By Nick Creely
Women’s football was once the great unknown – it’s now the great success story of 2017.
With all the hype that came with the AFLW and its inaugural season, there was also the birth of an elite pathway for talented young girls to develop their game – the TAC Cup Girls competition.
And the coach of the Dandenong Stingrays Girls’ team, Dee Longwill, said that the introduction of the pathway is another major stepping stone in Women’s Football in Victoria.
“It’s very important (the competition) – these girls are the benchmark to where the young talent will come from, it is our job to get the younger generation up to the standard of our elite programs,” she said.
“There needs to be a succession plan or the competition won’t last. It is about educating and increasing the awareness, the well-being of this young talent.
“We need to be working with the AFLW and VFL clubs to get the same message out.
“It is good to see what level they need to be at – how hard they need to work to get to the elite level.
“They not only need football skills, but the strength and conditioning, workload in fitness, nutrition, and recovery.
“The younger players have mentors and role models to look up to as a motivation to get them to the highest possible level.
“Definitely the standard will improve and it will become the benchmark for the younger generation but it will also provide the education and multiple pathways for women’s footy.”
It was a steady season for the Rays, who finished in a respectable sixth position with a 3-2 record, and impressed on numerous occasions against some of the stronger sides.
They enjoyed a strong win in their inaugural game over the Oakleigh Chargers by 24-points, before tasting victory twice more against Gippsland Power (72-points) and Greater Western Victoria (37-points).
Longwill said that it was an enjoyable year for all involved down at Dandenong, and said that it definitely exceeded expectations in terms of what they achieved.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better first season. I wish the season was longer as the girls were connecting as a team and in their line groups, our structures were improving each week and the team was jelling together.”
Some stars emerged out of the competition for the Rays, with several players involved in representative football, another major positive as they look to guide them into the elite competition.
“We had a number of success stories this season within the team with some players making the Under 16 and Under 18 Vic Country squads, players being involved in the AFL Academy, the interest from the community, sponsors, family and friends and with Bridie Kennedy winning joint Best and Fairest for the TAC Cup competition,” she said.
As for Longwill, she is just looking to continue her path in coaching the Stingrays to glory, and wherever it may lead is exciting.
“Being a part of the Stingrays and being involved in the TAC Cup Girls competition has been a fantastic development for my overall coaching experience and for the development of the players at an elite level,” she said.
“I am more determined to gain as much experience in the off-season to provide the next generation with the growth and knowledge that is required.
“Working with the assistant coaches, trainers and support staff was also a great experience, learning and bouncing ideas off each other.
“Currently I would like to continue gaining exposure and experience to my coaching and see where it takes me.
“Of course, if something came up I would definitely take up the challenge,” she said.
“I thank everyone involved in this transition into TAC Cup footy for believing in me so one day you never know?”