New Cats AFL Women’s captain Meghan McDonald hopes 2021 will be the season Geelong shows the competition what it can truly achieve as a team.
The 29-year-old, who has become Geelong's second-ever AFLW captain, is hoping to carry on the legacy of inspirational inaugural captain Melissa Hickey as the Cats continue to establish themselves in the competition.
McDonald will be looking to lead by example and help her teammates get the best out of themselves.
“I think in the best captains I’ve played under, they’ve led with the example of their own football and performance and preparation, and that’s very important to me,” McDonald said.
“Hopefully I’ve been asked to help lead because those behaviours are what I’m already doing.
“Beyond that, I think I’ve had the breadth of football experience to try to help my team as individuals and as a collective realise how to get the most out of themselves. Really, we want the whole to be better than the sum of its parts.
“That’s what we’re still yet to realise; we’ve had some fantastic individual performances, but we’ve only seen glimpses of what I think we can achieve as a team, and hopefully that’s (to come) in 2021 and beyond.”
McDonald takes over the reins at an exciting point in the Cats Women’s team’s history.
With two AFLW seasons under their belt, she said the group is building for more than just the 2021 season, as they further establish themselves "as part of this club, this community and the competition".
Shared leadership will play a key role in helping the playing group continue to grow, McDonald said.
As returning leadership group members McDonald, Jordan Ivey, Aasta O’Connor and Renee Garing continue to build on their work from last season, they will be joined by two new faces in Maddy Keryk and Nina Morrison.
“They’ve both faced different challenges in their footy carers, so to emerge having faced those challenges – and (to be) still working through them for Nina – as people who have been able look beyond their own performance and begin to enable others, to set the example and to help lift the team as well, it’s a credit to them,” McDonald said.
“I’m really excited for how they can better help the leadership team reflect the broader demographic of the group. We’ve got a young list, so to have someone from that core of young people be in the leadership group and provide that extra access to that voice is critical to that shared leadership I’d like to see us go forward with.
“(Leadership) has to be shared, and each of the individual players (at the club), I’d like them to realise their agency in what we’re trying to create.
“As much as I and the leadership group can enable that, that’s the goal because that’s how we’ll go forward. Each of the voices in the leadership group I think brings something different.”
While pre-seasons are usually filled with optimism for clubs across the competition, McDonald said the continued improvement and advancements in the Cats’ squad were palpable heading into their third season.
After making it to the finals in their debut season, before a “crazy, crazy season” which was cut short by two rounds in 2020 – and ended up with no grand final or premier as COVID-19 struck – the Cats are priming to again be in the finals conversation in 2021.
“I think we’ve done a great job, particularly under Melissa’s leadership, in creating a connected group of players that values each other’s contributions,” McDonald said.
“Now, moving into the third season, we want that to translate on-field and take the next step.
“I think we’ve got a number of players who have individually taken that next step – we’ve seen evidence of it in the pre-season – but as a collective, I think that’s what we’re aspiring towards as well.
“I hope that the momentum that we’re gathering and that performance side of things on the track is palpable to the group. You hear teams say every year ‘we’ve got a great vibe’, but to bring not only the relationships piece but the performance piece, just to lay that in, is exciting and I think we can see it happening, and we’ll see if it translates (to strong performances in-season).”
McDonald, who was the Cats’ best and fairest and earned All-Australian selection in 2019, said she was honoured and excited to be named captain.
“I consider it very special to be part of this group of players, this program and this club, and then to be asked to help lead and to think I might reflect what I consider to be such a fantastic group of people, I’m very honoured by that,” she said.
The Cats’ 2021 AFLW season begins against North Melbourne at GMHBA Stadium on Sunday, January 31.