Richmond’s Monique Conti and Sabrina Frederick. Picture Jay Town
Richmond’s Monique Conti and Sabrina Frederick. Picture Jay Town

Hear us roar: Tigers ready to make history

Monique Conti had joined the queues that flocked to Ikon Park, while Sabrina Frederick gathered around the telly with her then-teammates in Brisbane.

It was 2017, and the doors were locked on the opening night of the AFL Women's competition as league chief Gillon McLachlan tried to calm the throngs and apologise at the close of the gates.

Conti, then 17, had been training with the Blues and couldn't believe her eyes, while Frederick watched on in Lions training gear "in shock".

Neither could have forecast where they sit today.

And 1072 days after that night, the competition - and both of them, too - has done some growing up, and in numbers, with the duo to debut for one of its newest members at the very same venue on Friday night.

"I lined up, got in and got a seat," Conti recalls.

"I wasn't going to go - I was going to watch it on TV, but I thought 'I may as well'. I trained with Carlton for most of their pre-season so I thought I'd go and watch and see what all the fuss was about.

"People were going crazy - they were so passionate about it and just loved the idea that it was women's footy and it was all happening. It was really cool to be there in that environment.

"It made me want to play so bad."

Frederick, who described the match as "a moment in time that people will never forget", says this Friday night's blockbuster season-opener - the first time Richmond will feature in AFL Women's after earning a licence to join the competition this season alongside St Kilda, Gold Coast and West Coast - is "an honour".

"It will be a huge night," the forward said.

"And to have the privilege to be the opener when we haven't played a game yet, that's a huge honour and everyone does appreciate that.

"The fact that the boys get to do that same game (against Carlton) as an opener … everyone is excited to have that slot.

"Come the day, I'm sure everyone will be excited but definitely excited to take on the challenge, as well."

The first game of the first AFLW season drew a huge crowd. Picture: Wayne Ludbey
The first game of the first AFLW season drew a huge crowd. Picture: Wayne Ludbey

 

Both All-Australian players, Conti - a premiership player, best-and-fairest winner and WNBL star - and Frederick, a marquee player for Brisbane and Rising Star nominee, wrestled with their decision to leave their respective clubs at the end of last season.

Conti said she "couldn't have made a better decision", while Frederick - who has experience Grand Final heartbreak, twice - admits there had been questions.

"Honestly, you always think 'is the grass going to be greener?' when you make big decisions like that," she said.

"But I think I'm meant to be here. I feel really at home here - it's just meant to be. In a weird way, I never thought I'd be in Melbourne, playing football. I never would have even thought about it.

"But I think now, I couldn't play football anywhere else. It's so strange like that. But it is good."

At Tigerland, both say they feel "valued".

Chief executive officer Brendon Gale has pulled on his boots to assist in ruck training, and Frederick said one of coach Tom Hunter's greatest assets is his ability to relate to his players, many of whom are in an elite sporting environment for the first time.

"That goes a long way … especially to a group of women, but also a group of young women," she said.

"He gets it. He's a teacher by trade so he understands how to teach people. Knowing when is the right time to be serious or soft - whatever it may be - he gets that.

"I've done a little bit of coaching in my time, and I've noticed with women is we like to know the reason as to why we're doing things.

"One thing that I appreciate about our staff and our coaching team is they provide reasoning as to why we're doing it - not just telling us, 'This is what you have to do'. It's 'this is why we're doing it, because we want to get better at this', and we all jump on board and we buy in, because we're like, 'Yep, OK, this is why'.

"I think that's a massive thing in women's footy - we want to know why. We're not just going to do anything for the sake of it."

Richmond’s Sabrina Frederick and Monique Conti are pumped for Friday night. Picture: Jay Town
Richmond’s Sabrina Frederick and Monique Conti are pumped for Friday night. Picture: Jay Town

 

Conti grew up in Melbourne - as a Kangaroos supporter - but admits even she has been surprised by the power of the "Tiger Army" that has relished having a women's team to support.

"They don't just love the men, they love the club," she said.

"I was even in Puckle Street in Essendon and just walking and someone was like 'Go Tiges'. And I was like 'Go Tiges'."

Frederick - who also works at the club - is often approached on Swan Street coffee runs, and can only smile when she sees houses and shops painted the famous yellow and black.

They have been colours that have flooded the snaking streets of terrace homes in recent years with the men's team claiming two of the past three AFL premierships and taking the suburb along for the ride with it.

It doesn't bring pressure, Frederick says, but lofty standards simply come with the territory in 3121.

"We've had three teams in the club win a premiership this year (AFL, VFL and the wheelchair football team)," she said.

"It's obviously something we can't ignore - this club is really proud and they expect high things from the teams.

"I don't think that's too much to ask - you're here to compete, and ultimately you're here to compete for a premiership. And we want to be competitive. We're not here to make up the numbers.

"We have belief in the team and the talent we've got that we are going to try and do our very best. And if that means we end up being in the big dance, then that's great. But if it's not, then it's not.

"No one's made us feel like that yet (that there's pressure). It might come. But right now, the club's excited to have a team.

"Come Round 1, the conversations might change, but at the minute, everyone's excited. That's been nice. Everyone's proud we've got a team and we're out here doing our thing."


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