The Southern Saints are set to play in their first ever VFLW Grand Final, after a difficult trip in the finals series.
They’ve had to play in all three weeks of finals this season, with all of their matches being do-or-die clashes.
It hasn’t fazed the Saints though who’ve marched their way into the big dance and past Geelong, Hawthorn and Casey, the latter two having defeated them in the regular season.
Their stars from the regular season have shone brightly once more, including midfielder Hannah Stuart who continues to improve week-by-week.
Speaking exclusively to The Inner Sanctum, Stuart said whilst her team has gone about it the hard way, she couldn’t have wished for a better group to go through that journey with.
“For me and the rest of the team as well, every week’s been another opportunity to play with an amazing group that I’ve been lucky enough to call my team for the last eight months,” she said.
“It’s been exciting because it’s a club first to make (it this deep into) finals so far and that’s a testament to the connection that we’ve made throughout the season and it’s translated into the quality of footy that we’ve been playing.”
Playing all three finals away from home, they’ve had to travel all the way to Geelong’s Deakin University campus for a second time this year, along with Box Hill City Oval and ETU Stadium in Port Melbourne, the latter hosting this Sunday’s Grand Final.
Despite the different venues each week not a whole lot has changed in the lead up to each game for Stuart and the Saints.
“For me personally I’m not really a superstitious or overly ritualistic person so I kind of go with the flow in terms of the lead ups to (each) game.”
“In terms of preparing for games throughout the regular season and the finals season my preparation stays pretty similar and so does the teams, we like to keep it simple. We know what works for us so why change it.”
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St Kilda AFLW development coach Dale Robinson has led the team once more from the coaches box in only her second season as Saints Head Coach.
Stuart lauded her coach’s communication in this final series to date.
“She’s always got consistent messaging as to what she expects from us every single week.”
“That means that there’s no surprises every week, we know exactly what we’re going into and what we want out of it.
“But she definitely challenges us every week with new ways of thinking and new goals for each game, that continues to drive us forward and pushes us to be the best that we can.”
Following their preliminary final victory, Stuart said the message was simple from Robinson.
“The messaging was (to) celebrate the win because it deserves to be celebrated but get what you need to done this week to get the reward of the opportunity that we’ve created for ourselves for our season long hard work, which is a grand final win, a premiership.”
Since that preliminary final, Stuart said she and her teammates had a feeling of pure excitement knowing that they were playing their first ever Grand Final.
“Now (that) we know what the task ahead of us is we can keep that element of excitement throughout the week, but we know it’s time to focus and finish the way we intended to, which is winning a premiership.”
They’ll come into this games as underdogs though, with their opponents Essendon winning their two finals matchups, a 53 point victory over Hawthorn and a 67 point win over Casey at home.
They’ve already met twice this season though, with the first meeting ending in a draw at The Hangar and the second seing the Bombers get up by 10 points.
And Stuart is confident that the Saints can cause a major upset and defeat the unbeaten Essendon outfit.
“We’ve had a draw with them and it was highly contended so this is another opportunity for us to show how well we can play our brand of footy as a cohesive unit and take down a team that’s been undefeated throughout the season, so we back ourselves.”
“I personally love being an underdog so I’m excited!”
She’ll come into this game off a high, having been drafted recently by St Kilda’s AFLW side alongside her captain Deanna Jolliffe.
However her focus for the rest of this week will still be on the ultimate goal.
“My motivation stays the same, getting drafted was an exciting night and time for me and DJ but we’ve got to switch back to our main focus for our VFLW season…Winning that premiership”
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