Western Bulldogs coach Tam Hyett. Picture: Western Bulldogs Football Club

NEW WESTERN Bulldogs coach Tam Hyett's top priority is to build connection within the team over the next five months before round one.

The Dogs finished last in 2023 in a brutal campaign, beset by injuries and a consequent lack of form and cohesion, winning just one of their 10 matches.

Coach Nathan Burke was sacked after signing a two-year deal at the end of 2022, and had been critical of players' fitness and professionalism during post-match press conferences.

"Having watched the Dogs the last couple of years, I think it's probably not individuals. I think building that connection on-field as a group and just a little bit more cohesion across all three lines," Hyett told AFL.com.au.

"That's my No.1 thing, making sure that we operate really well as a group through role clarity and things like that. I think that will assist in that growth, initially."

Hyett has a hefty draft haul at her disposal, the Dogs bringing in dynamic tall forward Kristie-Lee Weston-Turner (pick No.1), elusive midfielder Brooke Barwick (No.4), pacey small forward Elaine Grigg (No.6) and rebounding defender Cleo Buttifant (No.11), as well as ruck support in mature-ager Jorja Borg.


But she cautioned against expecting big things from the group so early in their careers – Buttifant is a recent convert to the sport from touch football, Weston-Turner missed most of 2023 with a broken wrist, and Barwick is coming off a torn ACL.

"It's a nice thing to have. But, you've got to make sure that you temper expectations. It's a young group so things may take time. But the natural talent of the group is definitely there," she said.

"It's the unknown. These players haven't played together, they've all been drafted to the club because they're talented. I want to make sure they play with freedom, and they're talented because of how they've previously played – we want to make sure that we're maximising those strengths, allow them to play with a bit of freedom.

"Doing that, there may be mistakes, and form will fluctuate, but I want to encourage the players to be brave and play to their strengths."

Brooke Barwick is presented with her jumper by Ellie Blackburn at the 2023 AFLW Draft on December 18, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

It was yet another turbulent off-season for the Bulldogs, with a host of senior players leaving the club in a Trade Period that occurred before the appointment of Hyett.

Key forwards Gabby Newton (Fremantle) and Celine Moody (Carlton), midfielder Kirsty Lamb (Port Adelaide) and key defender Katie Lynch (Gold Coast) all requested trades, but the Dogs did manage to attract out-of-favour duo Ellie Gavalas and Mua Laloifi from North Melbourne and Carlton respectively.

"Having watched both of those players, and Lauren Ahrens (who) I played with at St Kilda Sharks, we've just stabilised the group, I think," Hyett said.

"Ellie, she can play dual positions, but she'll also assist someone like Ellie Blackburn and Jess Fitzgerald, having additional numbers to go through the midfield, and she's been part of a successful program.

Ellie Gavalas celebrates a goal during the match between Adelaide and North Melbourne at Norwood Oval in round nine, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

"Then you've got Mua, who is a real character and just brings enthusiasm and is just a rock down back. So the stability of her and Lauren down back will enable players like Issy Grant – who potentially have been down there on a needs basis, playing a key pillar in defence – will free them up.

"It's a really exciting by-product of bringing those sorts of players in, of what that can do to the playing group in assisting other areas."

The Western Bulldogs are still on the hunt for a head of women's football, and "a couple" of assistant coach positions ahead of the start of pre-season in June.

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