Hawks boss got a very different nest in ’23

LAST VFLW season was a big one for Hawthorn (now known as Box Hill) with the club’s AFLW side coming into the picture, and someone who was in the thick of that was coach, Cherie O’Neill.

It was her first year in the role, and it was certainly a monumental year to come into the role. She admitted that last season was “really challenging”.

“I think towards the end of the season the mental game was starting to wear thing, but it was a really good experience,” O’Neill said. “I’ve enjoyed my time there and I’ve as you can see come back because it’s such a great group.

“Last season was a big season for us. We had a lot of movement, a lot of moving pieces, we were lucky enough to get 17 girls drafted which is just such an amazing effort really. The team we started with compared to the team we finished with was totally different, but that then gave the younger girls an opportunity to really experience finals footy.”

Unlike eventual premiers Essendon who was also bringing in an AFLW side to their club at the same time, Hawthorn did not keep its recently drafted AFLW players playing in the VFLW, and pulled them out just as the finals were ramping up, which some may suggest caused them to bomb out of the finals.

O’Neill does not believe the players were pulled out of the program at the wrong time despite the consequences that eventuated.

“No I don’t think so,” she said. “I think the right choice was made and for the future and longevity of these AFLW girls, because they’ve gone straight from back-to-back seasons and some of them had played in the NT before that, so way too long playing football. “I think definitely the right choice in the end.”

With so many players no longer playing VFLW, it has caused quite a list turnover at the Hawks. O’Neill said that not having those players in the team anymore has allowed a lot of the NAB League girls from last year to step up.

“It’s been a younger side that is coming through, and the recruitment team have done an amazing job getting a few ex AFLW players that still really want to bang that door down, so they’re looking for opportunities as well, so we’ve got a good mix,” O’Neill said.

Some of those ex-AFLW players now calling City Oval home for the first time include Madeleine Boyd, Holly Whitford, Grace Matser, and Charlotte Hammans.

Much like Collingwood coach Chloe McMillan, O’Neill also said that with the AFLW season moving from Summer to Spring it has not changed too much in terms of how the Hawks have prepared for the upcoming season.

“It has not changed our sort of preparation much at all as a VFLW group, but we’ll have a few AFLW girls float through our side probably for the first little bit, but towards the end of the season we’ll really cement our VFLW girls into their positions moving into finals,” she said.

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