SUNDAY’S VFL Women’s Grand Final is about more than the culmination of a single campaign for Essendon.
Season 2022 could not have been more different from back in 2018, when the Bombers first joined the VFLW.
A one-win year saw them comfortably finish last on the ladder back then, but fast forward four years and they have not lost a game in 2022, en route to their first Grand Final.
Coach Brendan Major has witnessed all the highs and lows of that journey, having been the Bombers’ one and only coach in their VFLW journey thus far.
When asked earlier this week to reflect on that journey, Major found it hard to “encapsulate” it all.
“From the start, the club has been fantastic in its support of women’s football and support of the program,” he said. “I think that as a staffing group and as a coaching group, we’ve focused on the fundamentals and we put our people first, and I think that as the years have gone by we’ve just maintained that focus on good people and developing our people, creating a space for them to have the opportunity to develop, and then taking that responsibility to develop and we’re here because of that.”
Alongside Major, only six players from that inaugural squad are still at the club; Alex Morcom, Courtney Ugle, Eleanor Cornish, Kendra Heil, Natalie MacDonald and Simone Nalder. Another inaugural Bomber – Rebecca Neaves – is now at the Southern Saints, also set to line up in Sunday’s Grand Final.
Major spoke glowingly of how much of an impact those six players have made on the group at Essendon.
“Huge, absolutely huge,” he said. “When you talk about development of a list and development of a group, it’s about training standards as a whole group. It’s about a group of people getting together and putting what’s best for the team in front of what’s best for them.
“When talking about Courtney Ugle, Kendra Heil, Morcom, Simone Nalder, Mariana Anthony, Natalie Macdonald, those types of players, the players that are really good football players in their own right and probably haven’t quite had the recognition they may get [in relation to being drafted], or they may get next year, they have been tremendous for the Essendon Football Club over a number of seasons just through sheer hard work.”
Unlike many of the VFLW sides, Essendon has chosen to keep its now AFLW-listed personnel playing right the way through the season.
“For us it’s about what’s best for the player,” Major said. “We’ve pulled a couple of players and that’s ok because that’s what was best for them. So I’m not going to make judgements on what the other clubs have done, they’re all in unique situations, and they’ve done what they think is best for their club.”
The Bombers may have the favourite tag heading into the match, but try telling that to Major.
“If you look at the two contests we’ve had with the Southern Saints this year it was a draw then it was 10 points, and it could have gone either way,” he said. “It was very close for most of the game and the first half of the game they very much had the run of play. So, although statistically without losing a game this year I can understand why people would say that, but I would expect a very even game this week. I don’t think it’s going to be too heavily favoured one [way] or the other.”
So, will this journey over the last few years culminate in the ultimate glory for Major and his Bombers? Only a few more days until all will be revealed.