Women’s Footy – VFL: Melbourne Uni Coach Andrew Jago

The big screen at the Arden Street theatre freezes on a passage of play that has seen Melbourne Uni run the ball coast-to-coast to set up a shot on goal.


“Finally!” exclaims coach Andrew Jago to his assembled side. “We’ve outworked them. Forty-five seconds into the game, the four or five things we talked about we’ve executed.”


Jago is presenting a video review of Melbourne Uni’s elimination final victory over the Eastern Devils. During these presentations, the coach will reinforce his tactics, commend good play and identify areas of improvement. His players chime in with questions and observations; they are participants, not merely observers.


“Our motto is accept your role, know your role, play your role,” says Jago.


The elimination final victory surprised many as the Devils had dismantled Melbourne Uni three weeks prior to cost the Mugars the double chance. Jago says his charges “learnt a lot about their match-ups”, and even to a casual observer it was clear that Melbourne Uni had done their homework in counter-acting the Devils to earn a preliminary final berth against St Kilda at North Port Oval on Sunday September 11.


The week off in between is due to the Women’s AFL All-Stars match between Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs at VU Whitten Oval this Saturday.


The match represents a quandary for Jago: with nine players selected, the Mugars are highest represented of any VFL Women’s team… and therefore have a higher chance of ending the match with one of their best injured.


“It definitely shows we’re doing something right with development,” says Jago, finding the optimistic angle.


Development has been a major aspect of Andrew Jago’s coaching career. After four years at the Calder Cannons, the chance came to coach Melbourne Uni in 2015. Only catch? He had to choose between the two positions.


“The thing was, I could have so much more impact with a team over 12 months than the five weeks at Academy,” says Jago. “So to Melbourne Uni it was.”


The team now sitting in the theatre listening to their coach has the same core of senior players that Jago inherited. However, the group is increasingly bearing the mark of its coach’s tactics and hunches: in particular, two players Jago backed up to the hilt to make it in VFL.


“Jess Anderson,” says Jago of his 18-year old full forward. “Came down, had never played footy before. In. Her. Life. Third night at training she caught Kearney. I walked around and said, “She doesn’t leave this ground without her signature written down.”’


Fast forward five months and Anderson has kicked 28 goals to not only become her side’s central lead-up target but force opposition defenders to plan around her.


Even more surprising is utility Catherine Phillips, picked up in the AFL Talent Search from – wait for it – Ultimate Frisbee. Blessed with pace and fitness, there was still virtually no overlap between the two sports. Jago saw potential but had to convince an understandably hesitant Mugar match committee to place her in their senior squad list.


“I told them I would play a match with twenty-one if I had to,” he declared. “In her first few matches in reserves, she was double-handling and fumbling and I really had to back her.”


Phillips was selected for her debut in Round 15 against Seaford and surprised many by kicking two goals. In the five matches since, she hasn’t been out of the side. Her speed and game sense make her a difficult match-up. She kicked two goals in the elimination final to vindicate her coach’s faith.


Back at the theatre, Jago wraps up his presentation with a final instruction to his players.


“Do not lose that desire to work. Because we are a long, long way from a Grand Final and they are going to throw everything at us.”

About Callum O'Connor

Here's to feelin' good all the time.

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