As scary as it may sound, the AFLW competition still hasn’t seen the best of midfield superstar Monique Conti.
This may appear a ridiculous statement to apply to a two-time All-Australian, three time club best and fairest across two clubs, a premiership player and a grand final best on ground medallist.
All this while still just 22-years-old.
It’s no question that Conti is one of the out-and-out best that the AFLW has to offer. And somehow, she became so without giving her full attention to the sport.
Many know that she has been juggling her time as a dual-sport athlete, playing at the highest level in Australia across both the WNBL and AFLW. But for the past two seasons, she’s slowly been phasing basketball out.
Conti controversially requested a release from the Melbourne Boomers on the eve of the 2020 AFLW season, opting instead to play every game with Richmond where she would win the club’s inaugural AFLW best and fairest.
Making the move to a full-time midfield role since joining the club from the Western Bulldogs that same year, her talent has shone out of the centre bounce more and more.
She rejoined the Tigers for 2021 after playing in a championship with the Southside Flyers in the WNBL Queensland bubble, going on to win another club best and fairest and return to the All-Australian side.
But it’s 2022 that may be the most exciting year yet, as Conti completely put a hold on her Flyers commitments to do a full AFLW pre-season for the first time.
She did still play as close to full of a season as she could in the NBL1 South with the Melbourne Tigers before it was cut short, averaging 20 points, 5.64 rebounds and 4.71 rebounds mind you.
For 2022 though, she’s a full time Australian rules footballer.
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Richmond captain Katie Brennan, who’s been alongside Conti for her entire AFLW career so far, has seen firsthand the benefits of taking on football full-time.
“I’ve loved watching the evolution and growth of Mon both as a footballer and more importantly as a person,” Brennan told media at AFLW Captains’ Day.
“I think she’s had the opportunity to give her all to the program in terms of her energy, not splitting it between basketball and football and getting the load and the pre-season within her body and her legs.
“Once again, she’s a super talent, and she’s so young and has got such a bright future ahead of her.”
The club has heard the outside noise on the young star however, and are looking to keep it contained outside of the four walls.
“We’re not putting any pressure on Monnie, we just want her to play a role and do her thing out there and guide our girls.
“She’s really stepping up in terms of her leadership and her support with the other girls, and bringing others along with her and others into the game. No expectations, but we’re super excited to see what she can do for us in the role she can play.”
Young leaders stepping up
Richmond has selected an experienced leadership group for 2022, with Brennan leading the way once again while Harriet Cordner and Sarah Hosking join her as vice-captains.
It’s a small group, but one that speaks highly to just how well the Tigers have recruited since their introduction into the competition.
All three players have joined from elsewhere, with Brennan making the switch from the Bulldogs for the inaugural season, while Cordner and Hosking joined in 2021 from Melbourne and Carlton respectively.
But outside of the older heads, the younger, drafted squad is beginning to come into their own as well.
Brennan referred to Maddy Brancatisano, Bec Miller and Gabby Seymour as de facto leaders to Richmond Media, reflecting how the group is continuing to grow together.
It’s a new face though, that’s she seen some of the biggest growth in across the pre-season.
“We drafted Meagan Kiely from the Roos this year, and she’s done a power of work throughout the pre-season,” Brennan said.
“[She’s] stepped up into a bit of a leadership role into our midfield to support Mon and Soph Molan and some of those other young girls.”
Kiely was drafted to Richmond after winning North Melbourne’s VFLW best and fairest, while also captaining the club. The 27-year-old is a bona fide ball winner, and could find herself with a Round 1 spot in the absence of 2020 number one pick, Ellie McKenzie.
The club announced that McKenzie would miss the early stages of the season on Monday due to a “unique injury to her calf”.
It leaves the door open for the youngsters on the fringes, though the captain is keen to help the burgeoning talent return as quickly as possible.
“We all know [Ellie is] a super talent, and a superstar in her own right now but she’s going to be something really special in the future,” Brennan said.
“I think that this setback will only set her up for her career, and that’s sort of the messaging from us and our leadership to support her and guide her.
“You always feel the feelings when you’re in the fire, but it’s going to be some really great lessons going forward in the way she prepares and her career to date. We’ve got a good group, a good supportive group around her who can step up.”
Richmond kicks off its season, and the 2022 AFLW season as a whole, on Friday night against St Kilda at SkyBus Stadium in Frankston.
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