Essendon Bombers cross-coder Danielle Marshall (Picture: AFL, Design by Will Cuckson)

After signing with the Essendon Bombers ahead of their inaugural season in the AFLW, Danielle Marshall was not only grateful for a second chance, but for a familiar face within the set-up. This came in the form of Bonnie Toogood who became a co-captain of the club alongside Steph Cain.

Playing together at the Western Bulldogs from 2020 to 2021 before Marshall was delisted by the Bulldogs after five games, the pair formed a close friendship. Featuring in 16 games across her time at both clubs, she played in 15 of those with Toogood, who she has watched mature in the league.

Fast forward two seasons since her delisting and Marshall is enjoying life at the Bombers. Picked up in the AFLW season seven trade and sign period, she was one of the VFLW Bombers given a call up to their inaugural list.

One of the biggest profile recruits, Toogood moved to Essendon to realise her childhood dream where she linked up with her former teammate Marshall, this time as one of her co-captains.

Speaking exclusively to The Inner Sanctum, Marshall gives some insight into what it has been like to watch Toogood blossom into the footballer she is today.

“Bon and I always loved playing together so it’s been amazing to play with her again,” Marshall explained.

“[For me], just to see her develop from when I got here as a 21-year-old to now basically being 25 [years old] and being a captain of a team and just to see all her hard work pay off, [it] was just so amazing.

“Her transition from netball and everything like that, like her work ethic and her care for her teammates is just amazing so I’m just pleased for her.”

Bonnie Toogood poses for a photo with Essendon men’s captain Dyson Heppell. (Photo: Essendon FCW)

Also appointed as a co-captain at the Bombers is former Fremantle Dockers’ midfielder Steph Cain. After being drafted to Fremantle in its inaugural season, she played 32 games despite being delisted after her first season. Coupled with an ACL injury in 2020 that saw her miss all but one game, Cain has worked hard to become the consistent contributor that she has turned out to be.

After she moved to the Bombers to continue her AFLW career, Marshall formed a great relationship with Cain.

“[With] ‘Caino’, I was lucky enough to have her stay at my house for a week when she first came over from Freo,” Marshall said.

“[For me] just to get to know her and her story and her dedication to getting better and to improving her game. [It was also] the way she really fitted in with the girls, with the team, [it is] a transition that could have been rough but she’s really gotten stuck in and done really well.

“[I’m] so really proud of her as well for making the transition and the call to move to another state to continue her dream of footy.”

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Nat Wood has taken on the inaugural head coaching role at Essendon after some extensive experience including working at the Western Bulldogs as an assistant midfield coach for the last two seasons. Before this she spent four years as a midfield coach for the AFLW team and the VFLW team at different points at Geelong. Her time at the Bulldogs was where she crossed paths with Marshall.

“I had the pleasure of working with Nat at the Bulldogs before she headed over to Essendon so I had a little bit of a heads up on what she’s like and her personality,” she explained.

“I was really excited because I know she’s a really good long-term planner, like she’s not going to get overwhelmed by one day of something happening but she’s going to have a long-term plan for the team and set up a really good system.

“It’s really nice to have someone like that as your head coach, you feel like you have good direction, you feel like you know how things are working together and it might not click all in one game but you know that there’s a plan and something you can hold onto which is really nice.”

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When asked about the culture and feel around the club, Marshall is excited for the rest of the season as the team looks to have some significant synergy as a group.

“[It’s been] really good actually, it’s always a bit iffy when you get 30 girls that are all new to a club trying to come into one place and everything like that but honestly everyone has gotten along fabulously and yeah it’s just been really, really great and I’ve been loving it,” she said.

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Winning two games out of the five played so far, at times the Bombers look to have the talent to be considered one of the best expansion sides out of the league. The main comparison is with North Melbourne in 2019, which brought in top end talent and fringe experienced heads to build its list.

When asking Marshall about the reasons for their relative success so far, she points out the great recruiting and planning of the Bombers which mirrors that of the Kangaroos.

“Honestly, kind of like when North came in, I think it was a lot of the planning and recruiting strategy, who they recruited and the players that they brought in and what that looked like,” Marshall explained.

“I think they got a lot of players that were underrated at their previous clubs maybe just because of other players that were around them. [The Bombers] bringing them all in with the personalities and attitudes that they have to work hard and bring a team together, [it] was just really smart the way they did it.”

One of the highlights of the AFLW season has been the use of larger stadiums with Marvel Stadium showcasing the first game between the Bombers and Hawthorn in Round One. 12,092 people attended the match at Marvel which captured the attention of those at the ground and across the country.

Marshall reminisced about the game, while also mentioning the importance of giving the AFLW a bigger stage to showcase their talents and how it will lead to a better product.

“It was amazing to be able to have a ground that big, that perfect and then be able to fill the whole first level with people,” she said.

“We definitely couldn’t hear each other on the field, we definitely had to up the communication a lot but [it’s] definitely probably the most fun game I’ve ever played, partly due to the atmosphere.

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“I think it really lifts you and lifts the team and a lot of people I’ve spoken to have said it’s their favourite game they’ve ever been to or ever watched on TV, so I think the viewership will go up if it’s held at these stadiums.

“I think the level of play goes up on good grounds, I mean you just have to watch the games that were held in the rain to know that the level of footy will go up if it’s held on grounds like that.

“I think in the long run that should be the goal sooner rather than later to have the women playing on these types of grounds.”

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