Smith happy with Eagles’ “maturity” in win

WOODVILLE-West Torrens got on the board in the 2024 SANFL Women’s season, holding off a fast-finishing Norwood outfit to take home the two points and move to 1-2 for the year thus far. Eagles coach Narelle Smith said the win was important for the group, who showed great “maturity” in holding off a strong opponent.

“It was nice to get it on the board,” Smith said. “We had the match under full control for three quarters and then Norwood came at us really hard in the last quarter and obviously they could have won the match, but bad kicking’s bad football (Norwood kicked 5.8 to Eagles’ 7.1) and I was really happy with the maturity that the group showed. There were times where we were able to hold the ball up and keep it in possession and really hang on to win the game.”

Over the past couple of years, the Eagles have struggled to convert tight games into wins, and though the Woodville-West Torrens coach said her side made mistakes with ball-in-hand, she was pleased that they stuck to their guns and held on for the victory.

“I kind of thought that we didn’t help ourselves in that quarter a bit,” Smith said. “We tried to get the message out to play a bit more tempo footy and they just wanted to go so there were moments we turned the ball over which was a little bit frustrating.

“But to their credit, they held it long enough to actually win the game and there were some critical moments and we used the ball really well under a hell of a lot of Norwood pressure so as I said it shows great maturity.”

In a “bizarre” occurrence throughout the match, the Redlegs hit the same goal post five times across the second and fourth quarters, including the last shot on goal in the final 30 seconds that would have seen them run over the top of the Eagles. While Smith agreed it was a little bizarre to hit the same post that many times, she also gave credit to her defenders for forcing rushed shots.

“I think they missed a couple of their own, but majority of their kicks that hit the post they were under massive pressure,” she said. “It was a bit of column A, bit of column B, but we hung in the fight which at times in my previous two seasons we just would have allowed them to run over us.

“It depends on the perspective that you put on it, but I look at it from we had a stellar three quarters where we were showing glimpses of how we wanted to move the ball and I think we’ll only get stronger in that space. Then glimpses of what happens when we lose our focus a bit, but we were able to defensively hold on which was pleasing.”

One player who has been in sensational form this season is top-age AFLW Draft hopeful Grace Martin. The State Academy member is averaging 18.3 disposals, 1.7 marks, 5.0 clearances, 4.0 inside 50s and 2.0 tackles this season, but will unfortunately miss the next two matches due to concussion protocols sustained via a “dangerous tackle” in the Round 3 match.

“She’s just working through that but obviously her welfare and health is number one,” Smith said. “We’ll certainly miss her, she’s just started to find her way around the bigger bodies and she’s just such a clean user of the ball. I think that’s what most impressive about her.”

Another top-ager who has found her feet this season is defender Bianca Portaro, with the tough nut also having stints in the midfield, something Smith suggested will build up over time.

“We’ll look to play her some more mid minutes as she gets more confident around the stoppage and contest and she’s more than capable of that,” Smith said. “It’s just waiting for your opportunity to present really, so get some more mid minutes.”

The third State Academy member who has featured in all three games thus far is forward-turned-defender Klaudia O’Neill, who Smith described as an “absolute rock down there”.

“You’ve gotta give it to the kid, she’s just turned 18,” Smith said. “We flipped her from one end to the other and she’s just seamlessly moved in there to be in an actual real presence and key back. She’s just learning when to mark, when to spoil, when to go, when to stay. Really pleased with how she’s coming along and I think she’s actually really enjoying a different type of pressure that you have as a back.”

While much focus goes on the up-and-coming talents, a “stalwart” of the Eagles in captain Annie Falkenberg will play her 50th game in Round 4 against South Adelaide, with Smith describing her on-field as “such a staple” and she does “everything right”.

“She’s got this incredible drive to success and that’s her and I are really, we’ve got a great coach-captain relationship to work through any challenges or bumps in the roads that happens within the program,” Smith said. “Add her football onto that, she’s really reliable. Gives us a lot of drive off half-back.

“I feel like Cher Waters and Christina Leuzzi have relieved her of having to do all that work, so now she’s just starting to find a bit more one-on-one and she’s just an absolute stalwart of our club and hopefully we can push up the ladder and give her some finals success in the next couple of years.”

Falkenberg’s 50th is the perfect backdrop for the Eagles to try and cause an upset down at Noarlunga against a South Adelaide side that also picked up its first win of the season in Round 3. Having never beaten the Panthers in women’s football history, the Eagles are playing some good footy and Smith believes her side’s best can beat anyone.

“We’ve come so close to beating South in my tenure,” Smith said. “I feel like how we’re in a good mindset place at the moment. We know we probably let Round 1 slip against our Sturt. Centrals jumped us in one quarter but we outscored them for the rest of the game, so we know we’re competitive and we know our best footy can probably beat anyone in the comp, so South are an interesting side.

“I think we play polar opposite type football so it will just be who can actually get their mojo going first, so we’ll go in with our heads high and ready to go.”

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