So we’ve been spoilt by flying higher, higher, higher, every season. The sequence has been wooden spooner, then just missed finals, then through to the Prelim, then undefeated premiers.
There’s not much further to go up from there (apart from not having two draws!)
And indeed, no one ever expected that to happen: this season was basically a reboot. New coach, new manager, out something close to our best 10 players (though some would return for some cameos).
This was our first year where we had an AFLW team… and the re-scheduling of the AFLW season meant that at the pointy end we did not get the benefit of that. Yes, we had a few wins in the middle of the season assisted by the likes of Amelia Radford averaging 26 disposals, but that’s not exactly the same as Geelong being able to stack their team in a Prelim to down us.
As we’ll see, having an AFLW squad to call upon is not all beer and skittles, especially if you won’t have them later om.
Everything changed for us… but the VFLW as a whole also greatly changed… and not for the better.
Last year we had four dominant teams: us, the Saints, the Demons, and the Hawks. And I have to say that any of them would have destroyed this year’s set of clubs.
I’m not sure what THE reason for this is: the slump in the league was clear well before most AFLW players withdrew from competition. At times every club was rubbish, and we ended up with an insanely even ladder after the H&A was completed.
The addition of four new AFLW teams is probably the biggest factor, but I haven’t done the maths to establish how much top-level talent that effectively withdrew from the VFLW.
The revised U18 competition also didn’t help: prior to this season, the U18 was a compact season that ended in the early rounds of the VFLW, and the AFLW draft was looming. This year, the U18 comp is spread over an interminably long seven months; even with lots of byes, you need to consciously dump your junior team if you want to get a solid run at the next level up.
We were literally one straight kick from finishing top of the ladder (e.g. from the loss to Port by 3 points in round 13).
The re-scheduled league did perhaps help Willy make finals for the first time, and Port to win a final for the first time.
Now, the above is just a bunch of numbers. Let’s do an exercise to put some context to it, especially to better understand the turnover of players and the ages of those playing.
I have calculated the average age of every player in every game in every year, and from that I show below the average age for each year of our existence. I’ve also shown the number of new players each year (remember, all of this is players who actually played, not just made our squad).
Because it is calculated for every game before summarising back to years, it matters whether a given 18yo snuck in 1 game at the end of the year or, like Tia Davidge, racked up 16 games.
Average age on game day
Our average age this year was our lowest ever by a huge margin, and we almost introduced more players than we did in our debut year!
Of course, the number of new players was significantly affected by a rotating bunch of AFLW players. However, the relative ages of our AFLW and VFLW players was not really significant: the average AFLW player was 0.9 years older than the average VFLW player but once you weight it by games played etc the two groups end up almost identical (e.g. we got 14 games from AFLW players over the age of 25, but 75 from VFLW players).
Our most commonly-played age this year was 19…
Note that I’ve rounded the ages graphed below for display purposes – Mia is not yet 37yo (but was >36.5yo all season), and many more players had not reached their 19th birthday till late in the season (and some, like Davidge, are yet to do so).
Previously I showed the average scores for previous seasons… let’s go back to that, and add this year.
There are some notable comparisons/contrasts to make from the above and the previously noted age profiles:
like 2018, this was a starting point. In our peak game this year, 9 of our 21 players had been in last year’s Grand Final – and that tally never exceeded 6 for the final 9 games the season (Ugle, Dicker, Crook, Clarke, Clifford, and Heil). In 2018 we had 4 players from the 2017 Grand Final (Hetherington, Hicks, Williams, and Morecroft) but overall put a much more mature team on the field than we did this year.
like 2021, we basically lost the ability to score post-Frew (who was injured in round 10 of that season). In both cases, adding Frew likely means we beat the Pies in the semi-final, and we reach three Grand Finals in a row (!)
this year was similar to 2022 in that we barely played any Junior League players – though probably not for the same reasons, as 2022 had such a stacked team that playing juniors could actively hurt us. This year we literally got 2 games out of players who have not yet had the change to nominate for an AFLW draft (less than that, if you count Keck as playing only half a game before getting injured).
On that latter point, it’s not clear how much the revised season timings hindered us, but two players for one game each is nuts. It’s not like we were flush with top-level output.
Here’s some of the prominent previous juniors we’ve played in earlier years:
2018: Danielle Porter
2019: Alana Barba, Krystel Petrevski, Georgie Patrikios, Felicity Theodore
Back to those scores: our top score for the year was 42, after some late goals vs Darebin.
We scored at least 42 points 14 times in 2023…
The only times the 2022 team failed to score 42 points were in those dramatic closing H&A rounds, when we played the other three top teams.
Our inability to score was very obvious all year. We started the year without Mia-Rae (playing rugby) and we never really achieved a balanced forward line. The forward line was SLOW, and often entirely “talls” (talls come in various sizes; at this level it relates more to style of play than sheer height). Chaston was one of the few creative types to start there, and she got tapped to play mid not long after.
We really needed Natalie MacDonald to not quit the team a few weeks into the season… and Tayla Hart-Aluni to not tap to injury in round 5.
Once those two were out, we had one legit quick player left… and Dicker spent lots of time inside packs.
There was certainly a negative feedback loop between our midfield delivery and our forward presentation (see: Prelim Final loss of 11-41 when inside fifties were 35-37…)
Apart from goals, the numbers below are averages… but the rankings are sorted by totals.
Where I have added our top player who was outside the top ten (as indicated by “?”) that is based on H&A and finals because 1) I’m lazy and 2) in that case it is purely about comparison with our players only, not the rest of the league.
Time for the dreaded all-player summary (minus Kenny, who gets the next post to herself). More dreaded than usual, with 49 (!) players to cover.
First up, thanks to the numbering system, the AFLW-listed players:
6 – Dani Marshall – her cameo season of 3 games was highlighted by the game against Hawthorn, in which she destroyed Maddie Boyd
11 – Alana Barba – 5 games, the highlight of which was her near-solo-effort versus the Saints (24 disposals and 8 tackles)
12 – Jo Doonan – 4 games, and kicked a couple goals when we were struggling to do so
14 – Ellyse Gamble – played 2 games as her return from injury. At the time we were playing a cheat backline of all talls (e.g. Crook BClarke GClarke Molan Gamble), because we could.
16 – Kodi Jacques – hard-arse mid, but unremarkable stats
17 – Georgia Clarke – 4 games, topped our marking average, played back and a little forward, will definitely be a bonus tall for the AFLW team. Officially called Klarke for two of her games
22 – Amelia Radford – 4 games, has stepped up her game since last year. Beat Jess Bates – we might be the only club to not be traumatised by her this year!
23 – Renee Tierney – her average stats are deceptive, as she was injured early on in her second and final game. In the first game she played primarily as a mid, with 21 disposals 11 tackles and a goal. Ramping up to be Bannister V2.
25 – Alex Morcom – 1 game to remain an every-season OG; killed it but had hamstring awareness afterwards
26 – Ash van Loon – I’m excited. Was given huge tasks in her AFLW debut season, and has further bulked up on her way to becoming a monster. Did some big-boded midfielding on top of the work in defence.
27 – Sophie van de Heuvel – wing, mostly. And meh.
28 – Mia Busch – meh
30 – Stephanie Wales – we got glimpses in her AFLW debut season when she became #1 ruck in the absence of Jorja Borg, but over the summer she STEPPED UP. Averaged 17 disposals and 25 hit-outs, and along with Ryan was just dominating everything she got to.
32 – Paige Scott – her first game was greedy and ineffectual; the other games she was a star. Until she got knocked out.
33 – Amber Clarke – only had 1 good game from 4, vs the Pies, but that one really showed her pace and evasion skills.
And now to the VFLW-listed players:
41 – Courtney Ugle – with Dicker and Ryan, she played every game this year. Returned to the role of captain after doing that in 2019. Played a mix of HB and wing, and was never inside mid.
42 – Shelby Meyers – DNP. On a quick glance it seems she did not play for her new club Oak Park in the EDFL either. Quigley kicked 38 goals there, though, to win the EDFL Premier goal-kicking by 17 goals!
42 – Maddison Ford – debuted in round 9 as a forward, and played every game from there on (but mostly in defence). For a tall she is very mobile. Not passive, takes the game on. I strongly hope we have her back next year.
43 – Olivia Manfre – kicked 5 goals in the Keilor EDFL season-launcher and two weeks later was in our team and never left it. Three “bags” of 2 in her 10 goals, behind only Clifford. As the year went on, improvements to her offensive and defensive game were seen… but she’s still a low disposal-getter, and not fast enough or big enough to be THE key forward.
44 – Grace Dicker – it seems an eternity ago (well, it was) that Grace played inside mid in round one last year and it set the standard for how she could step up. For various reasons, not least including the insane midfield quality of the 2022 team, it wasn’t to be, and the Grand Final was statistically her worst-ever game (really only remembered for her 30m run without a bounce). But this year? Wow. She has been the bedrock of our midfield; she ran down and zoomed past Jess Bates on tackles; she arguably beat Jess Bates in the semi-final; and she’s becoming a more complete midfielder, not just the one in the pack giving opponents a Dickering. If she can tidy up her kicking (and that is an ask, I know) she could plausibly be THE midfielder of 2024 VFLW.
45 – Bella Clarke – we are lucky to have Crook and her.
46 – Gloria Elarmaly – DNP
47 – Mia-Rae Clifford – anything I say here will have been said already: she’s a ■■■■■■■ legend. Missed five rounds early playing rugby union (not too badly either).
48 – Madison Gray – got scattered games across the season (half-back and wing, primarily). Has a point of difference from much of our squad in that she is legit fast. Unfortunately, she also just doesn’t get the ball.
49 – Tamsin Crook – we are lucky to have Bella and her.
50 – Krystal Russell – missed out on being drafted, went around again with the Western Jets and us and numerous representative games. The combination of 18yo, legit big lump, AND good endurance might yet get her to the AFLW. If she’s available next year, yes please.
51 – Leah Spargo – she’s short but soooo looks like a natural footballer when she has not… but sooo barely gets it. Best known as a back pocket, but played forward and sometimes mid with us.
52 – Jayda Richardson – various roles during the season: fill-in ruck and big-bodied midfielder in pre-season, then third tall defender, then a forward. What was constant was she loves to hurt people (and usually gets away with it).
53 – Zoe Hurrell – great pick-up. Went from kicking her first AFLW goal against us, to kicking her first VFLW goal for us. Also had a pre-season cameo in the middle, before settling at half-back and providing us great rebound. Lots of brave marks. Has some zip.
55 – Eleanor Cornish – it’s entirely plausible that next year Courtney will be the sole survivor
56 – Manaia Huta – the ol’ nonna (not; she’s only just turned 21 and is presumably Maori) played an almost clone game of Heil (which we get more into in the next post) in her first year with us. Not exciting, but useful. Hopefully her knee is OK after last week.
57 – Natalie MacDonald – DNP
58 – Chloe Prpic – we chucked a couple no-name 18yo kids in at the deep end this year. Purr-pitch played inside mid and filled in gaps forward and back. Did very little offensively, but she was conscientious enough, and clean enough of hand, to believe there is decent scope for improvement.
59 – Tayla Hart-Aluni – was exactly what we needed (see my post earlier on our moribund forward line), and then she was broken
60 – Jaimee-Lee Morrow – exactly what it says on the tin: a mature ruck, of the came-to-footy-late variety. Rarely dominant but does enough at ground level and around the ground to stop us getting rolled.
61 – Eloise Chaston – started as a forward, ended as a midfielder. Has got class and a big kick; I have no idea how they only kicked two goals.
62 – Melanie Bateman – one of the few “older” players we brought in this year. Of course, at 25yo she would count as a youngster during 2019-2022. Was “OK” (good at times, not good enough at others) and effectively replaced by 19yo Maddison Ford in the second half of the year.
63 – Lily Bateman – cameo of 1 H&A game
64 – Maddy Pearson – actually, maybe Pearson replaced Bateman. Not usually a star (except in the FOOTY FACES competition) but I never doubted her work ethic
65 – Caitlin Grech – played in the pre-season only
66 – Maddi Wilson – 3.5 years older than Manfre, smaller, barely faster. The last couple games was the closest she ever got to being a small forward, as opposed to a tiny full-forward.
67 – Sophie Ure – two games as ruck. Legit height at 185, but easily pushed aside. Foot injury ended her playing, but not her attendance.
68 – Scarlett Orritt – not sure if she’d ever played forward before we sent her there (U18 she was wing/half-back)
72 – Reese Sutton – finally, she debuted! Is a tough little bugger, with inside skills. At least with us she is yet to demonstrate small forward skills.
73 – Sophie Molan – we made finals because of Froggy’s addition to the squad. Great versatility from CHB to midfielder. Topped our disposals ladder despite the late start.
74 – Eloise Ashley-Cooper – back from the injury that resulted in the loss of her AFLW spot, two games, out from injury
75 – Lila Keck – half-a-game, busted her ankle. Call it a 10% chance she plays for us in the AFLW.
76 – Meg Ryan – EVERYTHING THAT IS GOOD ABOUT THIS WORLD! I wrote “fun to watch but a looooong way from arrived” after the first practice match and she progressively proved me wrong over the rest of the season. Contested beast (enough to play as an inside mid), decent pace and increasingly clean hands and quick reactions, kicking (especially for the instant snaps) is greatly improved. But back to the first line, she is bursting with energy and enthusiasm. Find someone who loves you as much as Meg Ryan loves raising her hand to nominate for a ruck contest!
77 – Tia Davidge – still 18yo. Played 16 games, mid/forward/back. Maybe not the class of Prpic, but has good bulk and CLUNKing hands.
78 – Kendra Heil – see the next post!
79 – Annabel Strahan – I believe I have expressed my option on this sufficiently clearly previously. She was out the next week and (I gather) played out the season at Keilor. It’s particular annoying as from the small sample she seemed not that different physically or skills-wise to Hurrell. But it also takes heart and brain to footy good.
79 – Sarah Grunden – one game
80 – Caitlin Sargent – three games before departing to spit the Pies.
During my formative years, basketball and soccer were my sports of choice (my father was a quintessential ‘soccer dad’). As my sporting palate developed so did my interested in training in highly physical and competitive sports. This culminated in my debut in University of Guelph rugby in 2007.
My hero in life was, and always will be my dad. He was my coach for many different sports and impacted so many lives. He drove me to every match and every practice to teach me how important dedication is and he always pushed me to work harder. Good was never good enough – I was to always try my best. Losing him [to cancer] was one of the most painful moments of my life but I know he’s with me no matter what I do, and I know he’s proud when I leave it all on the field.
Preferred position: Rover, Ruck Rover
Favorite childhood movie: Goonies
If you were a cartoon character, I would be: Buttercup (Powerpuff Girls)
If you were an animal, I would be a: Kangaroo
Here’s a quick summary of her progress from first playing Aussie Rules to her being drafted to Collingwood.
Kendra first picked up a football in 2012 playing for the Hamilton Wildcats who compete in the AFL Ontario competition. She quickly established herself as a key player, earning selection on the national team, the Northern Lights in that same year.
Kendra represented Canada against the USA in the 2012 and 2013 Parallel Cups and in 2014 she helped lead the Northern Lights to the world championships in the International Cup in Melbourne. Kendra’s strong play helped her earn selection to the World Team, being named on a forward flank.
Kendra moved to Australia in 2014 to further her football career and was named joint best and fairest for the Eastern Devils in the Victorian Football League. Cruelly, she suffered a torn ACL in 2015, hampering her 2015 and 2016 season. However she had shown enough prior to her injury and during her recovery for Collingwood to select her with their free agent draft selection.
While the AFL has had a number of internationally born players, including Canada’s own Mike Pyke, she is the first player to have been born and learnt to play outside of Australia.
Unfortunately, Kenny did her third ACL before even playing a practice match with the Pies, and was delisted.
(The first ACL happened while playing soccer.)
She kept busy throughout 2017 in various roles, including being an assistant coach for Vic Metro and at Box Hill VFL.
Brendan Major had coached the Eastern Devils from 2014-2107, and had been a Collingwood AFLW assistant coach in 2017, and was likely a significant part in Kenny coming to EFC in 2018.
Especially since Major also studied in Ontario, Canada… and was her personal trainer… and was the one who invited her to the Wildcats… and they came to Australia as partners.
Here’s a quick recap of some of her footy achievements:
From 2023, AFL Canada has named the annual Tournament MVP after the first Canadian woman to be drafted to the AFLW – Kendra Heil.
She was part of the seven-player leadership team in our inaugural team alongside captain Lisa Williams, vice-captain Natasha Hardy (now one of our AFLW coaches), Jess Trend, Lauren Morecroft, Hayley Bullas and Kayla Hicks.
For our first game she was named as an emergency (alongside Nattie MacDonald anda Courtney Ugle). She, Courtney, and Maddy Collier wouldn’t debut till the next week.
She then played the next 52 games before finally copping an injury.
When she played game #50, she wrote:
The EFC introduction article of 2018 called her a “tough inside midfielder who can also play forward”. She did play forward briefly, which included her kicking two goals in her second game versus NT Thunder. Watch the first 25 seconds of the below to see her goals. Then quickly switch it off, before you see a large part of the Adelaide AFLW team demolish us.
She would slow down a bit after that, ending with just the 11 goals from her 70 games (behind only Courtney Ugle). She kicked 2 goals two other times, against the Saints in 2022 (including the running goal at the death to get us the draw) and Willy in 2023 (in a five minute burst in the last quarter, to get us the win).
To the end of 2019 she was best known as our second or third tall defender; she’s not big but she’s a scrapper, and the rebound she provided was hugely important.
In 2021 Kenny shifted from being a defender to being a winger. At the start of that season it seemed a bit of a luxury (noting that our backline had lost Kirby Hicks), though as the season progressed we saw key defenders emerge (notably including Eloise Gardner).
She may be insanely ripped and with very decent core strength, but that move may have been done just to keep her out there and away from the bashing a defender cops and must give. She played a very distinct and focused role as a winger: fat side, and inclined to fall back to save us rather than sprint forward. That can result in lower stats, but if it helps the team: kudos. It’s absolutely been a role that EFC under two coaches has embraced: you can see it clearly in Manaia Huta and, to a lesser extent, Courtney Ugle’s games as well.
A prime example of that was seen at the end of the first quarter of the Prelim Final: everyone thinks Frew is going to goal and swing the game… and there’s Kenny, cutting it off in the goal square.
And she cared, and was so supportive (the below after the 2021 Prelim loss, looking after the kids):
A little story about myself, and then I swear it’s just art from here on out:
My most recently completed artwork of the glorious Sabrina Frederick-Traub of the Brisbane Lions, is one of the many bold, oft-colourful, and inspired works I have completed over the last year.
It began in Canada, when I had finished playing varsity rugby and had completed my Fine Arts degree at the University of Guelph. My personal trainer at the time said, “Come try this new sport, I’ll give you a couple of free sessions,” So I figured it couldn’t hurt to check it out. Very quickly I was immersed in my first training of a crazy, hectic sport they called Aussie Rules. I was selected for the Canadian National team, and made my way down under for the 2014 International Cup.
It was a good time in my life to travel, so I decided to come over for the season leading up to IC14. I joined the Eastern Devils in Mulgrave and played two seasons for them. Due to my lack of game knowledge and my high level of fitness, they decided tagger was the best position to start – I ran alongside the likes of Daisy Pearce and Stephanie Chiocci in what was a rude awakening to how little I really knew. The Devils became my home away from home, helped push me to compete at a higher level, and supported me in what was a difficult transition in a completely different country.
Everything was looking up as my kicks started going straight instead of helicoptering sideways, and my positioning improved from dismal to less-than-dismal. I was selected to be a part of the first Women’s Academy; the participation in such a program skyrockets your skills and knowledge to get the best out of your natural and acquired talents. Unfortunately I ruptured my left ACL (knee tendon that creates stability) in January of 2016 and had surgery in February. My partner and I opted to have surgery as soon as possible and I spent most of 2016 focusing on rehab, helping the Devils, and not much else.
Fast forward to the 2016 AFLW draft. I wasn’t selected in the initial draft, but was thrilled when Collingwood offered me a spot as a free agent as their doctors confirmed I would be ready to go come round 1. Unfortunately at training I re-ruptured my ACL in an innocuous turn and my world crumbled around me again. Surgery was booked in for December and another year of rehab reared its ugly head.
My partner encouraged me to take up painting more seriously (I had been dabbling over the last couple years, but most were reproductions) during my rehab, and I also decided it would be a great opportunity to buff up on the parts of AFL that weren’t my strengths. I coached, was bench manager, sat in coaches boxes; anything to get a taste. The paintings were my saving grace…I found a way to become the action of game day that was unlike anything anyone else had. The stroke of a brush, the pull of the paint, the pride of a completed work brought light and colour to athletes that most had not experienced before. Immortalised.
Now… nearly 16 months into my second rehab (tack on another 10 months in the previous one) and I haven’t played footy in over two years. I have signed with the mighty Essendon Bombers up at Tullamarine in the VFLW, and I plan on experiencing footy again from the other end of the brush…in the action, on the oval, and kicking goals.
Some 2019 thoughts on her approach to the game (and being a nutso foodie) can be found here.
Pre-games I usually practice mindfulness with an app like Calm or Smiling Mind. I take 5-10 minutes to settle my breathing while focusing my concentration. This has helped over the last year when I was experiencing anxiety regarding returning to sport after 34 months out of footy (two back-to-back ACL reconstructions). I have used some of the sports training sessions from Smiling Mind to incorporate grounding myself as part of my in-game refocusing strategies. Thinking of how the ground feels beneath my feet or whether my weight is pushing through my toes or heels helps me to focus on the ‘now’ of the game rather than what has been or what might be.
A very special commission. My footy team, @essendonwvfl , in 2019, playing at our spiritual home ground, Windy Hill.
What strikes this as an important image is the little girl in front of our huddle. Win or lose, as players we get to be part of something special…maybe a positive influence on this young life to show what women can aspire to.
Thank you @essendonfc for letting me be part of your glorious 150 history, and for moments like this.