This is long… broken up into different posts and sections.
So today was the end of the second season of our VFLW team (and a glorious one at that, with us notching up our best scores for and against ever).
Where we’ve come from
Let’s start by remembering where we were in 2018, our first year. We won the wooden spoon, with one win (three behind the next team) and a percentage of 40% (29% behind the next team).
A rough summary of the year would be (and keep in mind I’m talking scores here, not necessarily effort):
Bad losses: 11
Close losses: 2
Win: 1 (in round 9)
Most of the other teams had an AFLW link and at this level your top bunch of players can have a disproportionate influence on the game, which can lead to blow-out scores.
There were definitely highlights, notably Hayley Bullas changing from just a tackling machine to a pretty well-rounded midfielder, albeit one that didn’t have the big boot that can break open a VFLW game. She easily topped the league tackle tally for the year, and slipped into the VFLW Team of the Year.
What it looked like coming into this season
There were some substantial changes to our list this year. This included losing Lauren Morecroft, who was basically Cale Hooker turned up to 11 at full-back early and full-forward later, and captain midfielder Lisa Williams to pregnancy (bub of undetermined sex is due next month). It also saw the departure of cult heroine Tait Mackrill back to GWS, and Danielle Ponter to Adelaide. Jessica #1 Trend went to the Norf AFLW and VFLW teams. Pocket rocket Moreau also gone.
That was a scary set of departures for a wooden spooner team. Some did hang around and provide leadership, including inaugural captain Williams and vice-captain Natasha Hardy.
In their place came a stack of new names, and probably a better age and experience balance. In 2018 we had some serious veterans surrounded by a stack of unproven players, while 2019 saw the addition of a big chunk of players in their prime years.
But unless you’ve paid a lot more attention to the broader women’s game than I have, you wouldn’t have appreciated what the new players would be worth – or how they would gel (or not).
In fact, we didn’t get a full team list till after the last practice match, which turned out to be against ourselves when Collingwood couldn’t get enough numbers together (apparently due to their substantial AFLW squad largely being unavailable).
It was a notable day for the standout debut of three Tiwi women and the sole appearance of Steph Hird (she kicked the first goal, but then spent much of the year with ankle issues).
Round 1: Ess 5.2.32 loses to Casey’s 5.5.35 @ Windy Hill
Eleven players debut and most of them will play all or most of the season: Svarc, Fogas, Stepnell, Wilson, Gogerly, Moreen, Audley, Currenti, Nanscawen, Saundry, and Stassi. Most of those players are in the 24-27 year old band.
Nanscawen, a prominent ex-Hockeyroo new to the game and recently dropped by Norf AFLW, tops our disposals. DeMatteo kicks 3 goals. Casey’s giant Jakobsson kicks two goals and gets her team over the line, but only because of a disgraceful call by the ump with a minute to go in their goal square (this was the day after GoalPostGate, so it stung even more).
Round 2: Ess 5.9.39 loses to Geelong’s 7.2.44 @ Colac
A member of the famous Puruntatameri family debuts for us, as does Brisbane AFLW midfielder Ally Anderson, Eloise Ashley-Cooper, and Lauren Ahrens.
It’s in Colac, so no one here makes the trip. It is broadcast on radio, though, and bad kicking plus a 0-19 first quarter sees us fall agonisingly short. Kate Darby kicks the first three goals but is then largely shut down before ending with 4.1
Moreen is a revelation at full-forward for us but ends the game with a frustrating 2.4
Round 3: Ess 3.5.23 loses to Richmond’s 8.10.58 @ Punt Road
We take on the top-of-the-ladder Richmond and while our forward and back line are arguably superior it doesn’t matter as their midfield (inc Katie Brennan) destroys ours. It’s one of the very few times for the year than Simone Nalder is clearly beaten in the ruck (hitouts went 14-54). Bullass is also taken almost completely out of the game (7 disposals, 7 tackles).
We also get bashed and sniped off the ball a fair bit.
Round 4: Ess 5.2.32 defeats Fark Carlton 2.3.15 @ Windy Hill
We had played Fark Carlton in the final round of 2018 and witnessed the most dominant forward display since Gary Ablett in 1993, with Darcy Vescio kicking the first nine goals of the game. Luckily she was absent on this day, and we throttled Fark Carlton into irrelevance (13 of their 15 points were due to umpire interference).
Stassi and Moreen are also out, and for a moment we think they’ll be returning back to Tiwi never to play again. Veteran defender Saundry is dropped and never re-appears: she was slooooooooow. Zagontinos debuts as a forward pocket.
We have five AFLW players that day (including Shae Audley, who plays for Fark Carlton AFLW) and they have nine, but it doesn’t matter. A dominant game by Bullas (28 disposals, 9 clearances, 8 tackles, and a goal) is the story of the day. Quigley’s goalkicking is once again a big part of this team’s history, with 3 to her name.
Round 6: Ess 3.2.20 loses to Hawthorn 8.8.56 @ Windy Hill
We give up the first 21 points, and narrowly winning the second half of the game is not enough to give us a sniff. Hawthorn had 13 players >172cm in their team and we had 4, and it showed.
Annoyingly we had two Tiwis of that height in the grandstand.
The game does include a goal-of-the-year candidate by Sian Wilson, as she (literally) kicks it through the legs of two players to convert.
Round 7: Ess 1.6.12 loses to NT Thunder 12.4.76 @ Darwin
All three Tiwi women play for us, with Ponter now opposite us kicking 3 goals.
It’s an amazingly high-standard game in the first quarter, with both teams moving the ball fast, kicking long, and taking big marks. Unfortunately that plays to their strengths, and ultimately they start kicking goals, and lots of them. It’s 0-57 at half-time, after which we knuckle down, go one on one, and score 1.6.12 to 3.1.19 in the second half.
Ahrens is our best, and begins her transition from defender to midfielder.
The timekeepers are grossly incompetent, but this allows Moreen to kick our only goal from a mark taken 20:24 into the final 20 minute quarter.
Nanscawen is contrary to the style of the game, with 20 contested possessions (11 more than any other player in the game!) and 8 clearances.
Later we discovered Hayley Bullass (16 disposals) would be out for the year with a knee injury.
Round 8: Ess 6.4.40 defeats Melb Uni 3.9.27 @ Melb Uni
The efficiency of the two team’s forward lines on a boggy slippery ground is absolutely the story of the game: two of Stassi’s goals are Plays of the Week. This was a skill difference, not a luck one; and our team-wide effort cancelled their few key players (including the top possession getter for the game, Jessica “No Longer #1” Trend).
This is the first time Essendon’s three footy teams all win in the same week… and I was probably the only person to attend all three, having arrived here just before halftime after attending the VFL game in Werribee.
Round 9: Ess 3.2.20 loses to Collingwood 6.4.40 @ Windy Hill
Collingwood were top of the ladder at this time, and had won their last two games by 78 and 74 points, but this game was a lot tighter than the final score suggests. The difference between the teams was Collingwood scoring 20 to 0 in the second quarter! They also kicked two goals in the last five minutes to pad the margin; Jamie Lambert had 25 disposals and kicked 3 goals for them.
Nalder has 40 hitouts and moves to equal top in the league for hitouts-to-advantage.
(During our round 10 bye we played an invitational game versus GWS at The Hangar in wind and rain; it was unremarkable apart from the glorious moment when Laan put Mackrill on her back with a perfect hip-and-shoulder down the middle.)
Round 11: Ess 4.10.34 defeats Darebin 4.2.26 @ Windy Hill
This is the first of three games I missed by going to AFL wins in Adelaide, Gold Coast and Perth. Spoiler: the women win all of those weeks too!
Nanscawen (21 disposals and 8 tackles) and Ahrens (20 and 7) stand out.
We lost captain Ugle with a broken leg before this game. Nalder takes over as captain.
Round 12: Ess 7.5.47 defeats Willy 1.2.8 @ Willy
Willy would end up as 2019 wooden spoon winner with one win and a percentage of 30.5%… and across two games we would hold them to 7.2%!
In fact, they didn’t even score in the first half of this game, and Moana Hope kicked 7 of their 8 points. It’s the first big-margin win in our team’s history.
Georgia Patrikios debuts for us as an 18yo from the Calder Cannons with 20 disposals and 7 tackles.
Round 13: Ess 7.2.44 loses to Saints 7.4.46 @ Windy Hill
Another Calder Cannons 17yo, Alana Barba, debuts in the backline.
The Saints are 9-2 on the ladder with a percentage of 203% before this game.
And yet at quarter time we lead 24-3… albeit a decent chunk of that is thanks to Windy Hill wind. And it’s 30-3 early in the second quarter… we lose when C-Bomb has a running shot from twenty out with a minute left, and fails to kick the winning goal.
It’s a brutal loss but it tells us this team can go head-to-head with the best.
The bizarre thing is that I’m going to say this was our best performance against Footscray for the day (the VFL team lost by 94 and the AFL team by 104). Nanscawen (21 and 6 tackles), Patrikios in defence (21 and 11), Heil (21 and 9) and Audley (20 despite being repeatedly sniped by Footscray) are the standouts on this terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.
Round 15: Ess 7.7.49 defeats Collingwood 3.4.22 @ Victoria Park
No one went, and there was no audio or video coverage, so everyone missed us smashing the team on top of the ladder with the 11 game winning streak. The Pies may have lost a few AFLW players… but suck it up, losers!
In an almost direct switch from the earlier game, we outscored the Pies 22-1 in the second quarter.
Patrikios kicked two goals from the midfield, with DeMatteo getting two more forward.
Round 16: Ess 12.6.78 defeats Willy 0.1.1 @ Windy Hill
Willy didn’t have Moana Hope this time, so there were predictions Willy would score just one point… and they were correct!
I know it was “only” Willy (like it was “only” us last year!) but wow this made the heart sing, and it’s the kind of exclamation mark on a season that might keep people wanting to come to us, even though we can’t offer an AFLW spot for years to come. We need the likes of Patrikios and Barba and Petrevski to be selected by a Melbourne club and want to stay with us for the one true top-level league (because the AFLW will never be that while it’s a short summer diversion).
1 — Courtney Ugle: she’s tiny, sometimes you feel she’ll just be brushed aside. At times her form wavered this year, and that was likely why she was sent to the backline in her last few games before breaking her leg. Do I think she’s a leader? Oh hell yeah.
2 — Isabel Currenti — to be honest, I glaze over her. Six games in 2019.
3 — Monique DeMatteo — she spent some time in and out this year, but she’s the kind of player who reliably scores. She has a big butt, I can not lie, and it gives her standout power and burst speed. Also, I also just like typing and screaming DeMatteooooooooooo…
4 — Alexandra Saundry — played three games early as replacement Morecroft. She wasn’t, she was slow, and she’s got enough to do without playing anyway.
5 — Cecilia McIntosh — C-Bomb is 40 years old. Damn. Took a while to get up to speed, but she’s still got it. Oh, but that missed goal versus the Saints…
6 — Alex Quigley — had to work her way back into this season (injury, I assume) and initially was glacially slow but still with enough nous to get goals. Absolutely back to form now.
7 — Kirby Hicks — she’s 32 now but doesn’t show much indication of slowing down. A broken back and 13 broken arms hasn’t stopped her yet.
8 — Hayley Bullas — continues to develop into an all-round midfielder. Her knee injury probably wasn’t truly season-ending but we took the conservative option so she can maximise her chances for AFLW selection.
9 — Alex Anderson — just the four games from this Brisbane AFLW-er. Can be a top possession getter.
10 — Eleanor Cornish — she’s a second string key defender or occasional ruck. Five games later in the season.
11 — Molly Warburton — played all 14 games, mostly in defence
12 — Elizabeth Kearney — DNP. 30yo.
13 — Shae Audley — she may be from Fark Carlton AFLW, but I love her so much. Played 13 of 14 games, is tiny but an insane terrier who often gets under her opponent’s skin. As above, third in the league for tackles.
14 – Tessa Zagontinos — only a couple games as forward pocket. Loved her approach, sad she couldn’t rove a goal.
15 — Lauren Caruso — just three games
16 — Elise Muller — DNP
17 — Federica Frew — oh dear, I’ve only just noticed it’s Federica, not Frederica. How embarrassment. Played much of the second half of the season as a midfielder, definitely something to work with here.
18 — Kendra Heil — the other half of our veteran FB/CHB team, but 11cm shorter than Hicks. She doesn’t play like 166cm though. All 14 games.
19 — Hayley Trevean — 5 games, from Geelong AFLW
20 — Alexa Madden — 3 games
21 — Katherine McFadyen — 6 games as a defensive type. I like her.
22 — Natalie MacDonald — just 4 games. More please, can play all over the field.
23 — Maddy Collier — from West Coast AFLW, 13 games and plays equally well forward and back
24 — Sian Wilson — 11 games, 5 goals forward and through the midfield
25 — Lori Stepnell — one of just four players to play all 14 games. She’s a passable ruck. 8 goals forward. Her long kicking is her main weapon, along with fear and surprise.
26 — Taylor Moss — DNP
27 — Alex Morcom — 7 games, I got time for her as a defender
28 — Ruby Svarc — 12 games, insanely fast when she gets on a run. Didn’t do enough damage this year, though.
29 — Chloe Laan — took out Tait Mackrill, need I say more?!? 7 games, can hold down fullback if needed. Is 33yo.
30 — Simone Nalder — 29yo but still relatively new to footy (from a netball background). Topped the league for hitouts. She’s an old school ruck with not a huge amount of finesse in those taps, but she’s so important to the team and much improved on last year. Captained the team after Ugle went down.
31 — Jessica Stassi — a chunky shortass Tiwi with insane skills. Repeatedly featured in Plays of the Week. @Reboot would have taken one look at her in the pre-season match and dismissed her. 8 games, 7 goals.
33 – Elizabeth Hosking — snuck in 9 games while I wasn’t watching
34 — Freda Puruntatameri — the worst of the three Tiwi girls (but has the best and most famous name, which I can now spell and say easily) but I’d have loved to see her for more than three games. Copped a minor knee injury.
35 — Marianna Anthony — I really liked her hard-at-it attitude in the pre-season match. Just the 3 games though.
36 — April Lewis — DNP
37 — Irena Malliaris — just one game. Injured, surely?
38 — Erin Gogerly – 6 games
39 — Maighan Fogas — 13 games, bit of the Heath Hocking about her, as a mid and high forward
41 — Felicity Theodore — one of five Calder Cannon 18yo on our main list. 3 games, zippy small. Couldn’t quite get a goal as a forward.
42 — Alana Barba — four late games, this Calder Cannon has got to be an excellent chance for AFLW selection. Showed great composure and evasion skills as a defender, could definitely play elsewhere on the field.
43 — Georgia Nanscawen — LOL Norf, you cut her too soon. New to football after a long Hockeyroo career, and just got better and better this year. She’s solid, short, and powerful. Disposal steadily improving. This year she was one of the best inside accumulators in the VFLW, and crucial to us over 13 games.
44 — Georgia Patrikios — guaranteed AFLW first round selection this year from the Calder Cannons. Four games, instantly one of our stats leader, either in defence or as a goal-kicking mid.
45 — Eloise Ashley-Cooper — just turned 19yo, and she’s a bulldozer with a future. 13 games.
46 — Lauren Ahrens — just turned 28, played 11 games as a tall back flanker and then also in the midfield. Has a big kick and very agile for 176cm.
The other 46 — Gloria Elarmaly — DNP, Calder Cannon
48 — Krstel Petrevski — this Calder Cannon is somehow a niece of Irving Mosquito despite their similar ages. Three late games for us, would be very happy to keep her.
Stop telling me what you observe… tell me what you feel!
I’ve gone nuts on this report. It’s by far the longest thing I’ve ever posted in my sixteen years on Blitz. And why?
Because this team is amazing, that’s why. They’ve started from nothing, spent their first season getting regularly smashed, and they haven’t blinked. They’re supportive of their team and their team mates. A comment was made by one of the girls sitting in the stand today that they have a notable culture of celebrating achievement — including a direct comparison with another AFLW/VFLW club (I won’t name that club, as you could then likely work out who it was).
While a lot of the club culture comments on Blitz are reactive rubbish, the women here are an inspiration. And that can’t just come on the field: the Tiwi girls presenting a gift to a departing Ash Browne was sweet and humble, and I don’t reckon it would be possible to be a sourpuss around runner Natasha Hardy.
The skills and scoring may not be up there, and that is reflected in my briefer commentaries because you just don’t get the gaps to write, but geez they’re good for the soul. Just look at them sing (and what they do after they sing).
(OK, the first one is from the only win of 2018, but it’s still amazing and to my point.)
As some further context, here are our players signed to AFLW teams. Others on our list have been approached this year, but it doesn’t always make personal sense: e.g. if it’s an interstate club they’ll pay for you to relocate many months before the two month season but if they then cut you they’re not going to help you go back home again. And you have to pay the bills somehow.
Brisbane: Ally Anderson (was there before playing for us - LINK)
Gold Coast: Lauren Ahrens (newly signed; it’s not clear if she finishes her Masters this year and/or will leave Melbourne - LINK)
West Coast: Maddy Collier (she’s played two years with us while also at GWS, and now has a two year contract at WCE - LINK)
Ex-EFC-players on AFLW lists: Hetherington, Trend, Ponter.
There are a few other ex-AFLW players with us who are clearly good enough to get back in (notably, Shae Audley and Georgia Nanscawen).
I said the exact same thing when I found out they had drafted Bullas!
Patrikios may go to Carlton which will be great for her Carlton loving family - but our VFLW program has proven to be a real attraction to hone skills in the offseason of vflw and hopefully we get a bunch of these girls back next year!
Joint vice-captain Simone Nalder led by example in the absence of Courtney Ugle and Hayley Bullas. (Photo: AFL Photos)
The VFLW Dons also achieved something they hadn’t done before in their short history, recording back-to-back wins when they travelled to Downer Oval in round 12.
They led from the outset to prevail over Darebin, before cruising to a 39-point win over Williamstown the week after.
To cap things off, Essendon triumphed by 77 points in front of a passionate home crowd at Windy Hill to sign off 2019 in style.
“I was really happy with the team’s progress. We took it up to sides on opposite ends of the spectrum,” Major said.
“We played really well in that last game and proved that we can play those four quarters of footy.”
Many players stood out to Major during the season, including Alex Quigley and Kirby Hicks, who were prolific all year.
Shae Audley, Georgia Nanscawen and Lauren Ahrens were also outstanding in their debut seasons in the red and black, while Georgia Patrikios, Alana Barba and Felicity Theodore emerged as the league’s most promising young key midfielders and a key part of Essendon’s future.
Speaking on the developing young list, Major was confident growth in the existing players would allow them to take the next step to compete at the highest level.
“At this point, I’m all about individual development because I’d like to see more players get drafted,” he said.
“I think with the new expansion clubs coming in, there’s a really good chance a lot of players could get drafted into the AFLW.
“In terms of team development, it would be nice to be competitive in games for longer periods of time and play our best footy.”
With this year’s home-and-away season in the books, the Bombers will now turn their focus to 2020.
Major said he was looking forward to improving the Dons’ game-plan during the pre-season.
“It’s about fine-tuning our structures and continuing to push the boundaries, physically, of what our group can do,” he said.
“I think we were a little bit off with fitness and skills again, so it’s just about continuing to develop those and continuing to galvanise as a group."
Victoria Raptis is in the final year of her Bachelor of Communications (Journalism) degree at RMIT University. As part of their strategic partnership, Essendon Football Club and RMIT University are committed to providing opportunities for students, staff, players and the wider community.