the way that we’re trying to play and also too that in any circumstance, (like) that deficit with only seven or eight minutes to go, that it certainly holds us in good stead,” he said.
ROUND 2 VS WEST COAST
In the case of the memorable West Coast game, Gold Coast fought back from 16 points down at the eight-minute mark of the final term to pile on five consecutive goals. Tara Bohanna booted three, and Kate Surman kicked two in a massive last quarter. Though seemingly down and out, Joyce said at that point, he hoped his side could stick at it and maintain the faith, though even he admitted that what transpired was better than anything he could have hoped for from the match.
“I was really, really keen at that stage for us to make sure that we were trying to play our game and try and get the game back looking like we wanted it to and to make sure we played it out right to the end,” Joyce said. “I’d be silly to say that we knew or I thought that was the eventual result and how the last of the seven or eight minutes was what I thought was going to happen because that would be fanciful. “But at the same time I was just really keen for the girls to stick at it and try and get the game back on our terms.”
ROUND 3 VS RICHMOND
After COVID-19 protocols put a line through the Suns’ Round 3 clash, Gold Coast had to wait a fortnight before looking to go back-to-back with wins. Having only picked up their first victory in two years, the Suns were determined not to let it be a once off. Trailing Richmond by eight points at the final break, the Suns once again found a way to grind, and get the win.
“Being down by eight points at three quarter time and being able to win by five, that just gives the girls some confidence that ‘geez if we stick at it, we’ve got some belief that the formula works and if we can get the game looking like we want it to, then there’s certainly some opportunities for us’,” Joyce said.
TRANSITION FROM NAB LEAGUE TO AFLW
It is easy to forget that Gold Coast came off a winless season in 2021 with the way they are playing, and Joyce himself is new to the club. In 2021, he coached the Tasmania Devils to a minor premiership in the NAB League Girls Country Pool, and whilst the Devils suffered a heartbreaking defeat at the hands of the Greater Western Victoria (GWV) Rebels in the first week of finals, it was still a remarkable rise from the Apple Isle side that was belted in its only two matches the previous season.
Stepping up to the AFL Women’s head coach role, Joyce said the role itself was not too dissimilar to that at NAB League level, but he relished the extra time to focus on not only his own coaching and strategies, but with the playing group too.
“I’ve really enjoyed the opportunity to coach at AFLW level even though it’s only been three games,” he said. “But I don’t think it’s changed significantly in terms of how I have gone about it. “I’ve probably tried to keep it reasonably the same as I went about it in the NAB League. “I think probably the big difference is you’ve got more time to spend on your coaching and more time to spend with the players than you may have had in a NAB League sense.”
Though he was coming into a club fresh off a winless season, he said the expectations were not about the wins and losses, but more about the processes to put in place to build for the future. Joyce said it was key to establish “our identity” and create a set of strong values and standards that would drive the team forward.
PRESEASON & ROUND 1
In the lead-up to the season, Gold Coast suffered a heavy defeat at the hands of the Brisbane Lions, but improved on that effort against GWS GIANTS in Round 1. Though the Suns did not collect the four points, they matched it with the GIANTS for the most part, before the more experienced side ran out the game stronger. Joyce said both matches had provided the club with plenty of lessons.
“I think we’ve certainly learnt some lessons from those couple of games that’s certainly held us in good stead now, and just also too how the better teams are going about it and just how hard you need to work in both offence and defence against any team,” he said.
Gold Coast has not been immune to the challenges of COVID-19, missing the Round 3 game and players having to isolate for a week, and not play for 14 days until the following round. Though based on the performance it appeared not to have an impact, Joyce said it was crucial to assist players in any way the club could, knowing it was not a “one size fits all” scenario.
“One thing I said to the players is you don’t lose your talent or your fitness in six or seven days,” he said. “I think given they’d been training for four or five months now and everyone copes differently off the back of COVID, it’s certainly not one size fits all, but at the same time, just trying to give them the belief that the work they’ve done previous will hold them in really good stead and understanding that we certainly wouldn’t be playing players that were not healthy.”
ROUND 5 VS MELBOURNE
Though the Suns are coming off a two-game winning streak, Gold Coast now faces its toughest opponent yet – Melbourne. The premiership contender is reeling from its first loss of the season against Adelaide where the Dees went scoreless for three quarters. Joyce said the clash against the Dees would be a massive test for his young side.
“They’re a really classy outfit. They’ve almost got stars on each line really,” he said. “They’re a reasonably established team too, so their midfield is really strong and they can score quickly. We’re really looking forward to the challenge and we know that it’s going to be a big challenge for us to take on one of the top four or five teams in the competition. “We’ll certainly have to be on our game midfield wise to make sure that we’re winning enough of the ball and sending it forward to give ourselves an opportunity so it’s not going back the other way.”
REMAINDER OF SEASON EXPECTATIONS
Heading into the second half of the season, the Suns were looking to continue the growth shown both individually and as a team, for the last six rounds. Joyce specifically mentioned the abundance of 21 and under players such as first year draftees Charlie Rowbottom and Ashanti Bush, as well as the lkes of Ellie Hampson, Kalinda Howarth, Serene Watson, Daisy D’Arcy and Dee Heslop as ones who will continue to establish themslves at the elite level, and play a lot of footy for the Suns in the coming years.
“I think we’ve got quite a big crew who are 21 and under. We’re looking for that group to really step up and start establishing themselves in the competition,” Joyce said. “Like most teams we’ve got a significant amount of young players and players who haven’t played a lot at the level, so we’re looking at the improvement.
“We’re looking at week to week at those, but also to build on our gamestyle so in time it can stack up against anyone. That’s the goal, but we understand we’re on the path too. We’ve got a fair bit of growth and improvement left in us.”