18/04/2024

Breanna Beckley (L) and Tamara Smith (R) will be filling a leadership void in Saturday's qualifying final. (Picture: VFL)

With captain Michelle Fedele still out injured, Geelong's VFLW leaders will be counting on every player to lift to find that elusive win against Collingwood.

Geelong and Collingwood will meet for the third time in 2021 in Saturday’s VFLW qualifying final.

The two home and away fixtures between the sides were both tense affairs. The first was a battle of the power forwards, Olivia Barber and Imogen Barnett firing at either end.

In the second, the Cats were held to their lowest score for the year, but conversely, held the Pies to their second lowest.

While the two heavyweights don’t necessarily have either’s number, Geelong still hasn’t emerged victorious yet.

In Saturday’s final, they’ll have to try and do it again without captain Michelle Fedele.

Fedele has been missing for most of the second half of the season through injury. Leaders Breanna Beckley and Tamara Smith spoke to The Inner Sanctum on Monday about how they’ll fill the gap at the top.

“Even though she’s not there playing, she’s still there on game day,” Smith said.

“She plays a really integral part in our team, whether that’s playing or being a leader. That’s one of the reasons why she’s our captain, because she is such a great leader even when she isn’t playing.

“She rocks up to all game days and all trainings, she gives us things to focus on, things that she wants us to work on ourselves and as a team. She just really brings the vibes up, brings the spirit up.

“Even though she won’t be playing, we’ll get it done for her. All the girls will be playing each other and for those who haven’t got a game or are injured.”

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While Smith and Beckley are both part of the leadership group, they say it won’t just be them lifting on game day.

Every player will be taking the chance that finals offer with both hands, the two agree.

“The whole group is pretty good at lifting in those challenging moments,” Beckley said.

“I think you’ve seen throughout the season that we have been able to lift when we were down, [especially] against the Saints. On the weekend, we have to lift together.

“It’s a bit hard to pinpoint [individual] players. There’ll be key girls who are finals players who will just take it under their wing and just run with it.”

“Especially after the year off, everyone’s just going to grab the bull by the horns and take it,” Smith added.

Beckley with Collingwood captain Caitlin Bunker. (Picture: VFL)

The acting captain

Vice-captain Claudia Gunjaca will be wearing the proverbial armband, leading the side out onto the Holden Centre again on Saturday.

It’ll be the seventh time this season ‘Gunj’ has stood up in the absence of Fedele, and she seems to thrive with the extra responsibility.

In her games as captain, Gunjaca has averaged 13 disposals, four tackles and kicked three goals. This included a clutch goal in a comeback win.

Her voice and leadership has been invaluable to the team so far.

“We love our ‘Gunj’,” Beckley laughed.

“She’s a team player. Always plays for her team, always plays for us girls and always brings a lot of positivity and a lot of drive, always brings the intensity.

“Against the Saints we were down, and she just owned the moment, owned her opportunity, kicked a goal and brought us right back into the game. She’s someone who lets her footy do the talking.”

Striking a balance

Geelong has been one of the teams that has found a strong balance between its AFLW and VFLW talent.

While the likes of AFLW youngsters including Laura Gardiner, Darcy Moloney and Olivia Barber have been performing strongly, there’s been as many names from the VFLW squad doing just as well.

Theresia Meissner down back, as well as Smith and Gunjaca themselves, have been running the show.

Smith says that creating that bond between the two groups has gone a long way to creating such success within the team.

“As a leadership group, we wanted to make a culture where anyone felt welcome,” she said.

“When you create a culture like that where everyone feels welcome and everyone feels confident within themselves, then they perform, and you see it out on the ground.

“We saw it round one against Collingwood, where we only lost by two, we saw it against the Saints when we came back and kicked four goals in the last quarter. I’m sure you’ll see it again.

“We just focus on creating a culture where girls want to be and they want to play as a team together. That’s where it comes from. I’m sure they’ll take it back into the AFL this season.

“Don’t doubt Geelong this season, I’m sure we’ve got a lot to give.”

Collingwood and Geelong will play their qualifying final at 12PM on Saturday. You can watch the game live and free on the VFL’s YouTube channel.

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