14/04/2024

Hawthorn's AFLW team celebrates a maiden win against the Sydney Swans (Picture: AFL, Design by Will Cuckson)

After a few losses to begin their maiden AFLW season, Hawthorn is now on the verge of three wins in a row set-up by some experienced heads and top young talent.

One of those experienced heads is Jess Duffin, who has seen three clubs go through building a list and has had a hand in developing the culture in those new teams.

The 33-year-old cross-coder started in the AFLW in its inaugural season playing 13 games across the first two seasons for the Collingwood Magpies. When the competition expanded, Duffin got picked up by the North Melbourne Tasmanian Kangaroos, where she saw their list build flourish into a premiership contender over the last three seasons.

After coming to Hawthorn in the off-season, she is now a seasoned veteran and knows how a list can be set-up for sustained success. She spoke exclusively to The Inner Sanctum about how Hawthorn have shaped their list for this inaugural season and the future.

“Obviously the AFLW league has grown so much just in the short six or seven years it’s been played,” Duffin told The Inner Sanctum.

“I think starting a new club has been different at each club, at North (Melbourne) they went in with a team that could win and win well.

“[For us] at Hawthorn at the moment, we certainly want to win but we’ve built the team around a core group of some really high quality young kids coming through the NAB (League).”

When looking at the best expansion team in AFLW history, North Melbourne are looking to be the goods. With stellar recruiting of both young and experienced players the key to their current form; how did they come to be this good?

Duffin explained how some people inside the playing group and the organisation made the club the contender that it is.

“North had some really good people around them like Laura Kane, she set up that club really well and obviously she’s now working for the AFL so there’s some really great people off-the-field as well as on the field,” Duffin said.

“Emma Kearney leading them as captain certainly helped them build a really good group and they are still playing some really good footy so the way they built it at the start has certainly helped them with their set-up today.”

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After four losses to begin their maiden season, the Hawks broke through for their history-making first AFLW win in Round Five. Losing to Essendon, St. Kilda, Richmond and the Bulldogs, the Hawks were visibly overjoyed after their triumph against the Swans.

When asked about this win and the subsequent win against the Eagles in Round Five, Duffin speaks about the long-term effect of instilling belief within a young and reasonably inexperienced side.

“[The] belief that us as a group can play well and match it against some really good sides,” she said.

“[The game] against the Bulldogs, I thought we were right there until pretty much half way through that third quarter.

“We are building as a group and it’s just about keeping it simple for those younger kids coming into the program and to just get them to really believe in themselves and believe in their ability.

“We have some really great young kids in our group as well as the older playing group as well so I’m actually really looking forward to seeing what this group can do in these next few years.”

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One of the key aspects in Hawthorn’s list build has been their top-end young talent. Jasmine Fleming, Charlotte Baskaran, Lucy Wales and Sophie Locke have all featured heavily throughout the season for the Hawks so far. Fleming in particular has become one of the players to watch, even more so after earning the Rising Star nomination for Round Five.

Discussing the talent of the young crop of AFLW players as a whole, Duffin puts it down to the stronger grassroots programs and pathways allowing them to develop all the way through until U18 level.

“There are certainly better pathways now then there was when I was growing up,” Duffin explained.

“Jas Fleming is a really good example of that, she came in for her first game and she was probably a little bit timid but now she’s getting in there and she’s getting us some ball and winning some contests so she’s gonna be an awesome player. I can’t wait to see her in the next couple of years develop.”

As a vice-captain, Duffin herself has had a large role to play in helping to instil a team culture amongst the group. Joining her at the Hawks, she has had many experienced AFLW players that have contributed to the club culture including captain Tilly Lucas-Rodd who is a former Blue and Saint and former Docker and Tiger Akec Makur Chuot.

When she speaks about the leaders within the group it is evident that the group takes responsibility and ownership of the AFLW team very seriously.

“I think probably Akec, she’s been really good amongst our group and obviously Tilly being our captain she’s obviously directing us in the right direction,” Duffin explained.

“The ability to get the young kids to kind of group with the older ones like myself, like half the time I have no idea what they are talking about or what music they listen to but in terms of getting us all to get together, Tilly’s done a really great job.

“We know we are a really young team but if we isolate ourselves and look at ourselves as one team, I think we are progressing really well this season.”

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Hawthorn’s AFLW head coach Bec Goddard is another piece of the puzzle in building a list for the future. Winning the first ever AFLW premiership with the Adelaide Crows, Goddard knows what it takes to build a list that she can take to a grand final win.

Bringing in that sort of experience cannot be understated but even more than that the relationship she has established with the group and with Duffin is one that honest and open.

“I have a really good relationship with Bec, ever since the first time I walked into Hawthorn and looked at where I sat in their group,” she said.

“I never doubt where I am or what she’s thinking or where I am in the group so that’s nice. I think she’s a bit quirky so she’s brought in a few things into our team meetings and stuff that I wouldn’t think any other coach would do so she’s been really good for the group.”

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