Read Part 1 and Part 2.
Cat Phillips crossed from Melbourne to St Kilda AFLW for their inaugural season in 2020. She was named co-captain for the Club’s inaugural AFLW season alongside Rhiannon Watt & Kate Shierlaw, and was re-appointed in season 2021.
Over her two years at Linton St, Phillips has taken to the move like a duck to water, explaining that it has been a great opportunity for her to grow and take more responsibility on and off the field.
“I was looking for the opportunity to make a contribution and add value outside of my football,” Phillips said.
Phillips describes the challenges of a foundational club, and all that came with it.
“We’ve had a strange 18 months,” she said.
“Last year [the inaugural season], we didn’t have a leadership group until January, and so when we got the team together at the start of last year, there was lots of feeling out and working what people bring and what we were going to be about.”
Those were some of the challenges before the season was interrupted (and eventually left unfinished) by COVID-19. The fact that the team couldn’t have any real contact and couldn’t train together over the offseason was a challenge.
“The impact of COVID-19 was probably more pronounced on an expansion team, because we didn’t have the relationships established to fall back on,” Phillips said.
“We’d had a couple of months getting to know each other, and then all of a sudden, nothing.”
As an elite athlete for 11 years, Phillips has been responsible for her own fitness and preparedness to play, similar to a number of her teammates who have crossed to AFLW from other sports.
“We have been very independent in our strength and conditioning, where we came from,” she said.
“It’s a really big difference between what we can bring, and what we can show the younger girls on the team, what it looks like to prepare and look after your body really well.”
As a leader, Phillips drives the fitness standards, but she is impressed by some of her younger teammates like Tyanna Smith and Georgia Patrikios, who she describes as having “football IQ and skill level that is elite.”
After a complete season this year, Phillips believes that the Saints are primed for a big off-season.
“This year, we’ve all come back, we’ve started getting stuck into that growth and development as a group,” she said.
“We have an established core of leaders, we have young players who have been around for 23 months, and they’re starting to step up and lead. We have a vision of where we are trying to get to with our play, and with our culture, and the values that the team and the group has.
“It feels now like we’re all heading in the same direction, and all have a clear view of what we want that to look like, and Peta [Searle], is a great role model for all of us leaders, and we are pretty passionate about following her and what can come next for the group.”
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Phillips has some leadership priorities as well, with a goal of “continuing to build belief and confidence with the younger girls.”
“I can see what they can do at the AFL level, but they don’t yet,” she said.
“One of our priorities will be getting more football into a lot of our girls, so we will go heavily into the VFLW and try and get a bunch more footy into the younger girls.”
The challenging season on the field is something Phillips attributes to the youth of the team, and their inexperience.
“After twp years, we’ve only had 14 games, and a lot of our girls have only played a handful of games at AFL level,” she said.
“We are a very young team, and a very small team.”
Another off-season to grow both their synergy as a team and skills overall will work wonders, Phillips believes.
She won’t just be focusing on the football over the offseason, however. As a deep thinker of the game, Phillips will have the big issues on her mind.
With an eye on the future of both St Kilda’s AFLW side and the competition as a whole, Phillips has plenty more to give during her time left in the game.
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