Tigers belief for back-to-back flags “definitely there”

CLAREMONT coach Jack Schwarze has no doubt his side is capable of going back-to-back in the West Australian Football League (WAFL) Women’s competition. Backing up from an incredible season that saw the Tigers overcome a multitude of obstacles – both good and bad – to win the flag, Schwarze said his side would not shy away from their 2023 goals.

“We wouldn’t be in this position and playing footy if we didn’t think we could (win the flag),” Schwarze said. “We’re not going to hide away from the fact we’re here to go back-to-back so we’ll happily say it and be bold about it that we’re ready to challenge or rather protect and go back-to-back.

“Our squad is looking very, very strong regardless of what we’ve lost. We’ve been able to replace and there’s been a number of girls who have stepped up over the off-season and fill gaps of leadership and all sorts of roles. At the moment we’re looking very strong, but time will tell once we get to the season proper.”

Last season the Tigers lost captain Ella Smith and Sasha Goranova (West Coast), and Tessa Doumanis (Port Adelaide) midway through the season, before Emily Elkington, Madeleine Scanlon and Mikayla Western were picked up in the AFL Women’s Draft. Despite the upheaval of the moves and other hurdles such as COVID-19 and injuries, Claremont was able to find a settled squad on the eve of finals and play its best footy when it counted.

“To be honest it was one of those things that internally we knew that we could perform when it counted and we knew what our top level performance would look like regardless of who was in,” Schwarze said. “We spent the entire year talking about the roles that we play and our system and that everybody is able to fill those roles.

“Obviously it’s always great to have those talented players, but when they left, it just took a couple of weeks for us to get those new crew to fill those holes and as soon as they did, they’d been training that way all year, that it was able to come in time for the finals.”

Schwarze said it was a “positive” that the Tigers found out some of their stars would be unavailable prior to finals, enabling them to make instant changes to the 21 heading into finals.

“If it was any later, if it was literally on the cusp on the finals, who knows it might have been a different scenario, but the girls that were able to fill those holes, just needed a couple of weeks at the backend of the season just to get up to scratch and they got up to scratch pretty quickly,” he said. “Very pleasing yes, but not at all surprising. We internally knew where we were at the whole time.”

Making the flag all the more remarkable was the fact that Claremont had to overcome an undefeated East Fremantle juggernaut. The Tigers had pushed the Sharks a fortnight earlier in the qualifying final, which gave Claremont confidence going into the game, and Schwarze bought into the “underdog” tag.

“I think it is a lot easier to be the underdog so it definitely suited us at that point,” Schwarze said. “As long as you get the balance right of confidence. If you think you’re the underdog and you believe that everybody thinks that you’re going to lose, then you probably will. We had everybody pitting us as the underdog, but internally we knew that we had them.

“We knew that we had them in the semi-final, it’s just a couple of lapses of concentration and we just knew that if we tweaked those, then we were able to get them. It was a perfect balance of what was externally being thought and said, and those pressures, and then what we felt ourselves internally.”

Claremont played its first competitive match of the last six months, travelling to Darwin to defeat a Northern Territory Football League (NTFL) Women’s All-Stars side by 11 points. Schwarze said he was surprisingly impressed by the performance given the amount of change over the last season.

“It was really good to get a game in on the weekend as well to see where we’re actually at, and to be honest, I was pleasantly surprised that we’re tracking a lot better than I thought,” he said. “I was almost hoping to get a few areas that maybe we haven’t hit yet or what we needed to tweak, but we’re doing everything right so far, and we just need to polish a few parts and get ready for the season.”

Claremont has plenty of familiar faces, but also a lot of new ones, headlined by Subiaco best and fairest winner, Jayme Harken who will fill a crucial void left by the departures of Smith and Goranova.

“Coming off the back of winning the premiership last year we’ve had a bit of a turnover with six girls drafted, two of which played in that premiership side,” Schwarze said. “Then another two retired from the premiership side and two wanted to have other things on, they wanted to go travelling and joining the Army Reserves so they went back to West Perth just to take a bit of a backwards step but still be at League level and it was their original club so we were more than happy for them to go back there.”

Those departures will test the Tigers, as they will with any side given the removal of the Reserves competition in 2023, for the league to help focus on the Rogers Cup level and continue to grow the incredible youth coming through the state.

“It does make a bit of a difference to the list, we’ve only got a couple of new recruits come in, so it’s really just our depth and our Rogers Girls coming up that’s keeping our talent going, but we’ve started really well,” Schwarze said. “(We) had a camp in Albany early on in our preseason, late November which set us up and showed that the group is still very close knit, very connected but with no Ressies we were able to challenge the standard that we would train at, so we’ve been training pretty heavily.”

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