ONE OF the newest additions to Greater Western Sydney's AFL coaches' box this season can't quite believe her luck.
Midfielder Alicia Eva may be only 28, but has coached for a number of years at local level, as an assistant for then-TAC Cup side Calder Cannons and last year led New South Wales and the Eastern Allies in the NAB AFLW Under-18 Championships
This year, she's graduated to a development coach of the Giants' NEAFL side, working with the backline.
But with the NEAFL side finished for the year, and the AFL team still purring along, lining up in Saturday's Grand Final, Eva's been enjoying her time at the top level.
"It's been a really busy year. I have a whole new appreciation for what AFL coaches do, how much time they put in and how good their family must be to put up with them in the footy season," Eva told womens.afl.
"I just had a conversation with Al McConnell before, I think he's been coaching for 28 years and I'm 28 myself, so he's been coaching my entire lifetime, and this is the first time he's experiencing an AFL Grand Final.
"He said to me, 'how lucky are you, the first time coaching in an AFL environment and we make a Grand Final? Some people work their whole lives and never get there, and you do'.
"That's something I've reflected on in the past couple of weeks, and I've had such an enjoyable year. While it has been busy and challenging, it's very much rewarding. I'm just so bloody excited for weekend."
McConnell is Eva's AFLW coach, but his much more pressing duty is as director of coaching for the AFL side. She says he deserves a long-awaited premiership.
"Al was the first person employed by the Giants. He made the call to move up to western Sydney and try to build a football club, and an AFL one at that," Eva said.
"There was a really beautiful moment for me on the weekend when I was standing out on the MCG, I turned around and Al was in the middle of the ground with a couple of tears in his eyes, just taking in the moment the players were sharing with the supporters.
"He's been here from day one, he's seen the supporter base grow from less than 100 to the thousands we have now. It was a special moment for him, and hopefully they can go one more for him."
With the NEAFL winding up, Eva's current match-day role is more of a support to backline coach Mark McVeigh and the younger players in the senior side, although she's involved at training.
"The last month has been amazing because I've been to all the finals, observing. The last few matches have been really intense, but that's finals footy and what we've come to expect," Eva said.
"It's been a really great learning opportunity for me. What I've found really interesting – particularly with the new runner rules where they can't go out until a goal's been scored – a lot of the work has to be done during the week and on the training track, educating players around particular scenarios so they have to coordinate on the ground.
"We've seen that play out a number of times over the last three weeks, and that's been really great to observe and fascinating to dissect and review during training during the week."
Her backline charges in 2019 include Jake Stein and Connor Idun, who both made their debuts this season, young Irishman Callum Brown ("the development he's shown in the past few months has been huge"), Matt Buntine and Lachie Keeffe.
"I'm learning a lot from these boys that I can take back into my own game, too," Eva said.
"It's really funny, I find myself just watching the back half of the ground for most of the game, which is something that I haven't really done in the past (being a midfielder). It's just been such a rewarding year for me, and hopefully our boys can get it done on Saturday."