Inaugural Port Melbourne VFLW side building a modern club culture

Senior coach Lachie Harris directing his players. Picture: Port Melbourne

For the first time, the Port Melbourne Football Club is fielding a VFL women’s team.

Senior coach Lachlan Harris is one of the many new faces that have found their way to North Port Oval over the past three months.

Harris, and the rest of the senior staff at the club, are bringing together groups of footy people from all over Australia.

“Any new program is a unique challenge. There’s new staff, but lucky with some of the staff we do have… we all know each other,” he said.

“The challenge is in bringing them all together and making sure we all work well with each other, as well as with Glenn [Balmforth] from a footy manager point of view.”

Harris believes that not only his experience, but the experience of those around him will fast-track the development and culture of the team.

“The staff we have between myself, [midfield coach] Yul Mustapha who’s come from Hawthorn and Glenn who’s been at the Bulldogs [as football operations coordinator] have been really focusing on relationships we’ve had previously,” he said.

“[In the playing group there’s] Kuysy [Melissa Kuys], Lisa Davie who was at Richmond [VFLW], Bridie Kennedy [from Carlton] and Katrina Tinson who’s had plenty of success in state league footy.

New recruit Melissa Kuys. Picture: Port Melbourne.

“[It was important] to get them around to help set the culture.

“We’re not saying ‘it’s a brand new program, it’s a brand new team, we’re going to be coming from behind’.

“It’s [targeting] players that have been there, done that and can pass that knowledge on to our young girls on the development list.”

Transitioning from a community team

The first signing announced for the new side was 20 year-old young gun Tara Jasper, coming from the Port Melbourne AFL Southern Eastern League side.

“I’m extremely humbled by [being the first signed player], and honoured to be given that chance,” she said.

“Being at the club for a few years, I’ve already seen the development from being a local level community team to becoming a VFL team.

“I’m really excited to see what we’re going to do as a club in the years to come.”

Jasper had previously played her junior footy with the Greater Western Rebels, as well as her local team the Horsham Saints.

It was Jasper’s maturity and experience at a young age that led her to be named co-captain of the community side before the cancellation of the 2020 season.

“I had to put myself in everyone else’s shoes, and be a person they could all look up to on the field. Not as a person who’s younger than them, or who’s been in the game less,” she said.

“I’ve now had the experience of being a professional and being a part of leadership groups.”

Speaking on her teammates, Jasper is focused on helping the group to grow and bond together quickly.

“Girls now have come from different teams, they’ve come from AFLW, VFLW, interstate, everywhere,” she said.

“I’ve been [at the club], and I had that captaincy role before we didn’t have a season. I feel responsible for those girls.

“I feel responsible for bringing that culture and making them feel like they’re a part of the team that we’re trying to build.

“They’re a great bunch of girls, and we’re gelling really well together.”

Borough-bound via Perth

One of those interstate players, Katrina Tinson, flew to Melbourne from Perth on Monday to begin pre-season preparation.

“I originally was coming over to Melbourne last year to do this same thing, at [Williamstown] where Lachie was at last year. With the COVID lockdown, I ended up coming back to Perth,” she said.

“I actually [already knew] Lachie Harris… from when he lived and worked here in Perth.

“He was a part of South Fremantle [as a development officer], and I played for South Fremantle at the time. I do already have that personal connection with him.

“I think I come with a lot of experience playing women’s football. I’ve been playing since Auskick, and [Lachie] knows that.”

Moving to Melbourne for the second time in as many years has given Tinson the opportunity to reflect on the cancelled 2020 season.

“[I was] pretty frustrated. It was disappointing. I made the move [to Melbourne], and then everything kind of blew up a bit. I had to roll with the punches,” she said.

“While it was disappointing, you have to look at the positives. I got to come back to Western Australia, and do a bit of travelling here because I wasn’t playing footy.

“I had a house [in Melbourne]. My car and everything are still in Melbourne from that trip.

“I packed a bag and left. I had to come back at some point, so I figured, ‘why not play some footy too?'”

Tinson playing in the WAFLW. Picture: Port Melbourne

Returning to Perth also meant that Tinson played a full season in the WAFLW, unlike many of her Victorian teammates.

“I’m hoping it gives me a good advantage. I got to play and train all year in the team environment,” she said.

“I’ve had that extra year up my sleeve, in match fitness and skills,” she said.

Adding experience

While travelling between Punt Road and North Port Oval doesn’t require a plane, Tinson’s new teammate Lisa Davie still has a journey ahead of her.

After playing at Richmond in the 2018 and 2019 VFLW seasons, Davie is the first Tiger to sign on as a part of partnership between the two sides.

“I hadn’t really thought too much football during the break, it was just keeping fit for me,” she said.

“[Richmond] suggested Port Melbourne with the alignment, and I figured if they were recommending it then it’s probably a good place for the future.

“That [suggestion] came from both Kate Sheahan (Richmond women’s football operations manager) and Lauren Tesoriero (Richmond AFLW list manager).”

At 29, Davie is one of the few experienced heads on the list.

“I’m sort of naturally moving into [a leadership] role. There’s a lot of talent and enthusiasm with the young kids,” she said.

“I’m hoping I’ve done enough running in the off season to keep up with them!”

Davie was a part of the Tigers’ VFLW leadership group in 2019, and is looking forward to helping out the younger players.

“There’s a few girls who are on a VFLW list for the first time, and they’re so excited to be there,” she said.

“It’s another step up in their footy. They have such impressive natural ability.”

After winning a premiership with St. Mary’s Salesian in the VAFA in 2017, Davie knows the challenges of stepping up to VFLW level all too well.

“You adapt or you get crunched a few times, and then you learn pretty quickly,” she said.

“The more time you have in it, and even the more you increase your fitness levels, you get through the tougher situations in the VFLW.

“I was so lucky to have the opportunity with Richmond’s AFLW team last year to be a train on with them.

“Even just the training and match sim is another step up in intensity, decision making is even quicker.”

The growth mindset

Learning under a number of other coaches in the WAFL, the NEAFL, at Collingwood, Williamstown and Brisbane, Harris has zeroed in on the culture he is trying to build.

“[Learning from] David Noble and Chris Fagan, especially Nobes, they’re very focused on the growth mindset and how that builds a team,” he said.

“You look at what they did with players like Jarrod Berry, Hugh McCluggage and Alex Witherden, all boys that were from the country that would have to relocate. But once again, good people.

“We use that classic analogy of good country people. Easy-going and laid back, but when the time comes they switch on.”

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