'Hardest thing I've ever done': Swans reflect on 'tough' debut season

PUTTING together a brand-new football program in just seven weeks is the "hardest thing" Sydney coach Scott Gowans has ever had to do.

The experienced Gowans had a successful stint at North Melbourne and senior assistant roles at Collingwood and Carlton behind him before he took on the Sydney job this year for their inaugural AFLW campaign.

But the developing landscape of women's footy in New South Wales was new to him, and the move of the season to start in August instead of January effectively caught Gowans on the hop as he looked to build a new program from scratch.

"I think it's the hardest thing I've ever done," Gowans told womens.afl after the Swans finished their debut season last on the ladder, winless and with a percentage of just 36.

Scott Gowans addresses Sydney's players during their match against Essendon in AFLW S7. Picture: AFL Photos

"You find yourselves supporting other people in the staff, which is good. But Kate (Mahony, head of women's footy) and I were sitting there when the email came in (about the season starting in August instead of January), and it was just Kate and I.

"Seven weeks later, we had 30 players and 35 staff, which is ridiculous.

"Some of that you're going to get wrong. We were really lucky in that we got most of it right. But we're honest about it, we just couldn't land the big fish in the timeframe.

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"As (CEO) Tom Harley says to me all the time, if we'd landed the big fish, would it have made much difference in the way you approached the season? Probably not.

"It's good now we have some processes and things around the place. We've got some stats (so) we know what we do well – and a lot of it we need to improve – but we know where we are. So we can land a big fish (for next season), and we don't have to just land the best player, we can be a little bit more strategic with it."

The lack of a breakthrough win in the club's debut campaign stings, but Gowans says the first season was just part one of a three-year plan.

"The season was tough, but productive," he said.

"I think we learnt a lot. We were determined to play everyone, which we did. In different positions as well - most players played multiple positions.

"The key thing with that was we wanted to learn who was ready to be (part of) almost a ‘second inaugural list’, if that makes sense, for the second year. Knowing the fact we kept throwing at the stumps and trying to get that top-end player, and we couldn't in the timeframe. But we thought year two, if we can do that and add that in, then we feel we'll be on our way.

"This year, it was almost like a free hit. Next year, the plan is to concentrate more on winning games and really coaching the girls to win, having set KPIs around that. Then we'll go into year three, that's when we see ourselves having a bit of success and pushing for finals."

Scott Gowans addresses Sydney's players during their match against North Melbourne in AFLW S7. Picture: AFL Photos

Given the club's inexperienced list and its rushed and unsteady start to the competition, Gowans and his coaching staff took a heavily segmented approach to matches, unable to rely on the natural motivation of winning week-to-week.

It's a process he hopes will pay off in the future.

"Motivation hasn't been an issue, to be honest, and it's not just something we say. We focus on our seven 'holy stats'," he said.

"The difference is (with an inexperienced team), if you only concentrate on the wins and losses, you're going to be disappointed even if you do hit those stats.

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"So I'm hoping that builds a foundation where we concentrate on process, and the results will take care of themselves in the future."

Eighteen of Sydney's active squad of 30 had not previously featured at AFLW level, and Gowans is confident they've uncovered some gems, while some senior players will thrive as standards lift around them.

"I think Lauren Szigeti was amazing, as was Paige Sheppard. Then you've got the young ones, Mon Ham and Sofia Hurley, Cynthia Hamilton's going to be a superstar," he said.

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"Some of the older ones, I think of Aleisha Newman … she just needed opportunities to play games. She's not going to be the best contested player in the competition, but she just gives you a bit of flair. When we get better, she'll shine further and get us some metres gained.

"Brooke Lochland's pretty similar, and Bec Privitelli – she's played as our key forward, and she's not (a key forward). She's a second or third (forward). So that'll be one of our targets, we want to get another forward in."