'Tragic Saints fan' takes the reins of inaugural AFLW side

FROM standing behind the boundary in a pocket at Moorabbin Oval as a young fan to being named inaugural coach of St Kilda's AFL Women's team.

It's been quite the journey for Peta Searle.

The well-credentialed coach has officially accepted the AFLW senior coach role at the Saints, after long being expected to land the job.

The self-described "tragic Saints fan" has been at the club since 2014 as a development coach with the AFL side. She's also coach of the club's VFLW team, the Southern Saints.

Before that, she spent time at a host of clubs – she was an assistant under now-Carlton AFLW coach Daniel Harford at VAFA club St Kevin's, a development coach at now-NAB League side Western Jets and an assistant to Gary Ayres at VFL club Port Melbourne. And she coached the Darebin Falcons to five straight flags in the VWFL (now the VFLW).

"We're going to be a young side. It's an expansion team, but you should expect to see some really good young kids who can handle the ball," Searle told womens.afl.

"We'll surround them with really good leaders. We believed we had really good leaders last year (at VFLW level) and hopefully they'll be back with us. Saints fans will see a really exciting, good bunch of girls who know what they're doing and how to play the game.

"Bringing footy back to Moorabbin, the club's heartland, will be great. I live 500 metres from (the Western Bulldogs' home ground) Whitten Oval, so to think we could create that atmosphere – if not better – here, and bring footy back to Moorabbin via the girls, is a great result."

Searle said having two years heading the Saints' VFLW program before the team joins the AFLW competition in 2020 would be incredibly beneficial.

Peta Searle after her appointment as St Kilda development coach in 2015

"It's like a trial run … it seemed like a natural progression for me to start coaching that team," she said.

"We obviously did too good a job, because quite a few got drafted (seven in 2018) and we have to find another group of players this year."

Searle is full-time at the club, oscillating between her development role with the AFL team and heading up the women's program. Having one person working full-time overseeing the program allows female players time to work directly with her on developing their skills.

"A lot of the girls do extras … oftentimes the (AFL players) are on the basketball courts working on skills when the girls are.

"Just to have that natural integration has been really positive for the club. It hasn't just been, 'Here's a girls' team, get used to it' … it's just naturally evolved," she said.

"The other day, I was doing some stuff with the girls, and (former Blue) Kate Shierlaw ,who has a broken hand, was trying to get involved.

"'Ratts' (Brett Ratten, an assistant coach with the AFL team) came down and started working with her one-on-one. That just happens now naturally. It's positive, not just for the girls coming into the club, but the club as a whole."

To date, St Kilda has signed midfielder Alison Drennan (from North Melbourne), flanker Darcy Guttridge (Collingwood), ruck Rhiannon Watt (Carlton) and key defender Selena Karlson (Western Bulldogs) from other clubs, with Searle forecasting the Saints to potentially bring a new element to the competition.

"Footy has already evolved quite a bit over the past three years and it will evolve again.

We've got a bunch of girls running around in the VFLW – and I won't give too much away – that if a certain type of them reach AFLW-standard, it will be something that hasn't been done at AFLW level yet.

"Adelaide has set the benchmark; speed's really important, as well as ball use, but there are other aspects I think haven't been explored, so there are lots of possibilities moving forward."

Like all coaches, Searle has one overarching aim, although with a uniquely St Kilda slant.

"It's thrown out there a bit … the fact the club has won only one premiership.

"There's a fair bit of, 'Enough's enough, time to win a second one'. I've said to the girls, 'Why can't we be the ones to bring in that second cup?'"