AN EMERGING era.
Following the completion of the 2023 AFLW regular season, Carlton showed their growth and development by having four young guns nominated for the 22under22 squad.
Mimi Hill, Keeley Sherar, Keeley Skepper and Mia Austin were the four players recognised for their impressive 2023 seasons in their respective areas.
In his first year at the Blues, Head of Development and midfield coach Tom Couch was bullish on the quartet, noting the players nominated have impressed him since day one.
“It’s really exciting to have four players nominated for that squad,” Couch said on Carlton Coaches' Corner.
“It’s no surprise. Even going back to the start of pre-season, they really bought into what ‘Bucky’ was implementing and from the whole high-performance team as well.
“Their application and dedication is first class, so it’s great for them to get that personal recognition.”
With three of the four players dedicated to the midfield, Couch had a front-row seat to their weekly development and growth areas, giving him an insight into how far he could push them in their game.
Sherar impressed many with her 2023 season, turning heads at opposition clubs with her tenacity and ferocity around the ball, with Couch lauding Sherar's commitment to her craft.
“Her pressure and her hunt at the footy is incredible – she finished [equal] fifth for most tackles in the competition,” he said.
“For someone of her physique to just hit in so hard, she’s fearless with the way she goes about it and gets a lot of the footy as well. She had some tough matchups this year, she had Monique Conti and played really well against her, so we’re super pumped with how her season has progressed.”
On second-year Blue Keeley Skepper, Couch lauded her ability to be able to rotate forward for extended periods of time, with her scope for further improvement arguably the greatest cause for excitement.
“Her upside is so big, she had a great season. One game that stands out was 23 disposals and three goals [against West Coast]: you’ve got to be a pretty special player to do that,” he said.
“[Her offensive stuff] doesn’t define her game, it’s her defensive stuff as well. Learning the running patterns required to get back, help the backline and repeat efforts and potentially getting more exposure playing inside.”
It was the first year as co-vice captain for Mimi Hill, who was probably thrown into the deep end in the absence of counterpart Jess Dal Pos as well as captain Kerryn Peterson.
As well as working on her on-field game, Hill had to focus on developing her leadership skills, especially when she was handed the role of captain the team, which Couch said she handled with aplomb.
“It’s great for ‘Mim’ to have that exposure of captaincy and also in the leadership group: progressing her leadership qualities this year which was great,” he said.
“We look so dangerous when she’s bursting out of the stoppage or getting that overlap handball, she’s very dangerous on the outside and she got tagged a couple of times this year, which is no surprise – we expect that to happen. She handles that really well and that’s in her growth dealing with that extra attention.”
Speaking of extra attention, Couch turned to Mia Austin, who suddenly had to deal with the pressure of being Carlton’s leading goalkicker in only her second season of AFLW.
Missing the majority of season seven following a serious injury after just two games, this year marked Austin's first full prowess, showing her prowess in front of goal and in the air.
Referencing her tenacity and her willingness to learn, Couch said it was no surprise that Austin fared as well as she did in a breakthrough campaign at the highest level.
“She’s a star and someone that just wants to get the best out of herself – that’s something I noticed the first week at the Club,” he said.
“She just wanted to listen, she’s very engaging in meetings, does all the extra touch and gets here almost before everyone else. For Mia to come off injury, win the goalkicking and really be the main forward at such a young age was an incredible achievement.”