Power seeing benefits from extended off-season

LAST year’s quick turnaround between AFL Women’s seasons six and seven were tricky on all clubs, but for the four expansion sides in particular, getting a cohesive group together and formulating a gameplan with the full list was extremely difficult.

For Port Adelaide, more than half of the inaugural list was yet to undergo an AFL Women’s preseason, and many had come in either straight of the back of respective state league, or for those experienced players, AFLW seasons. Port Adelaide coach Lauren Arnell explained the difficulties that came with starting a fresh program in Season 7.

“Last year we had seven draftees and if they were healthy, they had a seven week preseason,” Arnell said. “And for everyone else, specifically they had just come out of state league season, or an AFLW season just prior to preseason starting.

“While some of the those challenges were coming across every club in the competition, I think given that 16 of our initial list of 30 were in their very first year of AFLW, there were some pretty significant challenges amongst everything else.”

Fast forward 12 months and Arnell believes the Power are in a much better position heading into Season 8, with a lot of its list retained, and extra experience added, lifting the optimism around the club.

“I think having a big chunk of our list actually exploring what their first off-season looks like and we’re starting to see some benefits in that and I’m actually already looking to a couple of years time where our a large chunk of our playing group has a few off-seasons under their belt and gained that level of experience in being professional athletes,” she said.

Arnell said being able to train for a full day on a Monday this off-season and add quality players both on and off the field had made a noticeable difference over the preseason. Admitting she did not want to “single anyone out” she was pleased with how the entire group was training.

“Genuinely the whole group has come back in much better shape and given the circumstances of last year we have many reasons why that’s the case, and definitely a mix of the the young players and experienced players putting in a lot of work over that long off-season so overall I’m really pleased with where the group’s at,” Arnell said.

Finishing second last on the AFLW ladder, Port Adelaide did not get the results that Arnell had hoped for but understood the “nature of the calendar” and the fact the Power were inexperienced compared to many of their rivals.

“We obviously finished 17th which wasn’t what we were after, but being an expansion team and the nature of the calendar year and how everything came about for us, you have to plot yourself where you finish on the ladder and that’s where we were,” Arnell said.

“We obviously think that the potential in our group is far greater than that and we’re certainly looking to embed some of the lessons and demonstrate some of the things we learnt last year going into this season.”

A couple of star players coming into the Port Adelaide program over the offseason are former Docker Janelle Cuthbertson and premiership Crow, Ashleigh Saint (nee Woodland). Former Eagle Katelyn Pope and one of only two top-age players in the AFLW, Matilda Scholz are among the others to come into the program.

“We had a couple of younger players come in but largely we looked to spread out our age group demographic and certainly bring in some more quality people off-field and some experience into our group,” Arnell said.

“Highlight Janelle Cuthbertson and Ash Saint lead the way in that space, they’re certainly very experienced players with some high level individual accolades, and for Ash, some high level team accolades as well being a multiple premiership winner so those two have added significantly in adding to the experience in the group.

“Then you can go to the other end of the scale where you look at someone like a Matilda Scholz who’s the youngest player on our list and has shown some real athletic potential and mixed in with our group as well as she possibly could have so we’ve also added Katelyn Pope who was a training partner for us last year, and had an exceptional season at North Adelaide in the SANFLW.

“People of that calibre who are more through their mid to late 20s and can add some serious experience on and off field are really helpful to our group right now.”

Though Port Adelaide did finish 17th last season, Arnell said the fact the quality of players from other clubs were willing to come into the program, showed the Power had established itself as a destination clu.

“We did establish a level and brand across the competition that people a lot of clubs – while we did finish 17th – have noticed what we’re about, and the positivity among our crew and the potential in our group,” Arnell said. “I think the opportunity has appealed to Janelle and Ash in particular.”

Focusing on the upcoming Season 8, Arnell said Port Adelaide wanted to win every game it played, but was searching to build on its foundations from last season and continue to improve.

“At this point we’re just looking for growth and progression,” she said. “At this point I won’t say this is where we finish on the ladder because as a football club we go out there to win every single game of footy and that’s what we show up to do.”

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