Through fixturing delays, short turnarounds, practice game cancellation and every other hurdle possible, the 2021 VFLW competition began on Saturday.
Speaking to The Inner Sanctum, Essendon coach Brendan Major was happy to see his team back playing footy on Sunday, despite being bested by Dale Robinson’s Saints by three goals at the Hangar.
“Rusty is the perfect way to describe it,” Major said.
“Looking back through the vision there were some passages of play that we’re really happy with.
“There were large chunks of the day where we were super competitive, and we structured up the way we wanted to. 30-40% of the day, we were just a little bit disjointed, you could tell the communication on the ground wasn’t the way we wanted or needed it to be.”
A failure to capitalise on first half opportunities saw the Bombers enter the half-time break goalless, the scoreboard not looking favourable for the Dons.
While many coaches would grow restless at a five goal margin at the main break, Major had every faith that his players knew they were still in with a chance.
“The score line didn’t reflect how much we were in the game,” he said.
“The Saints got a couple of goals from good passages of play, they got a lucky bounce on a couple of occasions. We couldn’t buy a bounce our way.
“We had some really good looks, we just couldn’t execute at the pointy end.”
As the Bombers shook off their nerves and jogged their muscle memory, the third quarter saw some much needed composure around the big sticks.
Alexandra Quigley led from the front, kicking two handy goals to capitalise on the Bombers dominance which saw the Saints held scoreless for the quarter.
“Quigs is a bit of enigma,” Major said.
“She’s one of those really quiet players, and as a key forward you expect them to have a bit of swagger about them. Quigs just goes about her business.
“Every time she plays and plays well, she really straightens us up.”
Despite Quigley’s stellar performance, Major credits the whole side for the second half comeback.
“I don’t think it was any one or two players,” he said.
“It was more of a 15-20 per cent improvement across the board. The backs started to defend really well, pressed up well. The midfielders adjusted and got their structures going better, we moved the ball really well. The forwards started to gel a little bit together.
“It took for the Saints to throw a spare back before [the scoring] really dried up. Until then, we were looking really dangerous.”
The coach also praised the performances of vice-captain Courtney Ugle, young gun Alana Barba, cool midfield head Frederica Frew and the 41-year-old Cecilia McIntosh.
Typically a defender, McIntosh burst forward in the last quarter to score a remarkable goal to keep her side in the game, as her teammates came in from everywhere to celebrate.
“C-Bomb’s played a lot of football, she performed extremely well on the weekend and it just reflects the professionalism she brings to our program,” Major said.
“It’s great to see the players celebrating the achievements of each other, that’s what it’s about.”
Following the practice games and the first round of the home and away season, two teams stand head and shoulders above the rest.
The Southern Saints and Port Melbourne remain undefeated, with Major noting the Saints’ early season cohesion as one of their greatest assets.
“I was really impressed with the way the Saints played and the way they structured up,” he said.
“Including practice games, they’re coming into their fourth game for the year as a group, and they really played like that. I think the Saints will be really strong this year.
“Port Melbourne with the reserve AFLW players from Richmond looked really strong. Kuysy (Melissa Kuys) through the middle of the ground played really well.
“Port Melbourne’s backline used the ball really well, so I think they’ll be strong this year. It’s still early to know what the leagues going to flesh out like.”