Bradford continuing family legacy with Bears

Published on Monday, March 18, 2024

Author : Nicholas Sacco

Thomastown senior women’s co-captain Monica Bradford is proud to be carrying on her family’s legacy ahead of the club’s inaugural NFNL senior women’s season.

The Bears will field a side in the competition for the first time in the club’s history and are one of five teams who will make their maiden senior women’s appearance in 2024.

Bradford was one of Thomastown’s earliest recruits, coming across from Mernda where she played 40 senior games, including the Demons’ Division 3 grand final appearance in 2022.

The 24-year-old was a catalyst in getting the side up and running this year, with the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of brother and current player Anthony, as well as her Dad Sean (Thomastown premiership player) and Great Uncle Cecil (a founding member of the club), too good to pass up.

“When they first attempted to get a team up five years ago, I was going to go down, and it was something that they were really trying to get up, but they folded too quickly,” she said.

“I’ve always said to the President (Rob Mazniovski), if we can get a team up, I’ll play. It’s somewhere that all my family resides, they all love the club, I go there, and I feel like it’s a family club where I feel proud to wear the jumper.

“The club has such a good reputation, there’s such a great culture, so we just had to push through and get this team up. As a result, we’ve had netballers come down, we’ve had a lot of new girls come down that have all different skill levels, but they’ve all felt welcome.”

This senior women’s team will be the first all-female side in Thomastown’s history, and while the process to build the team over the off-season was a slow one, Bradford praised the support from both the committee and the senior men’s program which allowed her and her teammates to settle into the club.

“Obviously kicking off was quite difficult when you have two/three girls coming down on the first week, but they [the club] have been so adaptive to it [a senior women’s side],” she said.

“They made sure that we always had a ground available to us for the nights we train, which I know can be difficult… and then we did a lot of sessions with the boys as well.

“There’s been lots of encouragement with other teams to go and watch the players as much as possible, making sure all the senior men’s, reserves and Under 19’s coming to watch the women and we’ll try to make the effort to come down and watch the men’s games.

“I’ve been around a couple of clubs before, and nothing against any of the other clubs, but I feel like it’s [Thomastown] been very welcoming and very light-hearted.”

After holding leadership positions during her three years with Mernda, Bradford will co-captain Thomastown in their first senior women’s season alongside her former Demons teammate Shelby Nanscawen.

It’s a position she takes great pride in owning, saying she hopes she can be a strong leader for her side both on and off the field.

“I’m happy I’ve been given the role, because I’ve been in a team where we started right from the bottom, always pushing for numbers, playing with 17 in a game and understanding where girls come from in a footy sense,” she said.

“I haven’t played football all my life, I’ve been involved in it, but I only started playing five years ago, so I sort of understanding that when some girls come into a team, they don’t know what positions are and where to play.

“I want to be able to encourage girls to do more than what they think they can.”

With Thomastown likely to play many other clubs who are also commencing their senior women’s journey this year, Bradford didn’t want to place any personal or team expectations on her side, instead, putting the focus on constant improvement and commitment from players in 2024.

“I don’t have any expectations except for getting a team up and just embracing the club culture and playing for the jumper,” she said.

“I think, even if we lose every week, it’s sort of just learning from it and growing, and as long as we’re improving every week, I don’t care.

“The issue is if we get people not coming down and not excited to play and are declining every week, that’s where you see the red flags. But as long as the girls are enjoying it, and we’re improving, that’s all that matters.”

The co-captain added that there are long-term goals she wants to see the club’s senior women’s program achieve but says the prospect of these dreams turning into reality comes down to player retention and club culture.

“I think the culture of the club is what’s going to keep players coming down, and I think obviously starting from the bottom, we hope it’s only up from here,” she said.

“The main goal is to become a Division 1 club, like any other club, but I think now is a good time to start the foundation, because every single club is trying to start a women’s team now, and it’s not as easy as what people think.

“Now that we have it, I think it’s really important that we start focusing on recruiting every year and making sure that we’ve got the foundations right.”

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