PREVIEW: Geelong vs Box Hill Hawks
The 2017 Swisse Wellness VFL Women's season is now only two days away.
Callum O'Connor continues his season preview series with a look at the new clubs, Geelong and Box Hill Hawks before the teams meet in Round 1.
Coach: Paul Hood (1st year)
AFLW players on list: 7
Paul Hood has a lot to think about as he enters his first season as the coach of Geelong’s inaugural Swisse Wellness VFL Women’s side.
How will the young Cats compete against teams with long-established lists and cultures? What are the most important things to develop first? Will he win the race against the clock to integrate his game plan to 40 players, the majority of whom have never played together?
These questions aside, what Hood wants most out of his team is this: that they build a sense of pride in the club they are playing for.
“There is a sense of responsibility of representing the Geelong Football Club,” declares the former Geelong VFL and TAC Cup coach. “They know it’s a place with some incredible history and achievements. From the moment that the girls came in that was something that excited them.”
Hood’s squad is a composite of 17 players from the 2016 North Geelong Magpies side coached by Steve Janssen and a wide recruitment program of footballers and athletes from the local area. Seven Cats, three of whom are former Magpies, played in the inaugural AFLW season with vice-captain Lily Mithen capping a stellar year with a NAB Rising Star nomination.
Geelong’s association with North Geelong dates back to the Magpies’ match against Knox at Simonds Stadium last year, when Hood was part of the game day crew.
“The relationship was well underway,” recalls Hood. “There was a great level of passion and enthusiasm for the game amongst those girls and we see it as really important that we respect the history of North Geelong and its people.”
With a squad comprised of a wide range of sporting backgrounds, Hood says the coaching staff has been focusing on individual development of the players ahead of Round 1.
“The reaction of the players and their willingness to learn and take on any type of training that has been put before them has been great,” says Hood. “There’s a great opportunity in integrating the groups. That’s something we’ve lived through at VFL level. We were rapt to have the support of the North Geelong Magpies and from different parts of the state and the Academy and other sports.”
Whilst looking to build upon the elite training facilities at their home base of Simonds Stadium, Geelong have secured a coaching coup with the signature of three-time All Australian player Natalie Wood as assistant coach alongside Julian Owens and David Morgan.
“They’ve been huge,” declares Hood. “Nat with her experience in VWFL and understanding of the landscape has been invaluable to go with her fantastic communication experience and Julian and Dave have excellent knowledge in local football.”
This maiden voyage into VFL Women’s is fraught with uncertainty. However, Hood isn’t afraid to talk big as he anticipates the year ahead for Geelong.
“As far as expectation goes, we don’t know what to expect except one hundred percent commitment and effort. We’ve picked a squad full of people who are super keen to become as good as they can. They’ve got high expectations already. That doesn’t come from within the coaching staff, that comes from within.
“It’s up to us to provide a consistently supportive environment so the girls can develop to their own level as best they can. If they’re enjoying it, they’ll become the best they can be.”
Geelong play Box Hill at Simonds Stadium in Round 1.
CLICK HERE for the 2017 team lists
CLICK HERE for the updated 2017 fixture
BOX HILL HAWKS
Coach: Patrick Hill (1st year)
AFLW players on list: 1
They are starting out from scratch but with possibly the best facilities of any VFL Women’s club.
They have one of the youngest lists in the competition yet have the alignment of one of the strongest VFL/AFL clubs in the state.
The squad is learning their strengths and deficiencies in a race against time, but they have a coach who knows the ins-and-outs of VFL better than any of his peers.
Box Hill aren’t just the new kids on the block, they are the face of the future of VFL Women’s. Aligned with Hawthorn and alternately based between the Box Hill City Oval and the elite facilities of Waverley Park, the fledgling Hawks may well attract more than their fair share of scrutiny in their maiden season.
In early November, the Hawks secured the licence vacated by the Knox Falcons to ensure their inaugural berth in VFL Women’s with former Frankston coach Patrick Hill anointed as senior coach.
“It’s been a real short turnaround to get everything in place from mid-November,” admits Hill, a premiership-winning assistant coach at the Hawks in the Peter Jackson VFL who is making his return to Box Hill in this new role after two years as senior coach of the Frankston Dolphins.
“The first thing I’ve discovered about these girls is their ability to take on information. The main focus I had when I got here was helping them compose when they’ve got the ball and to give themselves more time with decision making.”
Much of the inaugural Box Hill list formerly played at Knox, Whitehorse and Kew. Collingwood midfielder Mel Kuys is the Hawks’ only AFL selection with former Eastern Devils ruck Abbey Tanner, Melbourne Uni defender Marinella Salafia and St Kilda forward Emily Gilder their other VFLW recruits. With nearly a third of their extended VFLW squad 22 or under, Hill’s charges will be one of the youngest in the competition. It’s a state the coach is intent on working to his advantage.
“The experience of the players is telling,” says Hill. “We’ve had a lot who have come from other sports where modern tactics of footy are applicable but basically whatever you tell them to do, they’ll do. That’s really pleasing. There’s not the same level of ego with the girls as with the guys, they’re not afraid to ask more questions so the development has been really good.”
Competing against eight teams with pre-existing lists and cultures, Box Hill have had their backs to the wall in their pre-season preparation. However, in their three practice match hit-outs, the Hawks have claimed the scalps of Cranbourne and 2016 finalists Eastern Devils. Hill isn’t popping champagne corks just yet, pointing out that it’s “hard to get a gauge” on where his opponents will be, come Round 1 of the real stuff, but is willing to laud the improvement of his charges.
“The second practice match was really solid and the third was even better, so there’s been improvement every week. There’s been improvement with how our footy looks and sounds, the noises we’re making out on field, the language we’re using, the look of our ball movement.
“We’ve set some goals around where we’re perceived,” reveals Hill. “Noting that we’ve taken a lot of girls from local footy, the fair perception of us will be something towards the bottom end of the ladder.
“We think that’s a fair perception but what we have to do by the end of year one is change that. We hope that by the end of the season, no matter who we’re playing, they’ll perceive us as a hard game, as a team that’s united and moves the ball well and defends fiercely.”
Box Hill face Geelong at Simonds Stadium in Round 1.
CLICK HERE for the 2017 team lists
CLICK HERE for the updated 2017 fixture
This game will be called on 94.1FM, 3WBC and video streamed on VFL.com.au