Tasmania's North Melbourne AFLW population's Melbourne relocation is not simply a COVID-19 enforced decision, coach Darren Crocker has revealed.
The four North Melbourne Tasmanian Kangaroos players who still call the state home, Mia King, Nicole Bresnehan, Daria Bannister and draftee Brooke Brown, have relocated to Melbourne for the season, rather than being based in the state as players have been during the first two years of the club's time in the AFLW.
While logistically in an era of border closures due to the pandemic having players in two states would have been far too risky, for Crocker it was a plan he would have implemented even if the virus was not present in society, and one that is set to continue post-2021.
"This is because of the difficulty of them zooming in for meetings and not getting the one-on-one coaching that they require and that real personal development,'' he said.
"They are just loving it and it is really interesting that the Tassie girls are the ones that are out there [at training] just that little bit longer because they have been starved of that development after not having the coaches out there to have a kick with them or to tweak things and just talk about their game.
"I do feel for them because it did hurt their overall development individually, but we have a full squad mentality and if we can improve each girl on our list then that will improve us as a collective.
"I know there was some apprehension from them, but speaking to the girls now they are just so glad that they have done it."
Players being able to train [with a Tasmanian-based coach] and stay at home while being on North's AFLW list was one of keys of the partnership between the club and the state during its first two years, a deal which sees North get exclusive access to Tasmanian talent.
Crocker, who has replaced Scott Gowans as coach and had some involvement in the AFLW program previously, said the change in philosophy wasn't so much an admission that the setup hasn't worked, but a sign of the overall growth in professionalism of the competition.
That quartet and Melbourne-based Brittany Gibson and Ellie Gavalas make up the 2021 Tasmanians, after Emma Humphries and Chloe and Libby Haines were delisted and Abbey Green traded to Collingwood.
Crocker, who said he was inspired by his players, said five of that six have claims for a spot in North's round one team, with Bannister on the comeback trail from her TSLW grand final meniscus injury.
On former Burnie Docker Gibson, who will again play as a deep forward, Crocker said he was looking forward to using her "really good speed and power off the mark" inside 50.
While not part of the official leadership group after electing not to be involved in 2021, Crocker said Gibson would still be an important on-field leader for the Kangaroos.
He expected midfielder Gavalas, who is originally from Hobart, to further grow with more self-belief, while Launceston midfielder King was a "real goer" who brings a good level of "hardness and toughness".
Launceston's Brown, the former basketballer who can play forward, back or in the ruck, has impressed via her "good agility for her size and speed and power" and was coming to terms with AFLW's physicality.
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Crocker was full of praise for Launceston forward Bannister for getting herself to a position to take part in recent match simulation, with no timeline set for her return, while Clarence running defender Bresnehan is "pretty tough" and plays her role "quite well".
While there is unfinished business for many of his players after last season's cancellation and missing the finals in 2019, Crocker said he wasn't about addressing the past as "we can only control what is happening right in front of us in the present and the future".
North, which is set to open its season on January 31 against Geelong at GMHBA Stadium, is scheduled to play Richmond at North Hobart Oval on February 27 and Melbourne at UTAS Stadium on March 14. It has a 4-0 record in the state.
"I know the girls really look forward to playing down there, whether that is just the routine of going down to Tassie or how the people embrace them, but they have already intimated that they are looking forward to the games there,'' Crocker said.
"We look forward to getting down there to continue to embrace our relationship with Tassie football."
Gibson [hamstring] and Bannister were absent from Sunday's practice match loss to Collingwood, where Brown hit the scoreboard and King reportedly impressed.