St Mary’s women’s coach Troy Bickerton believes the club can build off a successful season following their first grand final appearance in the NFNL women’s competition.
The Burra had their most impressive campaign since joining the women’s arm of the league in 2018, finishing on top of the SG Print & Paper Division 2 women’s ladder before winning their way through to the grand final where they fell short to Eltham by 18 points.
Although they didn’t achieve the ultimate success, Bickerton told nfnl.org.au that his side’s efforts to reach the decider this year was outstanding.
“It’s a bit of a cliche but getting (to the Grand Final) is the main thing. Anything can happen on the day, we could play the same game again and win the next day,” Bickerton said.
“Making the grand final is a successful season, winning it is the cherry on top but I still regard our season as a complete success both on and off the field.”
St Mary’s boasted plenty of talent throughout the 2022 campaign. Former Division 2 MVP Elyssa Rees shined again in midfield along with Caitlin Kruezberger who had a breakout campaign, while forward Sarah Johnston was crucial in front of goal, kicking a competition high 44 majors. All three players were selected in the 2022 Team of the Year.
But one player who took the competition by storm was Jessica Hardy. In a mesmerising 2022 season, Hardy would claim both the competition’s best and fairest and Coaches MVP award. Along with a Team of the Year appearance, she would be named in her side’s best in 15 of a possible 16 matches on her way to winning the club’s best and fairest.
Bickerton praised the effect Hardy had on the side both on and off field and wasn’t surprised by the accolades she received for her efforts throughout the 2022 season.
“She’s the sort of player that doesn’t like the limelight and just wants to get the job done, so that’s the way we treated it,” he said.
“Yeah, it was an amazing year, but I certainly wasn’t surprised by all the awards coming her way. I knew that if she could get a full season in her that’s probably what would’ve happened.”
In a boost for the club, most of the playing group have signed on to remain at Whatmough Park in 2023 with some members of their junior program set to come in and add to the side.
This includes Meg Girolami who made three senior appearances with the Burra this year on her way to winning the YJFL Youth Girls best and fairest and being selected in the YJFL Youth Girls Team of the Year.
She will join her sister Georgia who made 15 appearances for the Burra and was a part of the 2022 grand final side.
Bickerton hopes to get as much out of her as she can while with the club as he believes it won’t be long before she moves up the ranks of women’s football.
“If we don’t lose her, we may get a year out of her and then I’m pretty confident she’ll be off to a higher level,” he said.
“But it would be good to get at least a year out of her so she can play alongside her sister.”
Ex-Northern Knights player Lana Picioane has also returned to her junior club after spending the past two seasons with neighbours Greensborough. She played all but one game for the Boro in 2022 and kicked nine majors to be their second highest goal kicker for the year.
Bickerton believes the signing of Picioane demonstrates that players who’ve moved along to other clubs are starting to slowly come back into the St Mary’s fold.
“Everyone’s drawing into the culture at St Mary’s now and all the girls that used to play there that went off to play at other clubs are looking around and going ‘hang on, I want to go back there’, which is awesome and good for us,”
Despite a strong campaign which saw them taste defeat just once in the home and away season after grading, Bickerton is hoping St Mary’s remain in Division 2 next season where he believes they’ll have a better chance of winning the club’s first women’s premiership.
“What I’ve seen in Division 1 is that the gap between the bottom and the top is huge. We’ve got some high-end talent but then we’ve got some who played their first season of football ever last year, so we’ve got a fair cross section of talent,” he said.
“I don’t know if we’re ready for Division 1, I think we need another crack in Division 2 and we’d love another crack at the flag.”