As the days tick down, the excitement is building around the clubs for the return of AFLW.
Thursday night’s season opener between Carlton and Collingwood will be the first time in nearly 12 months that a crowd has attended a game of Australian Rules football in Victoria since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced the abrupt cancellation of last year’s competition.
At Carlton, there is a sense of unfinished business as the quest for its maiden AFLW flag was taken away from it in the cruellest of fashions.
The cancellation of the season brought a run of five consecutive wins to a premature end.
Heading into her fifth season at Carlton, midfielder Lauren Brazzale said the group has plenty of motivation heading into the new season.
“It was really disappointing the way the season finished last year. Not just for the Carlton camp but the entire AFLW,” Brazzale told The Inner Sanctum this week.
“Given that, it’s left a bit of fire in our bellies and definitely some unfinished business.
“We want to carry on with the way that we were playing and the momentum that we had from last season and bring it into this season.”
From lockdowns in Victoria to adjusting to remote learning as a teacher and playing with and training her new border collie Marley, 2020 threw up all sorts of challenges for everyone to navigate.
Brazzale paid tribute to the strength and conditioning team at the club, which has helped play a vital role in her having a career-best season in 2020, and preparing and priming the group for a long and different road into the new season, and detailing the preparation off a long break.
“As soon as our season got called off in April we had a little bit of time off to unwind and finish the season that was,” she said.
“And then it was pretty much straight to business. There was a program for us, if we chose to do it we could, and then by the time August came around, we were able to hit the ground running.
“You had to be accountable, not only for yourself but also your teammates.
“They (strength and conditioning team) have set us up really well coming into this season.
“Coming into the pre-season, knowing that we were finally coming back and training with each other. Relief is the word that comes to mind.
“We’ve all come back much fitter, much mentally stronger, and ready to take on season 2021.”
Having played in every season of the AFLW to date, Brazzale is amazed and looks on in awe as the competition and the women’s football pathways continue to develop.
Reflecting on how far the game has come fills Brazzale with a mixture of goosebumps and pride.
Hailing from Diamond Creek in the VFLW before getting selected by Carlton in the inaugural AFL Women’s draft, casting her mind back to opening night back in 2017, the differences in the game are stark.
“Looking back and watching that game (the first-ever game) compared to a game now four years later going into our fifth season, I’m so proud of how far the game has come,” she said.
“It’s a lot more exciting to watch now. It’s quicker. We move the ball a lot more by foot. Everyone’s skills have gone up”
“I’m so proud to have been apart of it from that first season.”
Carlton is set to unveil some new recruits this season with Elise O’Dea, Maddy Guerin, and Charlotte Hammans coming to Ikon Park from Melbourne and Gold Coast respectively as well as new draftees Mimi Hill, Daisy Walker, and Winnie Laing.
“They have settled in really quickly.” she said.
“There’s not a huge gap like there used to be between senior women’s and junior women’s football. The girls have come in seamlessly.
“Winnie (Laing) and Mimi (Hill), two of our draft picks this year took out the yoyo test for us. They have come in and made all of us step up and make us much better footballers for it.”
Brazzale was full of praise for her teammates who are looking to make a name for themselves in the competition this year and establish themselves in a strong Carlton lineup moving forward.
“Jess Hosking; stepping out from Sarah’s shadow and going solo this year has gone to a new level, and look out for Abbie McKay.
“Abbie McKay is going to be the one to watch in 2021, she has been fantastic at training and definitely taken her game to another level.
“As a team, we want to obviously be better than what we were the year before.
“We’re such a connected group with a fantastic culture, we still have seven girls from our inaugural year which has helped build a really great base and foundation, which I have no doubt we can complete our unfinished business.”