The Redbacks training at Bundoora Oval. (Photo: Jose Gomez)
After an interrupted and cautious preseason as football returns to Victoria, the RMIT Women’s Football team has taken to the field for its first hit-out in almost two years.
The COVID shutdown has reduced the Redbacks to one team, playing in Division 2 of the Victorian Amateurs Football Association, after having two sides playing the 2019 season.
Senior coach, Chris O’Connor said the “significant turnover of the list” has been one of the biggest consequences of the coronavirus pandemic.
“It has been tough. We’ve only been around for a year, and we got two teams up for the first year which was great. We were really motoring for the second year  before COVID.”
Mr O’Connor said the university campus closures had also reduced the playing list with many players the previous year not playing in 2021.
He believes that of the 50 or so players in 2019, only about 12 remain, with a number of those departed players going on to play in the VFLW competition. This includes 2019 vice-captain Thomay Nicolaou, now at Essendon.
“We’ve been in a situation where a number of students we’ve had haven’t returned to campus, so we’ve spent the summer really trying to get the numbers up,” he said.
But 19 new players have started at the Redbacks in 2021, with most being new to football and having backgrounds in other sports.
A reduced list and a limited amount of experience after the pandemic wiped out the 2020 season. Mr O’Connor said the club had been focusing on making football fun, developing skills, and building relationships within the football club.
“We’ll learn about football, but the results on the field will look after themselves. It’s really about trying to build sustainability within the club, and that’s gone really well,” Mr O’Connor said while lauding the support of volunteers and continuing players in the football club.
Co-captains Lily Baker and Issy Symes have been at the club since 2019 and have been able to help new players without football experience settle into the Redbacks and transition successfully to the sport. Mr O’Connor said that the pair have been able to “manage expectations” of newer players.
“It’s been really important to have that core and the message, even if it is only a one-season message. It resonates with the players.”
With an irregular preseason due to fluid Coronavirus regulations, Mr O’Connor has been training the players to develop skills and match awareness.
“We’ve done more what I’d call preliminary game simulation in the last couple of months. We’ve been upfront with the players...the reality is that if we put too much emphasis on getting fit, it’ll cost us around basic skill work and game knowledge.”
“Each week we’ll learn something,” he said.
The Redbacks played Whitefriars OC in Round 1 at Bundoora Oval, losing 1.1 (7) to 4.14 (38). Amy Scott kicked the Redbacks’ goal, with the best players including Carly Notting, Symes and Sophia Molinaro-Lawrence. They had the bye in Round 2 and will play Preston at home in Bundoora tomorrow.