AFLW Kangaroos has players straddling Victoria and Tasmania, but they’re making it work
By Lucy Watkin
There are seven Tasmanian players on the 30-strong North Melbourne squad. (ABC News: Lucy Watkin)
The Kangaroos AFL Women’s squad have found themselves in an peculiar position.
With seven of North Melbourne’s 30 players based in Tasmania, it was weeks into pre-season before they were able to train together.
But the club is making it work, with training camps, practice games and technology all playing a part in keeping the team connected, while also offering opportunities to the next generation of female talent in Tasmania.
Nicole Bresnehan was one of three Tasmanians picked up in the 2018 draft, and sees the training situation as “challenging”.
“We’re down here and obviously there’s water separating us from the others, but I think North have planned for this quite well,” she said.
“There’s facilities we both have access to, we’ve been using zoom sessions for team meetings.
“[North have] really made it work and its exceeded my expectations.”
Nicole Bresnehan says the team deals with its geographical challenges well. (ABC News: Lucy Watkin)
Having only seven players scattered around the state makes full training sessions difficult, so to help make up the numbers, the under 16 and under 18 Next Generation Academy players have been invited to train.
Bresnehan said it was a great opportunity for those coming up through the talent pathway.
“They’ve taken on a big responsibility and they’re there to really help us and we’re there to help them too,” she said.
“I think they’ve been enjoying it and there’s not many times in their playing careers that they’re going to get the opportunity to train with an AFLW elite program.”
North have whole of Tassie to themselves
The club is already being rewarded for its work in the women’s football space in the state with Burnie products, twins Chloe and Libby Haines, making their way through the club’s academy and onto the inaugural list.
Senior coach Scott Gowans believes the rest of the country hasn’t taken enough notice of the talent coming out of Tasmania.
He said he didn’t mind North having “the whole state to themselves”.
“I know clubs would look and say, ‘oh there’s nothing down there’, and that’s fine,” Gowans said.
“The other clubs aren’t looking at it right, they’re only looking at the current list, whereas I look at the 15 and 16-year-olds coming through and think, ‘you can’t touch them’.”
“We have three to four years to develop them, and so in 2021-2022, we’re going to have some special footballers coming through.”
‘The next wave of talent is unbelievable’
It hasn’t just been the Next Generation Academy that has unearthed talented players for North — an important part of the strategy in Tasmania was holding open talent identification days for athletes of all different backgrounds.
Operations manager Laura Kane recalls watching Clarence TSLW representative Madison Smith kick six goals in 10 minutes on North Hobart Oval.
Soon after, Smith was an open-age signing for the club.
“The next wave of talent is unbelievable, it’s growing strongly, and we’ll keep the same approach moving forward,” Kane said.
“We’ll still do the call out to girls who think they want to have a go or see how they compare against other girls.
“But the talent pathway is also really consolidated across the board.”
Training in two places at once
Trent Bartlett is running the Tasmanian operation of North’s AFLW team.
It’s a difficult operation, and with the Tasmania players based around the state, it means a lot more travel for both the coaches and players.
“North Melbourne have had to learn and embrace the situation down here in Tassie,” Bartlett said.
“Daria Bannister is in Launceston, the Haines twins and Emma Humphries are on the north-west coast and Maddy Smith, Nicole Bresnehan and Jessie Williams [are] in Hobart — so we have to train in different places.”
With the AFLW currently only a part-time pursuit for players, making sure they didn’t need to uproot their lives was important to club.
The Tasmanian players are dispersed around the state. Daria Bannister (L) lives in Launceston. (ABC News: Lucy Watkin)
The North-West cohort train in Launceston, and the Hobart players in Hobart — but once a week they get together for a combined session alternating between Launceston or Hobart.
“We felt it was more difficult for girls to relocate, and we don’t want them to be away from their jobs and their families to play AFLW,” Kane said.
“So if we could create a situation where they could remain at home living in Tasmania and still play and compete at the highest level then we wanted to do that.”
‘Untouchable’ Tasmanian market could be key to success
Bartlett also sees the value in having the Tasmanian contingent of the list remaining in the state to play.
“It’s a great situation for us in Tassie, as they get the opportunity to play AFLW, and don’t have to leave the state and that’s never happened before,” he said.
“All our boys that get drafted have to go live in Melbourne, or Sydney, or wherever they have to go to play — whereas out girls get to stay home where they have careers, families, friends, and still play at the elite level.”
North Melbourne have committed to signing more Tasmanian women every year as the talent pool grows, and those who are coming through the pathway they’ve helped develop.
The club has publicly said they want half of their list to come from the state and Bartlett sees this as an achievable goal that is not too far away.
“It’s a great opportunity for North because they have a massive untapped resource of footy talent in Tasmania and we have a lot of footy talent down here,” he said.
“North have their hands on all the talent down here and the work they’re doing to develop that is just going to help their case.”
With a further four teams joining the AFLW in 2020, North’s ‘untouchable’ base in Tasmania could work out to be a key to their success.