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Yarra Valley Water InFocus 2024 | Eastern Devils

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By Jono Venn.


After consecutive premierships at the top grade of Deakin University Women’s EFNL footy, the 2024 season sees new beginnings at the Eastern Devils with a changing of the guard.


The Devils snatched last year’s triumph from a strong SBL Wolves outfit, pipped at the post thanks in part to a Chloe Hunt goal (which, on indulgence, a certain commentator would recall word-for-word if you asked him) mid-way through the final term. For head coach Jason Cridland, his heart rate couldn’t have gone higher in the final minutes.


On the game (and the winning result) itself, Cridland expressed an immense pride in the playing group. “We knew SBL were going to be a formidable opponent… we knew it was going to be a challenge.


“To come back from that position (from being 22 points down at half time to three-point victors) I was just really proud of the playing group and the adrenaline rush was unbelievable,” Cridland said.


It’s his fourth season in charge of the Devs, and as you’ve probably read on this platform before, he has enjoyed helping get the most of his playing group.


“You’ve always gotta evolve,”


“One of the things I really enjoy is sitting down at the beginning of the season and going ‘okay, what do we need to do better, and how do we go about that?’ So, there’s always challenges and that’s exciting.”


2024 sees a change at the top with Rachael Baker taking the role of president, with 300+ gamer and Devils legend Brooke Fox stepping down.


“It is a changing of the guard, and it looks like Rachael might be returning as well (in a playing capacity), so it’s a huge key (in) for us”.


When speaking about the former president’s contribution, Cridland continued, “She’s done so much for the club over many years. Foxy’s still playing (this season) which is fantastic, so she’ll still be around. She’s been president three times- a women’s football icon.”


The Devils welcome East Ringwood premiership star Hayley Thompson to the fold, as well as Vermont’s Bec Munyard and Paige Price returning from Queensland- but coach Cridland hopes the latter will play for half the season, juggling commitments with the Darebin Falcons.


The club regains the services of Kaitlyn Carew, who adds the role of playing assistant coach to an already impressive CV in the black and white. Ellie Macdonald will play local footy this year, having had seasons with Port Melbourne and North Melbourne under her belt, adding that key experience to the team once again. 2022 Blue Ribbon Medalist Ash Allsopp will be available for the bulk of the season and cult hero Shelley Beggs will go again in 2024, having missed last year’s premiership decider.


“There’s such huge changeover in the list from year to year… as I said last year, the fact we’ve won the premiership the year before is actually irrelevant. We don’t get a head start. So it’s just about preparing yourself, having fun and seeing where the results take you.”


The changing of the guard follows on to the reserves level for the club after a season that ended in another Grand Final defeat at the hands of Kilsyth. The team will be led in the coaching ranks by Katherine McBride again, with former Rowville premiership coach Leanne Gill alongside her as co-coach of the Division 3 side.


Last year the likes of Rhiannon Hines, Ari Munyard and Simone Weragoda starred in their first season, and they’ll be back to bolster the team’s chances at securing a reserves premiership in their third season, and- a reserves team flag for the first time since 2013 (having two teams in the same competition.)


“We’re not expecting a huge influx of new players, but we’ll be looking at growth from those that played in the Div 3 Grand Final.”


As we spoke with two-time senior premiership coach prior to last season, his attitude- and with that perhaps the attitude those who stand alongside at a mentoring level- hasn’t changed this time around when it comes to identifying the potential of those players who can come up to play at the Premier grade.


“Last year I spoke about Cass Stephens, she’s super fit and cutting it up at training, I’m expecting Mel Murray to play. Ari Munyard, Sim Weragoda… We’ve got a few, but there’s others as well who I think have got the potential to play senior football this year.”


It has to be said that this year of all, since the advent of women’s footy out East, here in the league of our own we get to celebrate the players across the competition who have worked hard to earn a list spot in order to play at VFLW level. League-wide, although there are many incumbent VFLW superstars aligned to our clubs,  we can cast an eye to a team like Boronia where Rachel Slater and Ali Gottliebsen has signed on with VFLW teams after honing their craft at the local level.


But at the Devils, there’s a contingent that features the likes of Danika Di Santo (former Williamstown now Carlton), the aforementioned Price (Darebin Falcons) and Hunt amongst others, the latter of whom scored 2 goals in a round one debut to remember at Moorabbin for the Southern Saints.


“I knew of Chloe before I came down as coach… I think over the last two years… her ability to push up the ground and then work back inside the 50, she’s got elements to her game now that she didn’t have a couple of years ago. She is, in my opinion, the best key forward in the [EFNL]- and she showed it on Grand Final Day (last year).


“Part of the philosophy [at the Devils] is that you support players, and if they want to play at VFL, you want them to get to that level and assist them in that journey. I have no doubt [Hunt] will have a great VFLW year”, Cridland said.


Speaking further to the opportunities his players have at the Devils, he paid tribute to the club’s great culture.


“What I do know is, [new players] come into a club with a lot of really experienced footballers that are looking to invest time [in the playing group] , as well as coaches. The playing group is really inviting, I think it’s a great place to learn.”


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