THE dust (or mud) had barely settled on Southern Saints’ historic rebel VFLW preliminary final victory over Casey Demons on Sunday before coach Dale Robinson’s mind was firmly focused on Essendon.
The Saints have won three sudden-death finals as the lower-ranked team to march into their first Grand Final at ETU Stadium this Sunday against another debutant in the Bombers.
But while they may have come from fifth, there was never any doubt the Saints were capable of doing what they have done, having previously beaten Geelong and drawn with the undefeated Bombers early in the season, and they will go into the decider having won eight of their past nine matches – the only loss being to Essendon in Round 13 when they led by 12 points at quarter-time before falling by 10 in a tight contest.
Robinson said her team’s success had been built on stability, with little reliance on St Kilda’s AFLW-listed players – only Alana Woodward (10 matches), Lucy Burke (6) and Tahlia Meyer (3) played more than one VFLW game, with Woodward (Sydney) and Meyer (Hawthorn) no longer at the club after being picked up by expansion teams during the season.
“It has helped massively, we’re probably two of the sides that have kept our VFL group quite compact all year,” she said.
“We’ve had some of our AFLW girls come through but it was really around those girls needing that bit of time … and they seamlessly came into the group and the group accepted them really well.
“But the last few weeks and all of the changes with AFLW, we’ve been able to get back to our core VFL group – and that’s what I’ve been all about, ensuring we’re building a VFL side that is complemented by our AFLW program but never reliant on it.
“For me it’s about the development of these girls, especially for those who want to go to that next level, but also developing them to be the best VFL players they can be.”
Robinson said she hadn’t given herself long to enjoy the win over the Demons, with much bigger fish to fry this Sunday, and said she was confident the Saints had the ability to bring down the undefeated Bombers, having pushed them to that draw at the NEC Hangar in Round 5.
“I’m already into what we’ve got to plan for the week, but it’s keeping things pretty simple and knowing the girls know what we need to do to get their bodies through, get good recovery and get prepared for the weekend,” she said.
“We’ve really hit some form at the right time of year, the connection the group has, the will to play for each other – they’re not just there for themselves, which has had a really big impact and it’s something we’ve really seen change in the past couple of weeks.
“It’s been there in patches and it has probably really just come together at the right time of year.
“I think both of us play a really good brand of football, we play a similar brand of football and it’s knowing we can match that … and hopefully the team that turns up best from a mindset perspective on the day will come out with the win.”
Like Brendan Major at Essendon, Robinson was confident Wednesday night’s NAB AFLW Draft wouldn’t affect the mindset of her Grand Final players too much.
“We’ve been realistic in the conversations we’ve had all the way through – I’ve encouraged all the girls to put in for the draft, because whether they’re ready or not this year, there are opportunities that might come from that if they’re not picked up,” she said.
“(The AFLW) is about to go into competition outside of a combined comp (with no VFLW) – you don’t have that fallback to play the girls who might not be playing each week, but there’s the opportunity for them to look at train-on positions and get a taste for it.
“But I think the girls are pretty focused on what this weekend will look like and that’s their first thought.”
Sunday, July 3: rebel VFLW Grand Final: Essendon v Southern Saints (ETU Stadium, 12.15pm).
The rebel VFLW Grand Final will be televised live on Channel 7 from 12pm on Sunday, with a free stream also available via afl.com.au and the AFL Live Official App, with a replay available later at www.VFLW.tv. The Grand Final will also be broadcast on www.warfradio.com from 11am.
To access live scores, results, ladder, stats and to link to live streams/replays, download the VFL/W Official App from the Apple or Google Play stores.