One week on – Reflections on a grand final fairy tale

YOU really had to be there to feel all the drama and tension of last week’s epic NAB League Girls decider. There was a clear sense of history being made as the final siren blared, and a raft of Western Jets supporters flooded the field to celebrate with their newly crowned premiers.

But like Rome, the moment was not built in a day. After managing just three wins in 2021, and seven in their last three seasons combined, the Jets came together before their latest campaign to create a clear goal – make finals.

Speaking “in shock” post-game, premiership captain Charlotte Baskaran said the team’s deliverance of success to the West was credit to plenty of hard work.

“I’ve been at the Jets for 4-5 years now, and the (perception) of the West has not always been very positive,” Baskaran said. “We decided last season, we could have won so many games, we came so close and at the beginning of this season we all had that dream and goal to get here. A lot of that has come through our training standards and what we do off the field as well. It’s just a credit to all the coaches for pushing us and helping us wherever possible.”

One person who has been there with the likes of Baskaran across those several seasons is talent operations lead, Luke Williams. Having helped identify the region’s talent over a number of years and directed the program to its inaugural NAB League flag, he said a “template” has been established for the pathway going forward.

“Using Montana Ham and Charlotte as examples, they’ve been doing preseasons with the Jets since they were 13 or 14,” Williams said. “Lou-Lou Field and Sierra Grieves were eligible to play NAB League this year for the first time, but they’ve had two preseasons with us training.

“I think that’s so important to get them at a young age and have great coaches like Robbie (Chancellor) and the coaching group, and the strength and conditioning staff to nurture them over multiple years. It almost makes you even prouder to have done the journey over a long period as opposed to just the one or two (years).”

Plenty could be said for the bond of Western’s group, which was backed by a raucous crowd at Avalon Airport Oval. Coming up against an undefeated Dandenong Stingrays side which had them down by 22 points at half time, there were plenty of nerves in the Jets camp. Star midfielder, Ham said the turnaround was a matter of Western asserting its identity on the contest.

“We started a bit jittery but we were able to go back in and regroup at half time,” Ham said. “We talked about playing our brand of footy and slowing it down, so we were able to get it back on our terms, play how we play and it came off. The energy we drew off the crowd was credit to them for all the support they brought. All our families and friends, we couldn’t have done it without them so we’re grateful for them.”

The “unbelievable” match-winning moment came from an unlikely hero of sorts – Jets ruck Krystal Russell. With scores tied at 41 points apiece and the ball locked in Western’s attacking 50, any score would have done the job. Russell went five better than a behind, booting the first goal of her NAB League career with the last kick of the game.

“I’m over the moon,” Russell said. “I haven’t kicked a goal all season, or in my career really. I just got boot to ball and I don’t know how it happened, but our team so deserved it… our bond both on and off the field just grew so much. I couldn’t be happier with the group of girls I’m playing alongside.”

Baskaran and her Jets lift the NAB League Girls premiership cup.

Ask Williams about the source of his side’s “fairy tale” finish, and it comes as no real shock.

“Krystal’s a real workhorse and a warrior,” he said. “She had a great game and the fact that she was in and around the ball when it was there to be won was no surprise. She always puts herself in those positions and it’s a great feather in her cap really.”

Speaking of feathers in caps, there is no greater item on a coach’s resume than premiership glory. Robbie Chancellor is a mentor the Jets players have gravitated towards over the last two years, and it shows in the buy-in to an exciting brand of footy.

The bond between captain and coach is one that often speaks volume of the greater group, with the Baskaran-Chancellor combination proving a real recipe for success. Having just about been inseparable during their rise to the top, there is a clear element of respect between the pair.

“I see him three to four times a week at school and we do a lot of vision, we chat and that relationship with him or the bond that we’ve created is definitely going to be something we have in the future,” Baskaran said. “Not only is he a good coach, but he’s a great person and I’m so lucky that I got to share this experience with him.”

That kind of sentiment was felt throughout the squad, with Ham, Baskaran’s long-time partner in crime describing her skipper as nothing less than a “legend”.

“Charlotte’s a great footballer, a great person all-round and the best captain,” she said. “It’s a credit to her and how she’s lead this group, just doing it with her has been amazing. It’s the best feeling ever. It’s been a long time coming, I’ve been in this program for five years we’ve finally gotten to the top. We’ve got an amazing group, to celebrate with these girls is just the best feeling in the world.”

For some of the Jets, their talent pathway rolls on in the form of representative duties, ahead of the 2022 AFL Women’s draft. Some will go back to local level for the rest of the year, while others still have their own personal journeys to fulfil at NAB League level for years to come.

Either way, their legacy on the Western Jets region and NAB League competition as a whole is now set in stone. They are premiers, and West is best.

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