“Revitalised”, settled Eagles look to make history

ALL football sides want to improve year on year. For West Coast, another season on the incline could make for a historic AFLW campaign.

The Eagles have never won back-to-back games, a Western Derby, or beaten a finalist throughout their five seasons.

But with a much greater level of stability over the offseason for players and staff alike, a “revitalised” West Coast is ready to take the next step, according to coach Michael Prior.

“I think the goal for us is to win more games than we ever have in our history and to keep on improving,” he said.

“We all came back into preseason refreshed and ready to go. At the end of 2022 with the two seasons in one year, everyone needed a break – players and staff included.

“The girls were able to get a lot of work done before they came back to preseason, so they came back really fit with good availability. That was the main difference for us.”

Only a handful of inaugural Eagles remain in the 2023 squad, with the club focussing its list development on youth.

With such a young and developing list comes a great deal of learning. That, along with the ability to build consistency, is what Prior says will help the Eagles take the next step.

“We’ve had some really strong performances and then dropped away the following week, or we’ve had some really strong quarters and dropped away within games,” he said.

“If we can get that consistency in our game and be more competitive for longer, it gives us some really good chances of winning more games.

“We’re hoping that we get that natural progression within our group again this season, which hopefully translates to a few more wins, because we all like winning games of footy.

“We were the youngest team in the competition last year and this year we will be as well, so we know where we’re at and we’ve got a lot of development to do, but we can see it’s slowly coming to the fore.”

For all the squad’s youthful exuberance, a core of experienced leaders have set the standard over preseason.

Emma Swanson will take the reigns as captain for a fifth-straight season, while new vice-captain Bella Lewis and Jess Sedunary join Dana Hooker and Aisling McCarthy in an extended leadership group.

For the most part, those experienced heads have impressed most over preseason, including Hooker, who has come back and established new benchmarks at 32 years of age.

“You can’t go past one of our older girls in Dana Hooker,” Prior said. “She’s come back and set the standard on the training track.

“She’s won both of our 2km time trials. To come back and run two personal bests at her age, a month apart, has been outstanding and is really setting the tone for the group.

“Bella Lewis is very similar. She’s come back and is really leading by example with Emma Swanson. So we’ve got some of our older, experienced players really leading the way which is good to see.

“Then obviously we’ve got some younger players coming through in Ella Roberts, Courtney Rowley and these types who have had a solid start to their preseason as well.”

A fresh face among the group is ruck-forward Amy Franklin. She was West Coast’s only trade period inclusion, heading over from Fremantle.

She adds to the Eagles’ growing tall stocks, likely to ply her trade in attack while giving Sarah Lakay a chop-out in the ruck.

“She’s brought a real competitive streak, I like the way she goes about it,” Prior said. “When she’s not marking the ball she’s bringing it to ground, she can kick the ball a very long way and very accurately, so we’re loving that part of her game as well.

“And also just a new energy and vibe within the group. She comes into our group where her best mates have been playing for the last couple of years, so she slots straight in.”

Along with Franklin, Lauren Wakfer looms as somewhat of a new recruit at some point in the season as she continues to recover from a long-term knee injury.

Also returning off knee reconstructions, Kellie Gibson and Shanae Davison are back training with the main group, while the Eagles are keen to unleash Evie Gooch in defence after her niggling wrist injury.

West Coast’s 2023 season kicks off on September 3 with a Western Derby at Fremantle Oval. Before that, the Eagles also take on Fremantle in a preseason hitout on August 12, and travel to face Essendon the following week.

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