GEELONG'S AFLW team had a different lockdown experience to most.
With a "ring of steel" erected between metropolitan Melbourne and the rest of Victoria, the capital city-based Cats ended up living under vastly different restrictions to their coastal teammates.
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Those in Melbourne were restricted to one hour of exercise a day, while time restrictions were lifted much sooner in Geelong, and the ability to train (non-contact) with people was also introduced earlier.
"Lockdown was different for every individual, but particularly for the Melbourne group, we felt a lot for them and tried to get in contact with them," Geelong coach Paul Hood told womens.afl.
"As a coach, I probably did it a little too often – not just about football, but life and welfare and how they were tracking. I'm glad I've got a good phone plan.
"The players were great with remote training. I worked one-on-one and in a few small group sessions down here in Geelong when we were allowed, but it was a challenging time."
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The Cats' attack has been a work in progress over their first two seasons in the competition, rotating players like Maddy Boyd and Kate Darby (missing 2021 due to pregnancy) in and out of the side as they tried to strike the right balance to support spearhead Phoebe McWilliams.
But the addition of exciting draftees Olivia Barber and Steph Williams will add a new spin to the forward 50.
"We kicked our highest score in two consecutive games last year (round three against Adelaide and round four against Richmond), so we were pleased with the way it came on," Hood said.
"It's just making the most of our chances that we create against the good teams, we have to take our chances all the time. Being more efficient is the theme of pre-season.
"They've got some x-factor, both of them, Olivia with her ability to mark the ball so high and Steph with electrifying speed. They'll give us a different look against different opponents from time to time, some variety in what we're looking at ahead of the ball."
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Geelong has a healthy list coming into its first game of the season against North Melbourne, with the unlucky Nina Morrison (on the comeback trail from her second torn ACL) the only long-term injury.
"There's a lot she's capable of doing at the moment. Timeline's a thing we're staying away from, but everything she can control, she's doing really, really well. Time needs to pass for that graft to strengthen, but everything Nina can do, she's doing in typical Nina elite fashion," Hood said.
"We've certainly seen some improvement from our under-22 group, players from that initial draft who have now had a few years in the system and understand what they're preparing for.
"The few (Cats players) that missed out in VFLW in 2019 actually had really strong 2020 AFLW seasons, so there's quite a bit of cautious optimism about missing the winter and coming into 2021 really fresh."
Along with most AFL industry employees, Hood was stood down during the AFL shutdown, spending some time working in the Cotton On factory and then returning to the classroom as a relief teacher, which he will continue into 2021.
"It's not bad to get my head in another space, I've enjoyed the freshness of being part of the community again and balancing two great jobs. I'm at St Joseph's College where I used to teach, it has a pretty big footy culture so that'll be good," he said.