FAVOURITES last year and finished sixth. Considered little chance this season and won the premiership.

The Western Bulldogs completed a remarkable turnaround in this year's NAB AFL Women's competition, dropping just two matches (to Adelaide in round three by seven points and to Greater Western Sydney in round six by 18 points) before running over the top of Brisbane in the Grand Final. 

It was a big off-season for the Bulldogs, who added 12 new players and a new footy operations manager in Debbie Lee. 

The quality additions boosted the depth of the list considerably, as all but four of those 12 made a considerable impact this season – and two of those four, Isabel Huntington and Daria Bannister, sustained season-ending knee injuries early in the year.

Monique Conti, who was named best on ground after Saturday's Grand Final with 13 touches (including eight in the third term alone) and a crucial goal, played all eight games for the Dogs this season. 

The 18-year-old barely did a football pre-season as she was playing with the Melbourne Boomers in the WNBL. 

She may be just 165cm, but she ranked first at the club for contested marks (and third for overall marks), second for contested possessions and fourth for clearances.

When asked post-match about her sporting plans for the winter, she reluctantly said she'd have to take a few weeks off. 

"I'm playing for Melbourne Tigers in the SEABL (South East Australian Basketball League) competition, and the season starts the weekend of April 7, so I'll have a couple of weeks off, then go back into training with them, just focusing on that season," Conti said.

"I'm not sure where I'm going to play for VFL yet (she played for Melbourne University last year), but I'll be looking to play a few games there and juggling both as always." 

Monique Conti was voted as the Grand Final's best player. Picture: AFL Photos

Rookies Bonnie Toogood and Naomi Ferres were structurally important for the Dogs this year; the two were promoted at the start of the season and played every match. 

Ferres was an important link player across half-back, while Toogood's versatility as a key position player proved incredibly valuable in a season when skipper Katie Brennan managed just three games due to injury and suspension. 

"It's an unreal experience right now…just trying to soak it all in," Toogood told AFL.com.au in the Ikon Park rooms after the match. 

"I like that I'm versatile. That's the role I play in this team, where [coach Paul Groves] can swing me down back or have me up forward.

"At the moment I don't have a preference, and I want to keep it that way." 

The addition of Jenna Bruton (eight games, three goals and averaging 11 touches) to the midfield added another string to the Bulldogs' bow, and her decision-making at important moments was vital to their success. 

Aisling Utri was initially signed as a rookie but upgraded to the senior list before the draft period. Playing seven games at both ends of the ground, her strong marking and long kicking impressive aspects of her debut season.

Other additions to the side were Deanna Berry (six games), Kim Rennie (five) and Emma Mackie (four).

A different approach

Before the season started, coach Paul Groves had said the Bulldogs had spent summer changing the team’s approach.

"You're going to see a very different game plan roll out," Groves said at the club's season launch. 

"We're hoping to kick the ball a lot more. Last year we over-handballed, probably to the frustration of people, but [we’re] going to kick it a lot more, try to maintain possession. 

"We think we've got the best forward line in the competition, so if we can get it down there pretty quickly, we're going to have some girls who can kick a good score."

And the Bulldogs delivered. Their average kicks per match rose from 100.9 (last in the competition) to 131.3 (third), while handballs dropped from 72.9 (second) to 59 (sixth).

Groves spoke candidly at the post-Grand Final press conference about the struggles of last season. 

"Personally, a lot of self-doubt creeps in when you struggle and when you win two games and you're fighting to stay out of the wooden spoon [race], you do research everything," he said. 

"I'm rapt through myself and my team, the assistant coaches this year and last year, that I've been able to identify what I think our area for improvement was. 

"We stripped it right back. I took a lot of brutal feedback. But you can either act on it, or you can sit there and nod and go, 'I know better'. 

"But you've got to listen to your players and your staff around and outsource. I don't know everything, and you've got to get better, you've got to keep getting better, and as a coach that's your challenge."

Coach Paul Groves on the dais with Ellie Blackburn (left) and Katie Brennan. Picture: AFL Photos

Nervous moments

The nine Bulldogs players who missed selection for the Grand Final – through injury, suspension and form – huddled together in stands at Ikon Park sheltering from the rain. 

Last year’s No.1 pick Isabel Huntington, who tore the ACL in her right knee in round two, told AFL.com.au how the day panned out. 

"We were sitting pretty nervously on the sidelines there, my heartrate got up to a ridiculous number at some stage," she said.

"It was nice to sit with the team and be able to celebrate the little things throughout the game, like the goals, and the celebrations were amplified compared to a usual game.

"Then to be able to run out on the field and celebrate with everyone was a lot of fun."

Isabel Huntington celebrated the win on the ground after the game. Picture: AFL Photos

Another gut punch

Spare a thought for the Lions, who lost their second straight Grand Final. The six-point defeat to the Dogs on Saturday followed their loss to Adelaide, by the same margin, last season.

They weren’t going to die wondering, with two last-quarter goals to Jess Wuetschner causing some nervous moments in the Bulldogs camp.

"We were up in all the stats across the game. Our pressure was insane … some of the best we’ve had," captain Emma Zielke told lions.com.au

"We just couldn’t get it down into our forward line as often as we wanted to." 

As journalists hurriedly checked the rules relating to extra time, the Lions launched one last attack in the final seconds, until Bulldog Naomi Ferres dove to take an intercept mark on the siren.