Premiership experience to drive Burra

Published on Friday, March 8, 2024

Author : Nicholas Sacco

St Mary’s senior women’s premiership forward Sarah Johnston believes the experience of playing in the last two Division 2 Grand Finals will be great preparation for Division 1 football in 2024.

The Burra claimed their first ever NFNL senior women’s premiership in last year’s Cleaning Melbourne Division 2 decider, when they defeated Heidelberg by 11 points in a competitive contest.

It came following a terrific home and away campaign for the club, having lost just one match for the entire season and not tasting defeat since Round 4.

After kicking 28 majors in the regular season, Johnston kicked the first goal on Grand Final day and was a key focal point for her side up forward.

Reflecting on the celebratory afternoon, Johnston was pleased that the work done by her side throughout the year was rewarded with silverware.

“I think last year everything just fell into place, the year before that obviously, we fell short against Eltham in the Grand Final, and then Heidelberg last year, I think they were our strongest team to play against, so there’s always a bit of tension between us,” she said.

“Overall, everything just worked out the way it felt like it should have worked out the year before.”

The victory came just over 12 months after that Grand Final loss to Eltham, where despite finishing on top of the ladder at the end of the home and away season, they fell to the Panthers twice during the finals series.

But Johnston believes that loss became the catalyst for the Burra to go one better last August.

“I think having that experience against Eltham and knowing what it’s like to play finals, it allows you to learn a new mindset because finals can be very daunting,” she said.

“When I played my first senior final, I was terrified. So, from the year prior with Eltham and just falling short, it actually worked in our favour. Obviously, no one wants to lose a Grand Final, but we just learnt from it and created a stable mindset for the following year and that’s what got us there [to the premiership].”

In 2022, Johnston claimed the competition’s leading goalkicker award after a brilliant 44-goal campaign, which included a two-month span where she kicked 37 majors in seven matches and had bags of six or more goals in a game on four occasions.

The two-time Team of the Year forward was then joined by Meg Girolami in 2023, where they became a dynamic duo inside 50 and combined to produce a 64-goal year between them.

Johnston praised Girolami’s talents, saying that the trust the two of them share helped play an important role in securing last year’ premiership for the club.

“Meg’s just a gun and I think she’s really just one of those players where you watch them and they just have a footy brain,” she said.

“She’s one of those girls that knows what she’s doing when the ball’s in her hand, she knows when I’m behind her or when she’s behind me.

“She played a couple of games for us in 2022 and just from those little games, I could tell she would be very helpful for us last year.

“I have a lot of trust in the entire team, but especially in the forward line, Meg’s always there, we just have very similar footy brains.”

Johnston and her St Mary’s teammates are now well into preparations for their next challenge as they are likely feature in the top flight in 2024.

It would be the club’s first appearance in an NFNL Division 1 competition of any kind, and while there’s some nerves surrounding the promotion, Johnston is confident the division is where the Burra are meant to be.

“Just making finals the past couple of years, that just solidifies in our team’s head that we are good enough and we can cop Division 1,” she said.

“I think there’s also a little bit of doubt about the move because we’ve been in Division 2 for the last two years, but I also think we’re ready, we have enough girls that are experienced and have played for a while.

“It’s where we belong, where we deserve to play and I’m excited to see how it all unfolds.”

And while striving for a third consecutive Grand Final appearance is the ultimate goal, Johnston is just hoping to prove to other sides in the top flight that the Burra can be a threat in 2024.

“There’s definitely an expectation of showing other teams that we deserve to be there [Division 1] as, because there’s always a case of when a team comes up from a lower division, other teams’ have their perceptions about that side,” she said.

“But I’m just keen to prove that we should be playing in Division 1 in 2024.”

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