Fresh faces and fast learners among Dragons squad

A TURNOVER of 25 fresh faces is set to boost the Sandringham Dragons’ under-18 girls side in 2023, after the region produced a handful of AFL Women’s draftees last year. There’s a new mentor at the helm too, with former Collingwood V/AFLW assistant Martha Cantwell taking on the head coach role.

Cantwell earned glowing praise from players and fellow coaches alike as the Dragons convened for preseason testing last week. Long-time Sandringham assistant coach Danny Byrne joined in the chorus, and says the relatively new-look squad has built “good momentum” over preseason.

“We’ve had a really strong preseason,” he said. “We’ve had 25 new girls come into the program and they’ve taken to it really quickly. I think we’ve got some really good momentum and there’s a lot of talent… we’ve seen some real improvement across the board.

“The players love her (Cantwell) and she’s brilliant. They responded to her really quickly. She genuinely cares about them which is the first key of building that relationship, but she also communicates well and has a really good program.”

The Dragons lay claim to a quartet of Vic Metro Under 18 hub members, three of which have battled injuries of late. Forward Mia Zielinski is back training after a long-term stint on the sidelines, and mobile tall Caitlin Voss has also returned to the track. Meanwhile, Judie Goldman is about three to four weeks away.

“Super reliable” defender Annabelle Embelton is also in the representative mix, and features among a solid group of Dragons who are set to offer a rare trait to the program – height.

“We’re really tall,” Byrne said. “This is my eighth season and we’ve always been really short, so it’s very new for me. Having said that, I think we’ve got a really good balance. We’ve got speed as well as height and we’ve got some really good endurance runners as well.”

Set to join Embelton down back is over-ager Georgia Foran, who Bryne considers unlucky not to have been drafted last year alongside ruck Maddison Torpey. While the latter is another who has spent time in the injury ward, the former continues to impress Byrne and the Dragons staff.

The Dragons played two intraclub games before last Sunday’s preseason testing event, with a mixture of expected and surprise prospects taking centre stage. Among them are a couple of familiar names; Carlton father-daughter candidate Sophie McKay, and Daisy Flockhart, the sister of former-Dragon Felix.

“Down back, Georgia Foran was really good as you’d expect,” Byrne said. “Her ball use is one of the big things for me, just having that player who can play lockdown and then also rebound and hurt you by foot is really exciting.

“Soph McKay played in the second match after missing the first one and she is elite around the ball. Daisy Flockhart was really good in our first one, she’s an explosive and powerful athlete so she was bursting out the front of stoppages. Good luck to anyone trying to stop that this year.

“I thought Cameron Millias was fantastic. She went inside and was really driving the ball out of the stoppage. Ash Van Rooyen is a new player to the program from an athletics background. She was pretty good around the midfield too.

“Ruby Dale has spent a bit of time forward and back, just trying a few positions there. So there’s been a whole heap of girls who have put their hands up.”

While the new Coates Talent League season gets underway on March 18, Sandringham’s first game comes a couple of weeks later on April 1. The Dragons will take on Calder Cannons at Highgate Recreation Reserve.

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