For the 30-odd women who ran out onto Windsor Park on Sunday under the watchful eye of North Melbourne Football Club coaches, there was a new goal on the horizon: win an AFLW premiership.
This week North Melbourne selectors are hunting for the first crop of Tasmanian talent to join the North Melbourne Tassie Kangaroos AFLW team in 2019.
About 90 women aged 17 to 34 pre-registered for trials across the state, keen to show off their athletic ability, resilience and game sense for a chance at selection.
NMFC football operations manager Laura Kane said the goal was simple: win a premiership in their first season playing in the elite AFLW competition.
Cross-code athletes, experienced football players and new talent harvested from Tasmania’s growing football scene will help form the Tassie Kangaroos, and Kane said North Melbourne was confident Tasmania had the goods in untapped talent.
“There’s a whole range of attributes and qualities that can cut it at AFLW level … we’re looking for girls that want to have a real crack,” Kane said.
A key component of the NMFC-Tasmania partnership finalised in December 2017 was a commitment to sourcing half the team’s talent from Tasmania, with North Melbourne fully committed to realising that goal in the years ahead.
“It’s just when – it’s how soon, when’s the talent ready, both for us and for the girls,” Kane said.
“Regardless of what number we get for 2019, we want to make sure there’s structures in place for the pathway to help them get there the following years.”
North Melbourne and Geelong will join the AFLW in 2019 with the advantage of having observed two seasons from the sidelines – an important benefit considering the controversial memo sent out by the AFL last week noting a dislike of congestion in this year’s competition.
Tracking the statistics and weekly performances has given North Melbourne an edge for the future.
“It’s the most important thing, the average possession chain in AFLW at the moment is three possessions, so if you’re good at ground balls, you’re good at AFLW,” Kane said.
“At the moment, looking at the stats from the first iteration has picked the type of players that’s important.
“The second iteration that we’re seeing … is different again. Skills are better, structures are different, rules have changed, so we’re lucky that we have a shop window into what it’s going to look like in 2019.”
AFL Tasmania female talent manager Leigh Elder said Tasmania’s responsibility was to prepare players for the physical challenges of the sport, with plenty of big-name players, such as Carlton captain Bri Davey and Launceston’s own Bulldog Daria Bannister, being taken out by ACL and other injuries.
Elder said coaches expected that girls taking on AFLW for the first time would not have the years of strength training completed by boys their age.
It wouldn’t be a problem fixed overnight, but high-level injury was a reality of playing in elite competition regardless of code, Elder said.
Kane said high-level technology available to the NMFC helped detect injury early, something she was keen to see young female players have access to in the near future.
Despite the physical challenges, Elder said Tasmania’s female athletes had an advantage over the state’s struggling men’s game.
“We’re not held back by a hundred and fifty years of tradition in female football, so we’ve actually been able to go right back to basics and get the structure right all the way through,” Elder said.
While the three regions are at differing stages of development, an under-18s program was launched last week, running games through March in a program similar to the traditional Mariners development pathway.
Elder, less than a fortnight into his new role leading the women’s development, said all of Tasmania’s state teams who had opened their doors to women’s teams were going about the development of female players “the right way”.
“The great thing with the partnership with North Melbourne is we can learn from them, they’re in the high performance [area] and we’re probably a fair way from high performance – but they’re helping us bridge that gap,” he said.
“We’re slowly catching up, our actual pathway is looking very good, but we need players to spend time in the pathway to get through.”
For those who do get through and join the North Melbourne Tassie Kangaroos in their first iteration, the pressure will be on.
“As an elite AFLW football club, we want to win,” Kane said.
“There’s no reason to do what we do if it’s not for the ultimate success, so we want to win a premiership in 2019.
“But we want to make sure the girls enjoy themselves doing it.”