The jobs ahead for the six AFLW expansion clubs

Following yesterday’s announcement of the six AFLW expansion clubs, there is plenty of work ahead for Geelong, North Melbourne, Gold Coast, Richmond, St Kilda and West Coast

Geelong and North Melbourne will be immediately under the pump to get things right, with only 16 months separating them and an AFLW berth.

North Melbourne will be officially recognised as the North Melbourne Tasmanian Kangaroos. Image: Luke Bowden

The other four clubs cannot afford to sit on their hands either. While some clubs are ahead of the curve as far as staff goes, identifying and securing talent will be of the utmost importance.

These are the tasks ahead for the six AFLW expansion clubs.

 

Geelong (2019)
It will be a case of business as usual for the Cats over the next 12 months, with the club already well ahead of the eight ball in terms of preparation.

The club treated its VFL Women’s team as though it were playing in the AFLW, with a strong presence of club employees and staff on game day, and social media coverage that rivaled some AFLW clubs’ efforts. VFLW players were also given full access to the facilities at Simonds Stadium, where the AFLW side will play its home matches.

It’s expected that most of the staff will carry over to the AFLW team, including head coach Paul Hood who has played a key role in not only establishing the VFLW side, but developing talent in the region.

The aim will be to bring as many of the team’s VFLW stars that are listed for other AFLW clubs back to Geelong. Melbourne midfielder Lily Mithen has to be at the top of that list, with GWS forward Maddie Boyd and Demons pair Erin Hoare and Richelle Cranston all priorities.

With a short draft to occur this year, plenty of the team’s VFLW players will still be available next year, which bodes well for Geelong considering it still has the option to select any player from Victoria. With both the talent in the Geelong region and standout juniors in the Victorian Under-18s side to choose from, putting together a competitive side will be no problem.

Geelong’s to-do list:
– Secure Geelong VFLW talent currently listed for other AFLW clubs

 

North Melbourne-Tasmania (2019)
Officially recognised as the North Melbourne Tasmanian Kangaroos, North has plenty of work to do over the next 12 months.

The club is in great shape in-house – particularly considering the backing of the Tasmanian government – with Arden Street Oval poised to be the club’s home base in Victoria, and games played in Tasmania to be split between Hobart and Launceston.

Laura Kane is already working as the club’s football operations manager, a role that involves managing the women’s academy. It’s possible her position may carry over to AFLW. Melbourne University coach Andrew Jago is an early favourite for head coach.

But there are serious question marks hanging over the team’s inaugural playing list.

Only four Tasmanians are currently listed to AFLW clubs: Jessica Wuetschner (Brisbane), Brittany Gibson (Brisbane), Emma Humphries (Melbourne) and Ellyse Gamble (Western Bulldogs). With all due respect to those players, they are not the sort of footballers you are able to build a team around.

Only three (at best) Tasmanians are expected to be selected in this year’s AFLW Draft, and the overall standard of women’s senior football in the Apple Isle is considered to be below the rest of the country. It’s not a positive sign for North’s Managing Director and CEO Carl Dilena, who says the club is aiming to have half the list comprised of Tasmanians.

North Melbourne does have an existing partnership with Melbourne University, which has supplied plenty of the AFLW’s most recognisable names. Perhaps luring some of those big names will help bridge the gap between young talent and established stars.

North’s to-do list:
– Heavily invest in developing Tasmanian talent
– Target marquee names to build team around
– Appoint a head coach

 

Gold Coast (2020)
It sounds a bit funny, but the Suns are as well prepared for an AFLW introduction as could be two years out, a rather odd statement considering the question marks hanging over the men’s team.

Participation in Queensland women’s footy has increased by a staggering 280% over the past seven years, with those numbers set to jump once again heading into next year.

The Gold Coast Academy is predicted to supply 14 players to the AFLW over the next three years, and plans for the club to field a team in the QWAFL (Queensland state women’s competition) are already underway. With two years until the Suns begin putting together an initial playing list, those two pathways would essential become the Gold Coast backbone.

It’s still too early to make a call on a head coach, but considering the wealth of talent at Gold Coast’s disposal, one is not necessary until 2019.

The team is expected to play its home games at Metricon Stadium following the success of the AFLW Grand Final, and the fact the team has the full backing of the Queensland Government – which owns the stadium – doesn’t hurt.

The task will be to find senior players who will act as the heart of the inaugural playing list. Bulldog Katie Brennan and new Blue Tayla Harris are names that immediately come to find as far as marquee targets, but offering opportunities to key Brisbane Lions personnel must also be a consideration.

Gold Coast’s to-do list:
– Identify marquee talent

 

Richmond (2020)
The Tigers are already ahead of the other three 2020 teams in terms of club preparation, with Kate Sheahan having been employed as the club’s football operations manager since earlier this year.

Punt Road Oval is the obvious home ground option for the AFLW Tigers, with the men already operating out of the park and the VFL team having played there since 2014.

But with a capacity of only 6,000, and considering Richmond supporters’ infamous willingness to throw their support behind their teams, Richmond will need to look at ways to increase capacity prior to 2020 or find another suitable home ground.

The Tigers will also need to establish a talent development region, as top talent will be harder to access by 2020 when eight of the 14 AFLW clubs will be from Victoria.

The club has a connection with the Bendigo Thunder, so it’s likely further talent identification will come from the north/north-west of Victoria. Two years will fly by, so this must be at the top of Richmond’s priorities. The Tigers may look at hiring a head coach early on to help identify talent, and Demons assistant and Darebin head coach Jane Lange would be a great option.

And of course, targeting top AFLW stars to lead the team will be important, but luring a star or two won’t be much of a challenge for such a big club.

Richmond’s to-do list:
– Make necessary changes to Punt Road Oval or find suitable home ground
– Establish talent development region
– Target top AFLW stars
– Appoint a head coach

 

St Kilda (2020)
With access to what is Victoria’s fastest growing talent area – the south-east, or ‘Frankston line’ region – the Saints will be flooded with young stars to choose from, particularly those involved in AFL Victoria’s Southern Women’s Open-Age Academy, which has already been used to field a team representing St Kilda.

The Saints will operate out of Moorabbin Oval, recently renamed RSEA Park, which is in the process of a $30 million redevelopment that will be completed by the end of 2018. Though capacity will be significantly reduced, it will still be fit for the AFLW team.

As is the case for all incoming Victorian teams, the challenge is finding marquee talent to bring it all together, which may be much harder for the Saints considering they will be competing with Richmond for star players.

The club will immediately look at appointing a women’s football operations manager.

Though a head coach is not a priority, bringing one in early may be beneficial to the Saints who will look to take advantage of the youth talent in the region. Peta Searle is the obvious choice for coach, but she may choose to continue her work with the senior men. If that’s the case, Diamond Creek coach Scott Gowans would be fitting for the role.

St Kilda’s to-do list:
– Bring in a women’s football operations manager
– Appoint a head coach
– Identify marquee targets

 

West Coast (2020)
Of all the expansion clubs, the Eagles undoubtedly have the biggest job ahead of them.

As it stands, the Eagles need to find a women’s football operations manager, AFLW specific staff, and desperately need to identify talent, both in youth competitions and at senior level.

Approximately 70,000 women are playing footy in WA, but the state is experiencing somewhat of an odd talent dip after the boom in 2014/2015. Only a handful of state youth team players look to be AFLW ready, and most of the WAWFL’s undrafted top players are in the back end of their careers.

The positive is that plenty of talent is sure to emerge in the next two years, so it’s hardly a crisis. But the club should take a hands-on approach to developing youth talent to ensure it is competitive in year one, particularly with Fremantle already possessing the lion’s share of WA stars.

Finding senior/marquee players shouldn’t be too much of an issue for West Coast. Undoubtedly some Freo players will be attracted by the move to the gold and blue side, and WA players currently listed to interstate AFLW teams are sure to be targets. The likes of Adelaide’s Chelsea Randall, Brisbane’s Sabrina Frederick-Traub and Collingwood’s Emma King are sure to be on the radar.

WAWFL Swan Districts coach Nicole Graves would be a great option for head coach, and you can be sure that the Eagles will already be looking to the AFL’s Manager of Female Football Development Jan Cooper as a potential operations manager.

The Eagles will play games at the new Perth Stadium when JLT Community Series matches link up, but perhaps Claremont Oval is an option for other occasions.

West Coast’s to-do list:
– Bring in a women’s football operations manager
– Appoint a head coach
– Identify marquee targets
– Identify future talent
– Confirm a home ground

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