TWO recent Collingwood draftees are paving the way for aspiring Gippsland Power female footballers, who have reportedly “stepped up” over the pre-season according to the Power’s female talent manager Chelsea Caple, as she looks ahead to season 2018.
“I think getting two drafted in the 2017 draft has lifted the professionalism for the girls,” Caple said. “(The girls) can see that reality, when maybe a few years before it was more of a dream, so we’ve seen the girls step it up in training, in professionalism on and off the field. “So many of them have the dream of AFLW which now they can see through (Collingwood’s) Holly Whitford and Darcy Guttridge it’s a reality, so I think that’s really exciting as well. “We’re seeing that through pre-season which has been different to previous years.”
There are plenty of changes at Gippsland this year, with both Caple and new coach Scott Armour scouring far and wide for girls to join the club’s program. Armour named former netballer and gymnast Leyla Berry, and multi-discipline Jazz Ferguson as among the ones to watch.
“She (Berry) has just been tearing it up on the training track, she’s just so athletic” Armour said. “Her yo-yo tests are through the roof, her speed is exceptional and she can get the ball and is really exciting. She is a bottom-ager so she is one to watch.”
Ferguson is a 19 year-old permit player and one to keep an eye on given she has only played school football previously. Armour said the coaching staff was buoyant about Ferguson’s prospects in the TAC Cup this year.
“She’s one of the best female athletes we’ve seen go through (our program),” he said. “She’s got speed, she’s got power, she’s got endurance, she’s got height, she’s a fierce competitor, she’s played state level netball, basketball and been an athletics champion, so she’s an athlete and she’s learning the game really quick.”
Without a doubt the one to watch for the Power this year is AFLW Academy member Tyla Hanks, who Armour described as a real “leader”. Caple said Hanks showed her dedication last season as a bottom-ager and her work behinds the scenes impressed many of her male counterparts at the Power.
“Tyla Hanks who is obviously one of our top draftables, trained with the under 18 boys after our season finished last year,” Caple said. “There was more than once the boys asked if she could be selected in their team at training – they have so much respect for the girls as well. “They know the gap, even between their abilities is closing, so that was pretty cool to hear they wanted to play with Tyla.”
The mixed pre-season training has continued over the summer, which is something both Caple and Armour are supportive of to create a close bond between the squads.
“In our pre-season the girls train twice a week,” Caple said. “They’ll train on a Tuesday night as a squad, and then on a Friday night they join in the under 16 and under 18 boys in five different satellite locations. “We’ve found that the girls integrating with the boys has lifted the intensity and also reinforced that message of professionalism. “When the boys get there on the Friday, it’s business whereas the girls sort of have to step in and just go with that, whereas they might have a catch up or have five minutes of chatter. “They are just straight into it, their skills are remarkable when they’re kicking to targets and also receiving from a really strong kick from the boys. “Some of our girls would spend the whole session with the boys and they wouldn’t look out of place.”
Armour said the mixed training sessions were due to the support of Gippsland Power talent manager Peter Francis and under 18 boys’ head coach Leigh Brown.
“They are at every training session, they are with me, so we have up to six coaches on the ground, possibly seven on the ground, so we can split into small groups, do a lot of skill development and that’s all because of the acceptance of the girls program from Leigh and Pete and they’re helping push it along with the boys program,” Armour said. “It’s been really, really good.”
With the season fast approaching, the Power opted to play two intra-club practice matches rather than testing themselves against opposition clubs; for a very good reason – to reduce pre-season injuries through controlling the conditions of matches.
“We decided we would do intra-clubs because we can control the environment,” Caple, who is also strength and conditioning coach, said. “We can control how hard our girls hit, we can stop the game, set up structures if we need to, whereas we found if we were to play practice matches, it’s essentially a tenth and eleventh game on top of their really long season. “We modified that, I think that’s why we’ve had two intra-clubs and the girls were able to get that game time in their legs without a competitive game per say. “So we’ve taken those different approaches so hopefully we see this season now, with zero injuries or as few injuries as possible.”
Armour said the intra-clubs were also like an extended training session for the girls, particularly helpful for those new to the game.
“I was out in the middle of the ground with them,” he said. “I was able to say to the girls, ‘no you need to stand there’ or they were able to come up to me and say ‘Scotty, I don’t understand, where should I be?’ so it was really that teaching experience, not just a full-on praccy. “They were playing and getting the match practise, but also getting taught during it, which you can’t do if you’re playing another opposition.”
Gippsland’s first match is on Sunday, March 4 with a home game at Moe, played as a curtain-raiser to the Collingwood-Western Bulldogs AFLW game, a match which could potentially see former Power player Holly Whitford return to her home region, this time in black and white stripes. Armour said the side would focus on playing to their main strength, which is leg speed.
“I think we are going to try and play to our strengths and I think with the list we’ve got, we’ve got some really athletic girls and some really quick girls, so we are just going to try and play to our strengths and where that takes us, who knows? “That is the focus at the moment and really using space and leg speed. “We’ve got a first year footballer (Ebony Jones) who is a state medallist in the 100-metre sprint. “She’s super quick and in the practice match, she just got it a couple of times and ran past everyone. “So it’s really exciting to see the athleticism that we’ve got and I think all the other clubs that get athletic girls, you look to capitalise on that, and that’s what a coach should do, is to capitalise on what your strengths are as a group.”