It was typical Melbourne weather for Emmaus St Leo’s women’s team when they trekked over to St James Park to face Swinburne University on the weekend, with blue skies and sun providing warmth for their warm up, only for it to give way to blustery wind and eventual rain as the day wore on. But the Animalettes weren’t distracted by the ever-changing weather nor their 7-game losing streak and provided their own moments of sunshine, holding their own on the field for the entire day and putting together almost four quarters of pressure and fight that rewarded them with their third win of the season. Playing with one on the bench seemed to invigorate Emmaus St Leo’s women’s team for much of the day, with every player keen to put every ounce of effort they could into every contest they were in.
For Head Women’s Coach Roy Fenton, the win was set up in the first quarter, with his charges starting the game kicking against the wind though you couldn’t tell, outscoring Swinburne 2.3.15 to 2.0.12. ‘The pressure on the opposition was fantastic and our quick disposal and ability to get the footy forward quickly was great.’ Shellby Lonie added to her season tally with a goal, and Abbey Gray scored her first in the blue and blue, with both majors being celebrated as they should have, players running from everywhere to get around their teammates. Already a huge sense of passion had blanketed St James Park and sparked efforts from every Emmaus St Leo’s player.
After a quarter-time break that saw smiles on the faces of everyone part of this women’s side, players, coaches and supporters alike, the Animalettes came out of the blocks firing for the second quarter, just as they had in the first. Fenton was impressed with how the intensity continued as well as the pressure, with his team adding their score with an impressive set shot by Shannon Harris, who marked on top of the square in a change from the week before and expertly sent the ball through the big sticks, and four behinds. Not only this, but Emmaus St Leo’s women’s team kept Swinburne scoreless, and had a majority of the play for the entire twenty minutes with the score at the halftime siren having Swinburne still at 2.0.12 to their opponents’ 3.7.25.
For Emmaus St Leo’s women’s team, the rooms at halftime are never not full of smiles and fun, despite the way the scoreboard looks sometimes. But the rooms at halftime on Saturday were filled with so much pride in the way they’d gone about their first half of football and the fact that they’d gotten some reward on the scoreboard for their efforts. For a team who could have nearly trademarked slow starts at the beginning of the season, to come out and play the way they did was worthy of celebration. And despite a less-than-flash third quarter, they still managed to limit Swinburne’s scoring and win the quarter, finishing it 4.1.25 to the Animalettes’ 3.8.26.
With a couple of injured girls on the sidelines and some of the men down providing support and holding down the fort off-field, the Animalettes held the fort on-field. After a not-so-great third quarter where the intensity dropped off and Swinburne scored a couple of easy goals, Emmaus St Leo’s women’s team came out of a tight huddle and into the fourth quarter ready to win and get the scoreboard reward that they’d sorely missed. The Animalettes played for each other all game, connecting on the field in ways they haven’t in a long time, and it showed, particularly in the fourth. Even when the ball came out of the forward 50, it was rocketed straight back in, the offensive pressure high.
The fourth quarter effort made Assistant Women’s Coach Brendan Ellwood incredibly proud, ‘being able to absorb pressure in the back 50 for a solid 8-10 minutes, and then immediately get a goal on the counter-attack was massive. It really boosted our spirits.’ It was definitely a quarter to remember for the Animalettes, keeping Swinburne scoreless just as they had in the second. Emmaus St Leo’s women’s team finished the game 5.10.40, the highest score of the round for Division 3 Women’s, to Swinburne’s 4.1.25.
Two 2019 debutants for Emmaus St Leo’s scored their first goals, making the fourth quarter a Sarah affair, with Sarah Morley and Sarah Dawson both kicking true, much to the delight of their teammates. For Dawson, who started at Emmaus St Leo’s as the women’s team manager, it’s probably safe to assume she didn’t picture herself donning the blue and blue and kicking the sealer in her second game of the year, but it’s doubtful she or anyone else could imagine her anywhere else.
Ellwood couldn’t speak more highly of Morley and the way she came in and made a real impact. ‘Ash was boosted by her sister’s presence and was dangerous for most of the game.’ The sisters’ positioning on both the wings for the whole game gave their team some real run from the halfback line, which allowed the movement up forward. ‘Sarah and Abbey in the midfield gave us a real drive and lots of momentum.’ He also lauded Maddy Hogan’s efforts in the ruck, also believing her to be close to having the most tackles for the game. ‘There were also encouraging signs from both the Harris girls with some real pressure and intent, and another goal for Shan.’
‘It was a great team effort and everyone played their role,’ Fenton says to sum up. ‘Brendan, myself and a very vocal Koopy [Geoff Koop, head of media] were very impressed with the way the girls played, we even had a 3 man hug when the final siren sounded.’ This pride was further emphasised by Ellwood, who was excited to see that ‘we also looked dangerous up forward for the first time in quite a while. Girls were finding space, finding handball and kick options, and getting good shots on goal. We set up well to keep the ball in the forward half, with lots of intercept marks.’ The fact that the Animalettes had five goalkickers for the day isn’t lost on him, citing it ‘an encouraging sign.’
For Emmaus St Leo’s as a club, Saturday’s showing was immense, given the Animalettes were their only team to play. It was a game that fully encompassed every ounce of Animals spirit and showed promising signs not only for the last few games of the season, but for the years to come. In the debrief after the game, Ellwood let his charges know that clubs and teams are built on wins like the one they’d just had, and he couldn’t be more right. To finally get the reward they’d so desperately deserved after the last couple of weeks sets the Animalettes in good stead for the rest of the season. This weekend, it’s a VAFA-wide bye for Representative Weekend, but the following week they face Prahran at Bennettswood Reserve for their final home game of the year. After their last showing, it’s set to be an incredible game.