Plenty of room to grow for Saints after spirited debut season

DESPITE St Kilda winning plenty of fans in its first AFLW season for plucky performances, the team is just getting started.

The Saints defeated Melbourne and Richmond (by a comprehensive 39 points, holding the fellow inaugural side goalless) and lost to the undefeated Fremantle by just one point in 2020.

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Coach Peta Searle was pleased with her onball brigade – including Georgia Patrikios, Liv Vesely, Rosie Dillon and Nat Exon – but has a long list of areas in which the Saints wish to improve.

"I thought stoppage-wise, we did pretty well for a group of kids on the inside. I think we were ranked three for clearances or ability to win the stoppage, but like everyone in the competition, we didn't score enough (averaging 26 points)," Searle told womens.afl.

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"Our inside 50s were low, our ability to convert inside 50s was low and our rebound needed to improve. We were able to defend the ball well, to win the ball, but we couldn't use it well enough.

"We've done a lot of work on our ball movement, so hopefully we'll be able to generate more inside 50s, and there's a few more people in front of the ball who have found some form.

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"Kate Shierlaw is training the house down, and Jacqui Vogt, our VFLW girl, she'll be imposing straight away. So hopefully we have more avenues to go forward once we get inside 50."

Speaking before Bianca Jakobsson broke her collarbone in a practice match (she is expected to return at some point in 2021), Searle was excited about the additions of the former Demon as well as fellow recruit Jayde Van Dyk to the backline.

St Kilda players have a laugh during the team's official photo day. Picture: AFL Photos

"They bring some great leadership down there, we really needed some footy IP. Our group did a great job in defence last year, but most hadn't played in the backline before, so to have Jayde and 'BJ' there is fantastic.

"There's no doubt Clara (Fitzpatrick, the key back unavailable due to visa issues) leaves a bit of a hole for us but that gives someone else the chance to step up and grow.

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"We're looking forward to the opportunity to see which one is going to stand up and grow into that spot. Is it going to be Isabella (Shannon), is it going to be (Ali) 'Browny', there are certainly options.

"Our whole thinking with 'BJ' and Jayde was that Clara was going to be the main one down back, and then those two could get up the ground so we could defend higher. We defended quite low last year, so we still want to generate possibilities of what that looks like."

Like most people in the football industry, Searle was affected by the COVID shutdown, picking up a job at an Australia Post factory, where she still works some hours.

"It was quite a shock to start, getting up at 4:30, and during the heavy part of COVID, working 10 hours a day, six or seven days a week," she said.

"They've been pretty generous, so they still want me to work there and are quite flexible in giving me some extra hours to help fill the void that COVID has created in the AFL world.

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"After the first two weeks, they made me into factory supervisor. I thought I'd just go and hide and just sort boxes and pack them, and for the first time in my life not have to think about anything.

"But it was a saviour. You can say it was hard work and probably whinge and moan a bit about the hours, but at the end of the day, it wasn't just a financial saviour, but an emotional one and a mental one as well. To be able to get out of the house, I've got four kids at home, so it was a godsend a little bit."

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"The girls were pretty good, they ran a lot of activities themselves. They're a pretty funny bunch, they organised some groups where they had to make videos about what they were doing during COVID.

"They did their running and fitness on an app where they could compete against each other.

"Because we had no VFLW season, in order to get some footy education into them, towards the back-end of the boys' season I used some of their games to run some education meetings, which they enjoyed. They enjoy learning about footy, but they also enjoy seeing our boys going well."