Sturt coach “really pleased” with Double Blues’ Dogs defeat

FOR the neutral onlooker, an 18-point quarter time deficit might have sent alarm bells through the trailing Double Blues camp, but for coach Michael O’Connor, he knew his side was winning his fair share of the ball, it was just a case of capitalising.

“It was really pleasing the way we played for the four quarters,” O’Connor said. “As much as we were three goals to zip down at quarter time, I thought we’d had enough of the ball and created a couple of opportunities without getting any real reward for it. So, it was a pleasing thing to extend that out across the next three.”

Despite opposition ruck Olivia Levicki controlling the hitouts, O’Connor’s side came away with a plus-seven clearance differential, which lead to a plus-13 inside 50 differential. It was an impressive effort aginst a qualifyt opposition, and though the slow starts this season have been a worry – trailing at quarter time three out of four matches – O’Connor said it was not “panic stations” in regards to that.

“In a perfect world, we’d certainly like to get off onto a better start,” O’Connor said. “I still think we had a fair share of the ball, but just couldn’t quite capitalise on the scoreboard, which has been a bit of a reflection across Sturt’s existence, in regards to our ability to score consistently, it has always been a bit challenging for us. So no panic stations in regards to the starts of games.”

The win was highlighted by a ridiculous 36-disposal, 11-mark, eight-tackle, four-clearance, eight-inside 50 ad three-goal performance by top-age talent India Rasheed. While O’Connor said everyone knows her name and what she’s capable of, he said the best was yet to come for the teenager.

“The scary thing for her is obviously she’s still a kid,” he said. “So there’s a huge amount of growth in her game still to come. But across the four games, she’s been pretty consistent for us, to be honest. Really important playing a bit more time inside mid to expose her to a bit more of the contested footy.

“Obviously we know her skills are elite on the outside, but she’s starting to generate some of her own footy. She took 11 marks on the weekend as well. So her ability to get in the right spaces at the right time Is exceptional, so really good reward for the work that she puts in and hopefully that’s the start of a good, consistent season for her for us “

Rasheed was complimented by the equally skilful and talented Monique Bessen who had 28 disposals, eight marks, five clearances and six inside 50s. O’Connor praised her distribution and said she “doesn’t waste the footy” and is “super clean in the contest”.

“She takes clean ground balls or handball receives or marking contests and gets her arms free to release her handball, and executes well in terms of both decision and the actual skill execution,” O’Connor said. “So she was very good on the weekend in terms of setting the play up through the middle third.”

When Rasheed and Bessen are combining for 64 disposals, 19 marks, nine clearances and 14 inside 50s, Sturt is not going to lose many, if any games. O’Connor concurred that the last disposal inside 50 is so crucial, and the pair are players you want the ball in the hands of for their skill and decision making.

“In terms of, not necessarily just blasting away, obviously getting it deep inside 50 is a great option,” O’Connor said. “A bit more cleaner ball use going inside was really important. Playing out at Centrals assisted that in terms of it’s such a big oval, such a big space that there’s a little bit of extra space for the forwards to work into.

“But certainly our ability to kick goals, from some set shots and some set pieces as well as some general play, it was really important to have that balance of both. It’s not too often historically we kick 11 goals.”

The two other State Academy members are defenders Sophie Thredgold and Edwina Thornquest who also played important roles in the win. O’Connor said the pair were different players, but had been holding their own in their first season at the level and second season at the club.

“Sophie’s a bit more of a running half-back, but really good agility and speed,” he said. “Very good strength and one-v-one contest as well, so she’s been really good with her defensive aspects. She’s been nice and consistent. Her ability to read the ball is good, so she can peel off and follow the intercept mark or go across to help one of her teammates.

“Winnie’s in the same boat, she played obviously under 16 State as a key defender. But, throughout all of last year in the Development League, she was playing as a key forward for us. We’ve thrown her down back at the start of this year, just to see if she can play at both ends, but she’s certainly filling a little bit of a gap for us in terms of height, not that she’s a tall tall by any stretch, but she’s fitted in nicely down there to be honest.

“One-v-one defence she’s pretty good, and she does have a nice bit of change of speed so she can close the gap pretty well on our opponents and reach the ball well in flight. We’re happy with her progress at this stage and she’s doing a pretty good job in that key position as a kid.”

Round 5 of the season takes place tomorrow in a special Good Friday event where all four matches are played across the state. It marks the last round AFL Women’s player are available for clubs, though it matters little for Sturt.

The Double Blues did not have an AFLW-listed player run around with them this year, as Kiera Mueller and Alex Ballard were completing rehab, and Zoe Prowse chose to take a break over the AFLW off-season.

“It was a good opportunity to get those five extra games into some of the kids that are going to be probably playing in the back half of the year,” O’Connor said. “So giving them some exposure early and Winnie Thornquest as a kid was playing on (Julia) Teakle on the weekend.

“Exposure against some high quality players is a good thing. So we’ll certainly take it as a positive in terms of as I said, our side remains the same, so the girls have got a few extra games together. But there’s no hiding behind the fact that the depth around the SANFL is really good at the moment, to be fair.”

Sturt now sets its sights on Norwood tomorrow in a massive Round 5 clash at Thebarton Oval. The Double Blues sit fifth just percentage off the Redlegs, with both sides at an even 2-2 ledger from the 2024 season.

Brad (Ferrall, Norwood coach) and myself would agree, we’ve had inconsistent years to start with,” O’Connor said. “To be honest they fell short in Round 1 by less than a kick, but at 2-2 playing on Good Friday, it’s a great opportunity for the girls to to try and get ahead of the ledger, to be honest. They had a burst of footy last week against North that showed that when they’re on, they’ve certainly got some attacking prowess up forward, so we’re going to have to be pretty tight in our defensive unit.

“But playing at Thebby, another big space, so hopefully that bodes well for our ability to move the footy up and down the field again. The weather’s looking pretty good, which is nice, so it should be a bit of a showcase of footy on Friday across the board.”

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