Dockers’ development the key to success

FREMANTLE had an AFL Women’s season to forget last year when the Dockers were smashed by injuries across Season 7, culminating in the usually strong outfit to slip to 12th on the ladder. Though they managed to get some troops back and be more competitive later in the year, the Dockers, now with new coach Lisa Webb, are looking to rise back into premiership contention.

Webb makes history as the first former player to coach the club she played at, following in an equally exclusive club with Lauren Arnell as the only past AFLW players to take the senior coach reins. The new Dockers mentor – who took over from Trent Cooper – described her experience as “really rewarding” thus far.

“It’s one of those things I never thought would happen. I’m obviously really fortunate to be in this position,” Webb said. “There’s a lot of familiar faces that are still around that I’ve had strong connections with from a staff point of view.

“Also with players it’s been good, I think I can challenge them. They know I’m strong on connection, they know that I’ve got really strong intentions with where I want this team to go and they’ve been really supportive of the challenges that have been thrown at them.”

Fremantle lost a couple of key players over the off-season in skipper Kara Antonio (retirement) and Janelle Cuthbertson (Port Adelaide). Though the Dockers will miss their contribution on and off the field, Webb said it provided opportunities for the younger players to step up.

“Juddy (was) an exceptional captain and driver of standards, but it’s actually been a good opportunity for the younger players,” she said. “Kara’s done a sensational job of working with the youth and that includes Mikayla Morrison, Mikayla Hyde those type of girls that she’s worked really close with, they’re the ones that are continually now taking on passing that baton and driving some really strong standards amongst the group.

“Obviously Janelle was a really important part of our backline, but one in which now other girls are just really needing to stand up. She was a really strong person amongst the group, but a lot of the girls have really stood up in her absence and I’ve been proud of that.”

Hyde is one of a number of players who has caught Webb’s eye over the off-season, with Airlie Runnalls and new recruit Joanne Cregg also “dilligent” and “impressive” across the preseason.

“She’s (Cregg) got a bit of a balance, she’s a doctor off-field, but her ability to take on all the education and her work rate and her ability to learn a new gameplan has been really impressive,” Webb said.

“The girls have been working really hard. They’ve done a really consistent block of training and it’s been positive to get started which has been pleasing.”

Ex-Blue Serena Gibbs has also impressed Webb with her body work and ability to kick the ball, and the coach believes the tall will add “another dimension” to the way the Dockers play. Bringing in experienced players such as Cregg (29 years-old) and Jae Flynn (24) has helped fast-track some of their development given their experiences not just in Aussie rules, but also in their past sports of Gaelic and basketball respectively.

Flexibility and versatility are the keys for the Dockers in Season 8, with Webb proactive on ensuring players can fill into multiple roles just in case injury strikes, or in most cases, where they need a Plan B during a certain match.

“It was unfortunate for the team last year but it’s been good to just have a bit of reset with the time off to work through what was pretty challenging with the double season last year,” Webb said. “They’re working hard at the moment, they’re learning across lines, mids, forwards or midfields and then half-backs.

“I’m trying to add that little bit of flexibility to the roles, because as we know, there’s an opportunity this game this is going to continually getting stronger. Every team is getting stronger, so to have flexibility involved for the players is going to be an important part of our first four weeks.”

While Webb is living the dream, she said the entire group at the Dockers – both staff and players – were fantastic to work with, and she looked forward to the season kicking off in just under a month.

“I still pinch myself that I get to do this as a full-time job,” Webb said. “I know I’m really lucky, but supported by a really strong group of staff, and really great group of young players that I’m excited to work with.”

Fremantle kicks off its season with a Sunday afternoon Western Derby on September 3, looking to get its Season 8 off to a flying start against rivals, West Coast.

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