Achievements in 2021

The West Coast Eagles AFLW side celebrated plenty of achievements throughout the year, from winning an extra game to developing younger players in the midfield.

“Also taking on board new coach, new head of football, new strength and conditioning, just adapting to those changes really well, leaning the new game plan and furthering everyone’s education,” Swanson said.

Bella Lewis – 2020 #3 Draft Pick

Bella Lewis is the Eagles’ 2020 third draft pick and has received several accolades this year, including a Rising Star nomination and selection in the 22under22 squad.

“She definitely put her hand up from round one and showed she was a key in our team but can also hold her own in the competition, it’s fantastic for her and very well deserved," Swanson said.

Captaining

Swanny took on several roles this year, including her second season as captain and her first as a graduated firefighter.

“It was a good growth opportunity for me this year, because of all the new changes I’ve wanted to make consistency my sticking point and made sure I was more consistent than last year.”

Daniel Pratt’s coaching style

Daniel Pratt has come into the senior coaching role this season, after taking over from 'LD' (Luke Dwyer).

“He’s fantastic, I love working with Pratty… he definitely gave us some decent sprays throughout the year, but he also made learning fun, he’s a lot of fun to work with.”

Experience

With many new faces in the AFLW this season the girls have made experience their focus.

“The education that we had this year was like going to footy university, it was fantastic and it’s something that’s going to grow in the next couple of years.

“For those young girls that have had that exposure so early in their career, it will really impact the rest of their playing days and further their experience.”

Funniest Pratty moments

Pratty has been known to draw a few laughs during team meetings, whether it be his passionate rants or terrible drawings.

“Pratty drew a couple of pictures early on which were on the whiteboard, I think some of the girls had some idea what they were – but I would honestly sit there with no idea,” Swanny laughed.

“He’d also get super fired up and passionate days out from game day, and the girls would make eye contact as if to say, ‘here he goes, off on his tangent again,’ but he’s super passionate and that’s what we love about him.”

Goals for next year

The team sets goals for the season to measure their success rate and as a developing squad, are primarily focussed on growing as a cohesive unit.

“Just to keep improving, keep educating ourselves and get fitter and stronger… we are a young team so we need to build and become more durable.”

Home game at Optus

Many of the girls got their first opportunity to play at Optus Stadium this year for the double-header RAC Derby.

“We love playing there, a lot of us grew up dreaming about playing big games like that on big ovals, Bella Lewis, I remember just walked out and went ‘oh wow’.”

Injuries                       

Swanny believes that injuries are all about luck.

“We were pretty unlucky throughout the year, there was one session where there were only 13 girls out there. It was a bit of a wave for us, we got up had almost a fully fit list, then got hit again.”

Juggling work and professional sport

Swanny had to juggle playing a professional sport, her firefighting career, and friends and family this season.

“It’s definitely the hardest year I’ve had personally, it was challenging at times to juggle everything going on in my life and then also try and be that ‘constant’ for the group.

“It was bloody hard, there was a training session mid-December where I was just about in tears.

“I was just so overcooked and overworked from a work point-of-view, particularly working some really long hours when the bushfires were on in round two, that when I was coming to footy it was so far down my priority list.

“it was really hard to stay focussed and present, then I also had added guilt from that on top of everything else, so that was pretty tough.

“But I’m very lucky I had so many leaders in the group to help me along the way, the whole club’s really supportive, and all the girls are really supportive.

“I never felt like the weight of the world was on my shoulders thanks to them, it just made me learn that sometimes I have to put my hand up and say I need help in certain areas.”

 

Kicking back and relaxing

Now the 2021 season is over, the girls have got a few weeks to relax and recuperate ahead of winter camps.

“There’s a couple of foodies in our group, so we usually have cook-ups. ‘Gilly’ (Andrea Gilmore) and ‘Greeny’ (Brianna Green) do amazing food," Swanson said.

“The girls also went out to the farm, and we’re also doing an ‘Olympic Games’ this weekend.

“There was also this group of us last year that started doing these gnarly bike rides, around 100kms.

“I actually had to stop at Maccas on the way back, 75kms in, and get a frozen Coke because I was just fading so much,” Swanson laughed.

 

Luck of the Irish

Superboot Aisling McCarthy has joined Niamh and Grace Kelly as the third Irishwoman amongst the group.

“They are so easy to get along with, those girls, just fantastic people, they easily slot in."

“We have a little bit of a laugh and tell them about drop bears and they get us back a bit, they tell us some Irish words but I don’t think they mean what the girls say they do,” Swanson laughed.

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McCarthy’s development

Aish was a domineering force in the side this season, despite being sidelined twice with injury.

 “We played on each other last year, when she was at the Western Bulldogs, and when I heard a rumour she was thinking about coming here, I said ‘I want to jump on a phone call with her and try and convince her that West is best’.”

“We (Swanson and Hooker) told her how great the beach lifestyle is and how amazing the footy club is and I hope that played a role in getting her over here.”

New faces

The side also saw three debutants this season in Adelaidians Lauren Gauci, Amber Ward and Kate Pope.

“’Guac’ and ‘Wardy’ came over together from South Australia, but another two that slotted in seamlessly.

“Guac can talk to a brick wall, and we were also grateful to get ‘Popey’ (Kate Pope) a week before round one, she’s done really well, red and firey,” Swanson laughed.

Onball brigade

“Losing Hooks in round one in an unlucky freak accident, I sulked for a little while after that,” Swanson laughed.

“But then I spoke to some of the younger girls like Bella Lewis and said, it’s a great opportunity to come into the midfield and play some great football.

“I mean, you can’t replace Hooks, she’s an All-Australian, but you can take the opportunity with both hands and they definitely did.”

Pregame superstitions

Every game where Swanny has led the charge and ‘fed the bird,' the Eagles have won.

“We all have this thing where we run through the tunnel and we ‘feed the bird’.

“We did that against Gold Coast and won that game, and Geelong and won that game.”

Quiet moments and mindfulness

Jan Cooper has been a stronghold for the group in a tumultuous year.

“’Coops’ does an amazing job, Wardy started doing it for the first time and loved it, now she wants to practice it in her everyday life," Swanson said.

“The girls all really enjoy it, and we’ve extremely grateful to have Coops.”

Resilience displayed throughout the season

The side are big on resilience as a team and they showed it in spades this season.

“Especially kind of rolling out of bed and onto a plane, with a three-hour time difference due to daylight savings.

“All of our injuries as well, we had to be adaptable and resilient and I think we showed that on and off-field.”

Strong year for Mikayla Bowen

Mikayla Bowen has had a career-best season, being named in the Team of the Week and as a Rising Star nominee.

The pacey midfielder was also named in the All-Australian and 22under22 squads.

“Bows has had a fantastic year, and she’s built on everything she did last year, she also had a fantastic year last year.

“She’s continuing to learn and develop and grow, it’s scary to see what she’s going to be in the next few years.”

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Travelling

Travelling this year has been difficult for the group, with constant fixture changes and border closures due to COVID.

“We went to Brisbane on Monday, landed early Tuesday, and on Saturday we were back in Sydney," Swanson recollected.

“It is challenging, particularly for girls who are working all week. There were a number of girls who flew in Tuesday at 2am and had work at 7:30am on Tuesday morning”

“When you look at it like that, it’s sort of taxing, but I think we took it in our stride and did really well.”

Unveiling Alicia Janz’s jumper

Alicia Janz finally made her blue and gold debut this season, after sitting on the sidelines for almost two years.

“I remember the pre-season where she did her calf again, there were a lot of girls in tears for her, that’s how much she means to our group.

“She’s a fantastic character and she’s the heart and soul of our club, so to see her play her first game and consistent footy through the rest of the season was really good.”

Voice off field

Janzy also brings that heart off-field, being named the 2020 Club Person of the Year without playing a game.

“We always laugh that we can hear Janzy off of field, even on travel games when she’s not there,” Swanson laughed.

“She’s very loud and boisterous and definitely tells us what she thinks, but that’s why we love her.”

“It was 10 times better to hear that voice on field this year.”

Wet game at Punt Road

Pratty’s birthday was spent at Punt Road in the rain, as the girls took on Richmond in a contest that went down to the wire.

“The girls were saying sometimes it’s hard and you don’t get to sleep until late, then they were trying to wake up nice and early to play, I think the bounce was about 9am our time.

“That’s another one, they showed resilience pushing Richmond all the way.”

X-rays

The girls rode the wave of injury this year with some pretty heavy knocks.

“If you tallied them up, we probably had one-and-a-half (x-rays) each,” Swanson laughed.

“Niamh’s finger especially looked really bad.”

“We definitely had the most X-rays in a club I’ve seen in my five years of football in the AFLW.”

Youthful squad and development

The side, at the end of the day, are still in the early stages of development as a youthful squad.

“I think Pratty in particular has done an amazing job to help us play our brand and our style of football, particularly with all those injuries we had in the year.

“We will continue to develop, but this year has definitely been very successful and I can’t wait for the coming seasons.”

Zippiest player

And as for Swanny’s ‘zippiest player’ award…

“Definitely one of the Kellys, I’ll give them joint ‘zippiest player,’ their turn-of-foot and speed is unbelievable.

“I think Grace nearly broke the GPS one game, sprinted a lot and a lot, I think Wheels (Kyle Wheeler), didn’t even know if it was the right data it was so fast,” Swanson laughed.