AFTER an awe-inspiring run of form that surprised many other teams throughout the 2019 VAFA women’s division 4 season, the AJAX Jackettes succumbed to minor premiers Glen Eira/Old Mckinnon 3.2 (20) to 6.8 (44) in the grand final played in gale force conditions at Mentone Oval last Sunday morning.
Co-captain Justine Gabriel told The AJN on Tuesday that given the dire situation the team faced at the start of the season, it was “an amazing experience” to have made the grand final – the first the club has featured in since 2015.
“We’re all very shocked at just how well we did in the end, but you know, we’re a very close knit group, and I think that translated into good results on the footy field,” Gabriel said.
“So while losing on Sunday was disappointing, it was against the best team in the competition, and we’ve shown we’ve got a lot to look forward to, and to build on, next season.”
Gabriel and fellow co-captain Daniella Abraham paid credit to their coach, Joe Nankin, for guiding the team from troubled waters to a sea of success in the space of five months.
“In the pre-season we had only eight to 10 players available, and Joe introduced new processes and a recruitment drive which brought our squad to 25 players, which I think is the biggest we’ve ever had,” Gabriel said.
Abraham added, “Joe really believed in us as a team, and then all the girls started believing too.”
Glen Eira jumped out of the blocks by scoring two early goals and dominating the midfield, and skipped away to a five-goal lead at half-time.
Coach Nankin pulled out a surprise during the half-time break, introducing a special coaching assistant – none other than former AFL premiership-winning coach Paul Roos – who delivered a rousing pep talk which had an instant effect.
Glen Eira failed to score a single goal in the third quarter due to the steely defence that AJAX has been renowned for all season returning with a vengeance.
And while the Jackettes could not score in the third quarter either, they scored three straight goals in the final quarter – two by Amy Sekler and one by the competition’s top goalscorer Maddy Smart – to set up an interesting finish.
Glen Eira managed to halt AJAX’s late surge, and score a goal for themselves at the death, to secure the trophy.
Abraham said, “To see Paul in our shed at half-time was a complete surprise to us, and quite incredible really.
“His talk with us was pretty epic, and full of great tactics which we were able to implement in the rest of the match, and it really helped us to get back into the game, and to actually win the last quarter.”
AJAX players named best on the field on grand final day were Lindi Nankin, Amy Sekler, Daniella Abraham, Jessica Marget, Hayley Mrocki and Hannah Mel.
Abraham said what the team has achieved “has been massive because for us, playing for AJAX means much more than just playing footy games”.
“I think a big factor in our success has been the huge support received from the AJAX community, including the senior men’s players, and anyone who had anything to do with the club, coming to cheer us on in our finals games.
“It’s been awesome.”