By Jono Venn.
2022 saw the Eastern Devils move from the South East Women’s Football League to their new home right here in the EFNL. It’s fair to say players, coaches and supporters won’t ever forget last year for a very long time, as they look to continue that success in 2023.
The Devils moved to the EFNL after back-to-back SEWFL flags in 2017 and 2018, finishing runners-up in 2019 and two COVID-interrupted years. Senior Coach Jason Cridland signed on in 2020 but, like many new (and returning) coaches raring to go and welcome a new decade, waited an unusually long time for a full footy season.
As the siren sounded on 2022 though, it was all worth it.
After a memorable season that saw both Devils sides compete on Grand Final Day for the first time in club history, Cridland felt a sense of relief.
“When you get to a grand final obviously you want to do well. The relief was for the players- they put in so much effort. After that, the next thing you feel is excitement,” he said while recounting last season’s conclusion.
The Eastern Devils Division 4 side, though, finished runner-up to Vermont by a margin of four points. Despite the ultimate loss, the reserves team showed plenty of improvement from the season prior.
Amongst a team that featured new faces and club legends, Kelsey Reade shone up forward kicking more than 21 goals, a newcomer to footy in Kerryl Sugumar had a super season finishing in the top three of the reserves best and fairest, while Jordan Rule earned senior promotion on many occasions across the year, including for the Premier A Grand Final.
On how the ‘twos’ can find that spark to continue that success, coach Cridland’s outlook is encouraging.
“The whole thing [about] my coaching philosophy is to improve players and for them to enjoy their football. I got so much joy out of watching the twos run around last year after having an ordinary season [in 2021]. To get back there, they just have to work hard.
“I think we won’t have an as-experienced side [like] last year, but we’ve got some new players who have come from some other sports who look like they’re going to be good footballers.”
He acknowledged the depth of the team, suggesting a few players might get an opportunity to jump in for a taste of senior footy.
“We’ve got seven or so VFLW listed players, so depending on their availability… two or three might come up and play regular [senior] football. Cass Stephens had a bit of a go last year in the ruck, she’s come back particularly fit, has really committed to her football this season.”
At Mulgrave Reserve, where the club shares home deck with fellow EFNL side, the Mulgrave Lions, renovations of the facility are all but complete and there’s a tangible excitement amongst the playing group as they get stuck into pre-season training.
“We’re training at a better intensity and [we’re better] skills wise than this time last year. Players who are new to the game have come in, trained really well and improved their skills.”
This year, the Devils will welcome back 2021 captain Elley Butcher, who took on off-field roles last season while pregnant. The 2018 premiership defender is a vital inclusion who will continue to bring her incredible leadership and experience to this team in their premiership defence.
Among many new faces to the team, they welcome Cassandra Meads from SFNL side Lyndale. She has also represented Cranbourne in the SEWFL, where she competed alongside Butcher and many other Devils stars like Chloe Hunt and 2022 skipper Sarah McNamara at representative level for the south-eastern league in 2019.
“Just because we had a successful year [in 2022, doesn’t mean it] translates [to] this season. You’ve gotta turn up and play well. That’s the challenge and I think the exciting thing about it is watching individuals improve from week-to-week and season-to-season. As a coach, that’s what you’re ultimately aiming for- to see players having fun and improving- the wins come on the back of that.”