Eagles utilise “growth year” to fly higher

A VERY different looking Eagles outfit on and off the field in 2022 has helped set Woodville-West Torrens up for greater success in 2023 according to captain Annie Falkenberg. Boasting an incredibly young list alongside a sprinkling of veterans, the Eagles were far more competitive in the South Australian National Football League (SANFL) Women’s than their seventh placed finish might suggest.

For Falkenberg and her teammates, it was about getting off the bottom of the ladder and putting the foundation blocks in place to be a competitive unit in the future. As one of the newer sides in the competition, the last couple of seasons had been tough, but 2022 showed the light at the end of the tunnel. The Eagles skipper described the season as a “growth year” for the club.

“We had a new playing group, a new head coach,” Falkenberg said. “I think we were all on the same page, all had the same goals in mind. I think we just needed another year to kind of refine that and kind of get our head around that and I think this season we’re there.

“We’re already there in preseason and we’ve reflected and learnt from last year on how we can take our game to the next level. Even though it didn’t reflect on the scoreboard, I think things off-field and the structures and systems we’ve put in place on-field have just grown leaps and bounds.”

Falkenberg was one of the anomaly’s from the Eagles, with the 25-year-old representing a thin “middle” bracket that was heavily represented at the bottom end, and featured quite a few 30-plus year-olds for experience.

McKenzie Dowrick landed a full-time contract on Adelaide’s list post-AFL Women’s Draft, with sister Abbey Dowrick producing a memorable first year in the teal for Port Adelaide. Ella Little also gained a late chance on Melbourne’s list, while former Crow Jessica Sedunary got a full season in before heading west to don the blue and gold.

“I was in that middle 24 year-old, 25 year-old range and there wasn’t a heavy bunch in the middle,” Falkenberg said. “It was mainly us seniors and our youth. I think across women’s footy nationally that’s the case. In most teams you’ve got your senior players who have played from the heyday, and then the girls who are coming up now through their pathways.

“I think this year it’s a bit more levelled out. Our senior players from last year have either gone back into the AFLW or retired. Now we’ve seen the new generation wave being a more dominant group which is awesome to see.”

While a host of Eagles got their foot in the door, or earned new contracts, another Eagle was flying high at the AFL Women’s Under 18 Championships. Shineah Goody produced an unforgettable carnival as she helped lead South Australia to an undefeated championships, earning overall Most Valuable Player (MVP) and All-Australian honours. Falkenberg praised Goody’s incredible work ethic and said she deserved every accolade that came her way.

“She’s just amazing and she’s just a workhorse and she does it mainly from home back at her country town in Edithburgh,” Falkenberg said. “She’s actually not on the track maybe once a week, so for her to be at such an elite level and do her training on her own is just amazing.

“Such a commitment on her behalf and shows how naturally good she is at footy and then if you can imagine a whole preseason pumped into her as well, it would just take her to another level. The commitment from her is just amazing and it’s sad that we’re probably going to lose her next year to the draft, but we’ve still got another year with her.”

Alongside Goody, the Eagles have an abundance of teenage or young talent coming through the ranks. Ashley Baker won a local league best and fairest, with fellow Woodville-West Torrens teammate Nikita McRostie also being one of the strongest performers in that league.

Then there are the Under 16s young guns who are stepping up to their first SANFL Women’s season with the likes of Teagan Dunbar, Skye Nagel and Zara Kemp some of the names Falkenberg highlighted as ones to watch in 2023.

In 2023, the Eagles will undoubtedly look to move up the ladder. They have been able to secure some incredible, experienced recruits once again, with St Kilda AFLW ruck Leah Cutting crossing from Norwood to the club, and will be set to trial a new role in defence as she hopes to make her way to a South Australian team in order to juggle her work and football. Alongside Cutting is fellow AFLW experienced utility, Beatrice Devlyn who crossed from wooden spooners West Adelaide to take up a spot under Eagles coach Narelle Smith.

Falkenberg said over the preseason, the club had taken its high performance “up another level” and was focused on running out four quarters. In 2022, Woodville-West Torrens lead at the final break against South Adelaide, North Adelaide, Glenelg and Central District in the second half of the season, but failed to take away any points from those games. Had they won those games, the Eagles would have finished fourth and played finals.

“Our conditioning and our running ability has been a heavy focus,” Falkenberg said. “I think last year we lacked running out the game and that was a confidence thing but as well not knowing how to run out the game physically and mentally.

“We’ve had a massive focus on running and lots and lots of running, and running conditioning sets at the end of training once we’re actually done. We’ll keep going and keep pushing ourselves to replicate that fourth quarter effort. I think that’s been the main piece that we’re focused on.”

The SANFL Women’s season kicks off on February 17, with the official fixture to be announced in the near future.

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