While we didn’t get the Grand Final we’d all been hoping for, there’s no doubt season 2021 was a huge positive for the VFLW Bendigo Bank Cats.
We take a look back on the season that was, from records broken, to winning streaks, AFLW stars discovered and more.
The Winning Streak
The Cats had a strong start to the season, but after coming up against tough opponents sat on two wins and two losses after the opening month. From there, though, it was like the Cats found another gear, as they went on seven-game winning streak.
The streak started with a remarkable 34-point win over the Western Bulldogs, where the Cats kept the Dogs goalless for the entire match. The Cats won by an average of 34 points over those seven games, but there were a few nailbiters and two club record winning margins set.
The streak looked to be over against the Southern Saints in Round 11, before the Cats kicked four goals in the final six minutes to claim victory, but the winning run ended a week later against an impressive Carlton outfit.
Breaking Records Back-To-Back
The VFLW Cats recorded their biggest ever win (at the time) against Darebin in Round 8, winning 11.9 (75) to 1.5 (11).
First-year Cat Olivia Barber was best on ground, and finished the day with three goals, while Claudia Gunjaca and Georgie Rankin also put in strong performances.
It only took the team one week to break the record again, though, posting a whopping 15.9 (99) to 2.2 (14) win over the Western Bulldogs.
Georgia Clarke kicked four majors, while the coaches gave Annabel Johnson a perfect 10 votes in the best and fairest for her 20 possessions, 5 marks and 4 tackles.
The Almost Grand Final
Like it did for so many people this year, COVID threw a spanner in the works for the Cats heading into the 2021 rebel VFLW Grand Final, ultimately denying the Cats a chance to face off against Collingwood in the decider.
The season had already had a few delays due to lockdowns, and just days out from the Grand Final another lockdown was called.
The Cats, Pies and AFL held out hope they would still be able to hold the Grand Final at a later date, but the decision was ultimately made to cancel the game early in September, with no premiership awarded.
Gunjaca By A Whisker
It’s been a big year for Claudia Gunjaca. After winning AFL Sydney’s highest individual honour, the Mostyn Medal, in 2020, she headed back home to Victoria, and joined the Cats’ VFLW team.
The talented forward was a train-on partner for the AFLW Cats during their pre-season, and was named vice-captain of the VFLW team.
With skipper Michelle Fedele missing most of the second half of the season through injury, Gunjaca stepped up as acting captain.
Her brilliant skill and form were recognised when she was offered a spot on Geelong’s AFLW list, and capped last Friday when she was awarded the Cats’ VFLW best and fairest – claiming the honour by just two votes from Paige Sheppard.
We were all reminded of the value of the VFLW to aid players’ development across the season and at all clubs.
At Geelong, it was a breakthrough season for Georgia Clarke. The 21-year-old played three games for the Cats’ AFLW side, but took her game to the next level in the VFLW.
Clarke honed her skills as a key forward, kicking 19 goals for the season, including four in a best-on-ground performance in the semi-final against Collingwood, and a further three in the following week’s preliminary final, despite a battering game.
The Cats AFLW team will be bolstered thanks to the impressive state-league season, with three VFLW Cats earning spots on the club’s AFLW list.
As well as Gunjaca, Olivia Fuller was selected as a pre-draft recruit, while Annabel Johnson made her way onto the list via pick 15 at the draft.
Fuller put in a huge season in the ruck and was dominant in the Cats’ Round 14 and Qualifying Final matches against Collingwood, earning the maximum 10 votes in the best and fairest count from her coaches on both occasions.
2021 was Johnson’s first season in the VFLW, and her aptitude saw her quickly rise up the ranks to be one of the team’s more consistent performers. She finished third in the team’s best and fairest count.
From Germany To Geelong
Theresia Meissner brought an international influence to the VFLW Cats. Originally from Germany, Meissner learned her trade playing for the Hamburg Dockers, before coming to Australia to pursue her new dream of playing football at a higher level.
Meissner played all 17 games for the Cats, and was named in the best on seven occasions.
Bring on 2022
After VFLW football didn’t get off the ground in 2020 due to the pandemic, season 2021 proved to be a season of hope and excitement for the Cats.
Now, we say bring on season 2022 for both the VFLW and AFLW Cats as the group looks to capitalise on the momentum it built during the state-league season.
Geelong Cats VFLW 2021 Season At A Glance
Ladder position: 2nd
Win/Loss: 10 wins, four losses
Biggest win: 85 points (vs Western Bulldogs, Round 9 at Deakin University Sports Complex)
Best and Fairest Top 10:
1. Claudia Gunjaca – 72 votes
2. Paige Sheppard – 70 votes
3. Annabel Johnson – 37 votes
4. Becky Webster – 34 votes
5. Olivia Fuller – 32 votes
6. Darcy Moloney – 29 votes
7. Sophie Van De Heuvel – 23 votes
8. Maddy Keryk – 21 votes
9. Olivia Barber – 20 votes
10. Laura Gariner – 19 votes