Captains Q&A: Players to watch, favourite memory, Cats or Roos?

THE AFLW captains were in Melbourne on Wednesday morning for the 2019 season launch ahead of the opening round this weekend. The skippers provided some insight into which players to watch from their respective teams, who they're looking forward to facing – ex-Western Bulldogs teammates Emma Kearney and Ellie Blackburn can't wait to go head-to-head – and which of the two new teams will perform best. 

CHELSEA RANDALL, Adelaide

Who's a player to watch from your club?
"We've got quite a few, but everyone loves to watch Erin Phillips. She's got that raw excitement; you never know what's going to happen when the ball is in her hands."

An opponent you're most looking forward to playing?
"I love coming up against (Brisbane's) Leah Kaslar. We've had some great history playing together in Western Australia and against each other over the last 12 years. She's an absolute machine and I love playing against her. it's always a good contest."

What's your favourite AFLW memory to date?
"Winning the inaugural premiership alongside my co-captain Erin Phillips and other teammates. That was everyone's dream. It was such a fantastic day for us and for our football club."

Geelong or North Melbourne – which newbie will finish higher?
"They've both got some fantastic players and it just adds an element of excitement and unknown. It feels like the first year of AFLW again because you just don't know what they're going to bring and how the competition is going to unfold, but I think North Melbourne will be quite strong."

What impact do you think the conference system will have?
"It's really exciting for us as players and it adds that element of excitement and unknown again." 

 

Crows skipper Chelsea Randall is aiming for a second flag in three years

LEAH KASLAR, Brisbane Lions

Who's a player to watch from your club?
"McKenzie Dowrick. She's got a booming left foot and she's got a really great build for an 18-year-old. She can play in a number of positions. I reckon she can kick it 50m, for sure."

An opponent you're most looking forward to playing?
"Katie Brennan's work-rate is huge, so she's always difficult to play against. The full-forwards have all got tricks. It'll be interesting to see who I come up against."

What's your favourite AFLW memory to date?
"Running out in the first Grand Final. That feeling of excitement from the crowd was just incredible."

Geelong or North Melbourne – which newbie will finish higher?
"Geelong. I'm just taking a guess, really. You don't really know where the teams are going to sit until they start playing. Each team has recruited pretty well, so a lot of it will come down to how they bond as a group."

What impact do you think the conference system will have?
"The conference system is going to be really exciting. Having not seen that in the AFL before, a lot of people are going to be watching with interest and will be keen to see how each one goes. It's something new … I think people will get right behind it." 

Brisbane skipper Leah Kaslar has endured two narrow Grand Final misses

BRIANNA DAVEY, Carlton

Who's a player to watch from your club?
"Chloe Dalton. She's come across from rugby sevens and won an Olympic medal doing that. She's a really great athlete and she'll bring a lot to our group. She's got a lot of poise and speed, so we'll definitely be trying to use those traits. We've also got Madison Prespakis, our first draft pick. She'll really make an impact in her first year."

An opponent you're most looking forward to playing?
"It's going to be cool to play North Melbourne, just because they're new and it's round one. Obviously playing in Tasmania in the first AFLW match there will be great. In terms of an individual opponent, I always love to play against Erin Phillips. She's a jet and a really great athlete, so it's always cool to go up against her."

What's your favourite AFLW memory to date?
"You can't really go past (the first match) of the first season (Carlton versus Collingwood at IKON Park). That blew all of us away. We didn't really expect the crowd that showed up and the support we got. We're extremely grateful for it. That game gives me goosebumps every time I think about it."

Geelong or North Melbourne – which newbie will finish higher?
"That is such a tough one … they've both got really good teams on paper. At the end of the day, it's probably going to be whichever team jells better."

What impact do you think the conference system will have?
"As players, we try not to worry too much about that stuff. For us, it's just literally about playing footy … whether it's in a conference system or whoever it's against. Good teams will be able to play anywhere and in any sort of setting."

Carlton skipper Brianna Davey is keen to make up for a lost 2018 season

STEPH CHIOCCI, Collingwood

Who's a player to watch from your club?
"Lauren Butler. We've nicknamed her 'The Whiz'. She's an 18-year-old from the country (Carisbrook in central Victoria), very quiet but gee, can she run! She can kick on both sides of her body as well. She's a really good talent and will surprise a lot of people."

An opponent you're most looking forward to playing?
"We genuinely enjoy playing Carlton because of the rivalry between the AFL teams as well, so we're really looking forward to round five. Also round two, when we play Melbourne at Victoria Park (the club's former home ground), which will make it extra bit special."

What's your favourite AFLW memory to date?
"My favourite memory, besides the opening game (against Carlton) in 2017, was our win against Melbourne last year in Alice Springs. We lost the first three games, everyone had written us off, and there was some not-so-nice talk in the media about our coach and our abilities. We went out there and had a really great win in the heat. It was amazing."

Geelong or North Melbourne – which newbie will finish higher?
"Both will be really competitive. It's hard to tell at this stage, but you've got Geelong coming off a really successful VFLW season. They've built around locals and also got some talent from other clubs. North Melbourne is star-studded, so if they get things rolling they'll be really hard to beat."

What impact do you think the conference system will have?
"It obviously adds the element of finals, which I think we're all crying out for. It means you can focus on finishing top-two in your conference and get a chance to play in a semi-final. It adds a different element."

Steph Chiocci will head a new-look Collingwood

Kara Donnellan, Fremantle

Who's a player to watch from your club?
"I'll go with one of the new players, Philipa Seth. She's really fast and exciting. She's a great character off the field and has lots of laughs, but what she'll bring to the game is really exciting. She's a midfielder or half-back. Watch this space."

An opponent you're most looking forward to playing?
"I'm looking forward to playing Geelong and North Melbourne, to see how they'll go in their first year. It'll be nice to travel to Geelong and play on their surface. I've heard it's a pretty nice ground." 

What's your favourite AFLW memory to date?
"Two for me. I can't go past the Optus Stadium game (against Collingwood in round two, 2018) with almost 42,000 people there. It still gives me goosebumps thinking about it. To get the win was even better in front of the home crowd. Then you can't go past the first game we played, running out on Whitten Oval against the Bulldogs in round one. We lost, but there were more than 10,000 people there and it was a historic moment captaining the side."

Geelong or North Melbourne – which newbie will finish higher?
"There's a lot of pressure on North with their (strong) list, but I'll go the roughie and say Geelong will finish higher."

What impact do you think the conference system will have?
"I haven't really thought too much about it. I think it'll be more exciting for the fans – they could choose a team to support from each conference. We'll see how it goes. There'll be negatives and positives and everyone will have their opinions, but as long as we're playing footy, we're pretty happy."

Kara Donnellan will be hoping to lead her Dockers up the ladder

Melissa Hickey, Geelong

Who's a player to watch from your club?
"Can I give you 29 names? Just one? Denby Taylor. She probably has some of the silkiest skills I've ever seen in women's footy. She doesn't quite know yet how good she is. When that switches on for her, she's going to be unstoppable. She does it all. She's phenomenal."

An opponent you're most looking forward to playing?
"I love playing against Erin Phillips. I got to match up on her in season one in Darwin. You love to play against the best and she's amazing."

What's your favourite AFLW memory to date?
"It would have to be our (Melbourne's) first win, against Collingwood at Ikon Park (in 2017). It was a come-from-behind win, a tale of two halves. It was amazing."

Geelong or North Melbourne – which newbie will finish higher?
"Geelong – what a ridiculous question!"

What impact do you think the conference system will have?
"It's so interesting. As players, you just get on with what you have to do. You look at the draw to see who we have to play, and know that we have to finish top-two (in our conference). The exciting part will be at the end of the season and the way that will play out." 

Former Demon Mel Hickey will lead the Cats in their first season

AMANDA FARRUGIA, Greater Western Sydney

Who's a player to watch from your club?
"Yvonne Bonner. She's an Irish recruit. Her personality is very timid and she's quite shy, but the way she plays is definitely not like that. She's very athletic. I'm looking forward to seeing what she can bring."

An opponent you're most looking forward to playing?
"Brisbane in round one. We haven't beaten them yet and we're quite determined to. I'm really looking forward to coming up against them on Sunday."

What's your favourite AFLW memory to date?
"Definitely beating the Bulldogs last season. They came in pretty confident and we were [already] on a roll. The pressure was on us because we had that momentum, so to beat them in Canberra with our crowd there was great."

Geelong or North Melbourne – which newbie will finish higher?
"They both look good. Geelong look like they have quite a big team, quite strong. North Melbourne look like they have a lot of diversity and skill across the board with a lot of depth, so I'm going to pick North."

What impact do you think the conference system will have?
"I'm not sure, actually. Once we start playing games, it's not going to mean too much. Hopefully it doesn't deter people from watching the competition. If anything, it'll bring a new perspective on how we can organise women's and maybe men's sport in Australia."

Amanda Farrugia will hope to lead the Giants into the finals

ELISE O'DEA, Melbourne

Who's a player to watch from your club?
"Kate Hore. She plays in the forward line and she's had one hell of a summer. This is her second year of AFLW. She's fast, smart and a beautiful user of the football. She doesn't just create goals, but kicks them as well, so I really hope she has a ripper season because she's worked hard for it."

An opponent you're most looking forward to playing?
"I wish we were playing Geelong so I could play against Aasta O'Connor, who is my mate. Maybe if Geelong and Melbourne make the finals, we'll meet there. It would be awesome if I got to play against her. She reckons she's working on her hands, so I'll be interested to see how her handball is going."

What's your favourite AFLW memory to date?
"The round one game against Greater Western Sydney last year. It was so much fun and it was such a close game. Only a goal separated us. It was a real arm-wrestle and I really loved it. Both sides played really good football. They're the games you want to be part of. We were lucky enough to get over the top. It was a really fun game."

Geelong or North Melbourne – which newbie will finish higher?
"North Melbourne. We had the pleasure of playing them in a practice match a few weeks ago and they blitzed us in the third quarter and completely took the game away from us. What they're capable of is pretty frightening, in terms of their ball movement and their potency up forward. They'll be a really hard team to play."

What impact do you think the conference system will have?
"I don't think it'll have too much of an impact. No matter what, every game feels like a final. It wouldn't matter who you're playing, where you're playing, or who you're not playing … every game you're playing is like a final. If anything, it will just add another element in terms of where you finish in the conference and the fact you might have two chances to play in a final. Apart from that, it doesn't change anything once you get on the field."

Demons skipper Elise O'Dea at the season launch

EMMA KEARNEY, North Melbourne

Who's a player to watch from your club?
"Tahlia Randall. She played mostly ruck for Brisbane, but she'll hopefully play a bit more back for us. Her athletic ability is incredible, she'll be really exciting to watch."

An opponent you're most looking forward to playing?
"I'll go Western Bulldogs, my old club, and certainly Ellie Blackburn. We've played pretty well together so it'll be interesting to see how we go head-to-head. It should be good fun."

What's your favourite AFLW memory to date?
"Winning the AFLW premiership last year – definitely my favourite memory."

Geelong or North Melbourne – which newbie will finish higher?
"North Melbourne. I have to say that, don't I?"

What impact do you think the conference system will have?
"It'll keep the season alive for teams that start a little bit slower. It could potentially confuse (people), but it'll be all exciting anyway."

Star North recruit Emma Kearney

ELLIE BLACKBURN, Western Bulldogs

Who's a player to watch from your club?
"It's tough to narrow it down to just one, but I'm really looking forward to the way Naomi Ferres will go about it this year. We'll be using her a bit more in the midfield. Her growth over the last 12 months has been really inspiring. She's been good for our team."

An opponent you're most looking forward to playing?
"My old teammate, Emma Kearney. It'll be fun coming up against her, so hopefully it will be a good rivalry. Fingers crossed we can get the points against her, but we'll see how we go."

What's your favourite AFLW memory to date?
"I've got two. One that sits with me is running out at Whitten Oval for round one of the first year. It was just amazing to have our supporters there. But obviously the top one is the Grand Final last year. For us to come in as underdogs, get the win and celebrate was amazing."

Geelong or North Melbourne – which newbie will finish higher?
"I reckon they'll be pretty even. They've both got really good lists. North Melbourne might finish higher, just because they've got a few more experienced players." 

What impact do you think the conference system will have?
"I don't think it will make much of a difference. It just opens up the competition a little bit more, having those extra finals. It might create a little bit of uncertainty among the teams, because you never know who you're going to come up against at the end of the season."

Western Bulldogs skipper Ellie Blackburn is looking for another flag