Connection the key to flying Eagles

BOASTING an abundance of youth across the team, Woodville-West Torrens are searching for stronger connections and offence in 2023 as the Eagles hope to soar up the South Australian National Football League (SANFL) Women’s ladder.

The Eagles finished seventh last season in coach Narelle Smith‘s first year as head coach, jumping off the bottom of the ladder from the previous season and being far more competitive as a unit. Despite that fact, Smith said it was a “frustrating year” for the club.

“We obviously lost to Glenelg by two, North by four, we should have knocked Centrals off in Round 11, we let them back into the game,” Smith said. “I suppose that’s been the whole focus of our preseason was because of that, we really couldn’t run out games. Hopefully this year we’ll be able to stay out there longer and get those wins we weren’t able to across the line that we weren’t able to last year.”

Smith was pleased with the Eagles’ second half of the SANFL Women’s season, where they were far more competitive and looked dangerous at times. A heavy focus on youth has seen those Under 16s become more prepared for League action in 2023, allowing the Eagles to reap the “fruits” of their labour.

“It took a little while to work out personnel and their abilities and who was comfortable at the level and the balance of position,” Smith said. “I was really pleased last season how we had a focus on some youth, so we probably had 10 players from our Under 16s program so they’ll now be in their second year, so we’re seeing the fruits of that.

“Our dev side have won both of their trial matches, and really convincingly against Sturt too so that was great. That’s putting us in really good stead if and when we have some injuries during the year, or our Under 18 girls aren’t available because they’ll play State.”

Among those Under 18s girls is reigning Most Valuable Player (MVP) at the AFL Women’s Under 18 Championships, Shineah Goody who has always shown the talent, and her success comes as no surprise to Smith.

“Shineah’s a lay down misère AFLW player,” Smith said. “She’ll go to Port no doubt the way that the draft’s setup, she’ll probably be a priority pick depending on what that looks like next year. Really happy for her that she is 18 this year but the AFL has brought that rule to not draft them in their Year 12 year because she’s such a diligent, dedicated athlete already that it’s nice that she’s just going to be able to play at SANFL, learn her craft even more because we have some great coaches teaching her craft.”

The Eagles coach lauded Goody’s determination to become the best players she could be, supported by her outstanding balance of natural and physical gifts, something Smith deemed as a “rarity”.

“Superstars are just always going to be superstars, so she’s an absolute star, we might trial in some different positions just to round her out as she heads to AFLW,” Smith said. “The beauty with Shineah is her physical ability and her natural football ability is just a rarity for me. I don’t think we’ve produced anyone like her in the state to-date and she’s going to be a hot commodity that’s for sure, but I’m sure she’ll stay in Adelaide.”

Though Goody headlines the young Eagles, she is far from the only one, with a number of other South Australian state representatives set to play key roles in the 2023 SANFL Women’s season. A potential Port Adelaide father-daughter selection who has stepped up into the leadership group is another set for a breakout year at senior level.

Marlie Fiegert has had an outstanding preseason, she’s in probably best physical nick that we’ve see her in,” Smith said. “We think she’ll definitely get some mid minutes. Like I want to do with the majority of players I always want them to have a second position because if they’re striving to take the next step they really need to be able to play in other positions so that’s a really good tick for Marlie because she can play, forward, back, mid. Physically she’s really turned the corner in regards to high performance, so she’ll be really exciting.”

Another leadership group member, Chloe Charity and her younger sister Jemma are others to watch. Chloe is set to play inside 50 this season, a switch up from her defensive role over the recent seasons, while Jemma will continue to develop as a midfielder/forward, having won the South Australian MVP at the Under 16 Championships last year.

Goody will undoubtedly receive heavy attention from opposition in the 2023 SANFL Women’s season, with both Central District and Sturt sending players to tag her out of the game. Though undoubtedly frustrating for the young gun, Smith said they had spoken to the teenager about it and would only “intervene” with counter strategies if it was proving detrimental to the Eagles’ chances of winning.

“Unless it really impacts the game and she can’t get her hands on it, then we’ll implement some support strategies or shift her around the ground or do something like that, but she’s such a talent I want her way to work her way through that,” Smith said.

“We’ve discussed it during the week about how she actually broke that tag against Sturt really, really well. She’s just going to have to expect that being a player of her calibre that teams are going to want to nullify her. I tend to let her play her natural game and if she’s really struggling then we’ll intervene in some way.”

From youth to experience, a couple of key inclusions are AFLW-experienced talents Leah Cutting and Beatrice Devlyn. The pair crossed from Norwood and West Adelaide respectively, with the former keen to land at an Adelaide-based AFLW club for the next season.

“They’ve had some great leadership, Bee’s (Devlyn) had a bit of an interrupted preseason with a few niggles but still she’s a high performance in her own right so she’s been really great for the girls in education space in recovery, high performance what that looks like, she’s been fantastic,” Smith said. “Cutters has come in and she’s probably that real big strong voice that we lacked and she’s just been great for us.”

The SANFL Women’s season is just over a week away and Smith is keen for the club to improve and ideally challenge for finals. Though they lost both their trial games – to Central District and Sturt – a rusty first half against the Dogs, and a crucial “lapse of concentration” against Sturt were the pivotal moments in those matches.

“We really need to find a way to connect and score more and I think that’s the main key points that we’ve taken out of trial games is that competitively contest, offence, defence we were pretty good,” Smith said. “Matched it with both sides, and we probably should have beaten Sturt, it was a little lapse of concentration, they got an inside mark with one of their midfielders, so that’s just a bit of learning.

“The one thing we really want to do is really get that connect between all the lines so that we can start to score and put teams under pressure and then hold our own in our defensive space so it’s probably that and a lot where we really set ourselves a challenge where we want to play finals or be really close to being in the final four.”

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