04/03/2024

Richmond in its first AFLW game in 2020. (Photo: Richmond FC)

Ahead of the entry of four new teams into the AFLW competition, The Inner Sanctum is looking back at the stories of the entries of the six past expansion teams. This is The New Frontier, where players, coaches and staff broke new ground and created something from nothing.

One of four teams entering the AFLW in 2020, Richmond, like many teams before it, joined the competition after success in the VFLW.

After applying for a spot as one of the AFLW’s first eight teams, the Tigers were given a provisional license with promises of future entry.

They gained a VFLW license for the 2018 season, but didn’t make much of a splash. The Tigers finished second last, winning just four games.

But the season laid the foundations for what the AFLW team would become. Inaugural players Alana Woodward, Kate Dempsey, Christina Bernardi, Alice Edmonds, Phoebe Monahan and Laura Bailey all lined up for Richmond at state league level that season.

It was a big jump up the next year, as the Tigers qualified for their first ever VFLW final. While they went down by five points to the Bulldogs, the squad was solidifying.

Kodi Jacques, Courtney Wakefield, Tayla Stahl, Gabby Seymour, Maddy Brancatisano, Hannah McLaren, Akec Makur Chuot, Rebecca Miller, Sabrina Frederick, Katie Brennan and Grace Egan all took to the field in that game.

Equally as important to the growth on-field though, was the off-field set up.

Speaking to The Inner Sanctum, Richmond skipper Katie Brennan believes that the football and list management departments have played the biggest part in what the club has become.

“First and foremost, we just had great foundations to start with at the club,” she said.

“The likes of Kate Sheahan and Neil Balme… there was a fair list of staff at the footy club who started to lay those foundations prior to me coming to the club.

“They had a few seasons of VFL, and they were training as a group that wanted to be super professional when they did come in the AFLW.

“It was really just stepping into that and continuing to build with the people around us.”

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In addition to the players that joined the club from the VFLW, the Tigers have perhaps brought in the best group of players from elsewhere of anyone.

Across their four seasons, Brennan, Egan, Monique Conti, Sarah and Jess Hosking, Harriet Cordner, Sarah D’Arcy, Poppy Kelly, Beth Lynch have all become best team regulars from elsewhere.

The leadership that these players have brought has guided Richmond’s growth year on year.

“I’m really lucky to be surrounded by such good people,” Brennan said.

“Bec Miller and Gabby Seymour, those two girls have been a part of our VFL program from the very start.

“It’s been just extraordinary to just watch their growth, to see them develop along the way to now becoming leaders of our group in the fourth season.

“Mon Conti’s performances just speak for themselves on field.”

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A horror start

Though the Tigers are expected to take another leap forward this year, it’s easy to remember how tough life was to start.

They became the first team to finish a season without a win, and were easily dismantled by even their fellow expansion sides in Gold Coast and St Kilda.

Richmond infamously failed to register a goal in the latter game, and looked set for a long time at the bottom.

But with a concerted effort to bring in more talent, both young and experienced, the Tigers jumped up to three wins and a 10th place finish in 2021, above all three of their fellow newbies.

After coming so close the week prior against Carlton, they won their first game in a demolition of Geelong at Kardinia Park.

It was a day where Richmond could do no wrong. It kept Geelong completely scoreless for the first half, scoring six of its own.

The second quarter pile-on in particular, putting four goals on, killed any hope the Cats had of a comeback.

Brennan starred, kicking three goals, while Conti racked up a massive 27 disposals.

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They would win three games again in season six, stabilising despite an ACL injury to Cordner early in the year.

Miller stepped up massively as a key defensive pillar, with D’Arcy and Lynch for support. With the midfield playing a fast, attacking brand out of centre, a strong gameplan was starting to develop.

Despite finishing 11th, the Tigers were ranked seventh for points for. The defence was leaky, but the offence looked like it could grow to be one of the best in the competition.

Even in games they lost, the potential was clear. Against the Dockers and Demons, they scored 47 and 38 points respectively, despite giving up large scores against.

After two practice games ahead of season seven, that potential looks like it could be unleashed.

Richmond put up two massive scores against Fremantle and Hawthorn across the two informal hit-outs, while only letting in three goals total.

Courtney Wakefield starred in the latter match-up with five goals, while livewires Emelia Yassir and Steph Williams had four between them.

Trading in Libby Graham from GWS, Egan from Carlton, and Williams from Geelong, Richmond’s list looks ready to explode in season seven.

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