It’s an exciting time for West Coast Eagles as the women’s team prepare for their inaugural season.
The West Coast Eagles have put together their list for the 2020 season and they’re itching to get their boots on the ground. Comprising a mix of experienced players, cross-code athletes and rookie drafts, the team that has been put together is sure to excite AFLW fans up and down the West coast.
Although it is one of four expansion teams this season, WCE is the only team that will be playing together for the first time, and fans are chomping at the bit to see how the talented players will be brought together by the coaching team led by Luke Dwyer.
According to the inaugural captain, Emma Swanson, the focus is on developing a positive club culture that will endure for years to come, and which will help develop strong relationships between players that will translate to the game.
“We are a young team and we want to be here for a long time which means we need to focus on more than our immediate goals,” Swanson says.
“It is important that we look beyond the next six months and lay a solid foundation for the future.”
West Coast do seem to be succeeding on that score and have made the most of not being involved in the earlier seasons of the AFLW.
Swanson attests that the club has been very proactive in their preparation for the introduction of the new women’s team and that they do not seem to be struggling with the ‘teething issues’ faced by foundation clubs in the past.
“It’s a kind of blessing in disguise that the club has had three years to get ready,” she says.
“I’ve not for one second felt like they’ve been unprepared or not thought things through.”
As the season draws nearer, WCE supporters wait to see whether the preparation and positive club culture has helped to develop the competitive side that they are hoping for.
What we learnt from last season
While we may not be able to reflect on this team’s performance last season, the talent brought to the squad by the individual players is undeniable.
Emma Swanson herself boasts experience at the elite level, both as a player and in a leadership role, having been selected as vice-captain for the Giants in the first season of the AFLW.
Similarly exciting is the addition of Dana Hooker, star player from Fremantle and now inaugural vice-captain at West Coast.
The new team comprises a number of other players drafted from the Dockers’ list including WAWFL leading goal kicker Ashlee Atkins and multi-sport athlete Kellie Gibson.
Many of the players have grown up in WA supporting the WCE and are determined to do justice to the club they grew up cheering for.
The club’s key advantage lies in the time they’ve had to prepare for the 2020 season, as they’ve been able to develop their program with the insight into what has and hasn’t worked for other teams.
They’ve also done well to procure a mixture of players who have either proved themselves to be dependable in previous seasons of the AFLW or who have demonstrated their talents in state or junior leagues and other sports.
These fresh faces are keen to prove themselves and the whole team is eager to make history as the first WCE women’s team.
These factors, added to the positive club culture and experience brought by the senior players, could turn out to be a threatening combination on the field.
WCE’s advantage in being a new team raring to go can be flipped on its head as a challenge the club will need to overcome, hopefully early on in the season.
As the other three expansion clubs joining the 2020 season have played together in the past, the WCE are the only true wild card in the lineup.
Although many individuals in the team have played together at other clubs or in other leagues, there will undoubtedly be a few bumps in the road to forming a cohesive team in this elite environment.
We will have to wait and see whether proactive preparation and the emphasis on building a positive club culture will be enough to allow the WCE to thrive in the competition this season.
Swanson is an experienced football player with an impressive record of achievements as a professional athlete. Prior to her start in the AFLW, she was named Best and Fairest at Peel Thunderbirds four times. She was then signed as a marquee player and vice-captain for the GWS Giants in 2017.
Swanson was sidelined for most of the 2019 season as she was injured in February and spent the rest of the year recovering from a shoulder reconstruction. Despite concerns that she may not have been ready for the 2020 preseason,
Emma says the time away from the game has allowed for a full recovery and is more than excited to start playing again, this time in the yellow and blue guernsey.
“From day one [of the preseason] I was pretty much ready to go so it worked out really well,” she says.
“I’m like a little kid when I play footy. . . I still can’t sleep the night before games and stuff like that and thinking about it just makes me really happy. I can’t wait.”
Hooker is an exciting addition to the WCE, recruited from their cross-town rivals Fremantle Dockers after a few exemplary seasons.
The midfielder joins the Eagles having been named Freo’s inaugural Best and Fairest in 2017 and runner-up Best and Fairest in the last two seasons. She is also a two time All-Australian, having been selected to join the 40-woman squad in both 2018 and 2019.
With experience within the leadership group at Freo, the accomplished player was an obvious choice for vice captaincy in the Eagle’s inaugural team.
Hooker will be an exciting player to watch in this new season of AFLW and will no doubt be an outstanding source of experience and maturity who will help launch the expansion club into the competition.
A fierce forward who has missed out on playing in the AFLW since 2017 is now training hard to prove herself for the West Coast Eagles. She joined the club after a successful 2019 WAWFL season where she contributed in a big way, kicking 10 goals for Subiaco.
Her captain says that it has been fantastic to see the enthusiasm and maturity demonstrated by Devlyn in preseason training so far.
“I think it is a really positive sign and I’m really excited to see what [Devlyn] brings over the next couple of months.”
ONE TO WATCH
There are two new players on West Coast’s list that fans are particularly intrigued to see in action. Our latest imports from Ireland, sisters Grace and Niamh Kelly, have been working on translating their skills from Gaelic football to Aussie Rules throughout the preseason.
The two teachers are the latest in a number of successful Irish cross-code athletes giving Aussie Rules a go.
In fact, no less than 18 Irish stars have been recruited to AFLW lists for the 2020 season, four of whom (including the Kelly sisters) play in the Ladies Gaelic Football Association for County Mayo.
Eagles captain Emma Swanson is enthusiastic about code-switching athletes and is excited to see Grace and Niamh in action when the season starts. She hopes that the AFLW can continue to support the inclusion of cross-code athletes in the league for as long as possible.
“I love playing alongside and against athletes that have come from other sports,” she says.
“Their spatial awareness, their game sense and their elite behaviours when they’ve come from a national or international sport only benefit all of us.”