Suns' new vice-captain putting her Bess foot forward

NEW GOLD Coast vice-captain Bess Keaney has taken an untraditional road to football.

Now in her second year of AFLW at the age of 28, Keaney didn't start playing the game seriously until she was 25.

Originally a hockey player, Keaney picked up the game with VFLW side Melbourne Uni, before making the switch to the Southern Saints in 2019.

Everything was going smoothly until she broke her leg at training halfway through that year.

Gold Coast's Bess Keaney runs for the ball during round three, 2021. Picture: AFL Photos

Then came 2020, and in Victoria, that meant zero footy.

It looked like Keaney's AFLW dream was over, until the Suns – on the hunt for older players with strong leadership to help support their young team – came knocking.

Now, with just nine games under her belt, she will work with newly sole skipper Hannah Dunn (former co-captain Sam Virgo retired last year), with a leadership group of Jamie Stanton and Serene Watson.

"It is a big honour. I feel very privileged to have been voted in by the players and staff to hold this role. I'm really proud to be part of the group, let alone to be given the nod to take a leadership role within it," Keaney told womens.afl.

"I think we're a group with a lot of growth opportunity within us and so for me to be able to play a role in that and to have some of my leadership strengths recognised in that sense is really empowering in that sense, just to what we might be able to achieve.

Gold Coast's Bess Keaney at training in March 2021. Picture: AFL Photos

"I came in last year and was recruited as a very mature-aged prospect from the VFL. Last year my focus was more on putting my head down and trying to prove I belonged at the level.

"This year, my focus coming into this pre-season has been lifting my head up a bit further and seeing what role I can play to bring others along as well."

Keaney was a bright spot in an incredibly difficult winless season for the Suns, impressing with her composure and drive out of defence.

"It was probably a line which saw a fair bit of the footy last year (the backline), there's no question about that. For everyone, finding your feet at AFLW level, it's always going to be a step up," she said.

"While it was a bit of a baptism of fire, it wasn't my focus so much, it was 'how can I insert myself into the team and play a role?'.

"Really, that was where my head was at for most of the season, trying to establish myself at the level, and you grow game on game when you first enter the league, so I really hope this year I can have that behind me and just hopefully build a really consistent season with the rest of the girls."

The Southern Saints' Bess Keaney in action during round one, 2019. Picture: AFL Photos

While reluctant to individualise, Keaney nominated a handful of recruits for their strong performances so far this pre-season.

"We've got girls who were on the list last year who have taken it to another level for sure, but I'd probably want to call out some of the girls who have come in for their first year with us this year," she said.

"Someone like Claudia Whitfort has just really taken the bull by the horns this year with her training. Two other people who have a similar journey to me in Tara Bohanna and Alana Barba, I really think they've come in and taken their opportunity they've got and are just training the house down.

"Even some of our younger girls – we saw Daisy D'Arcy have a breakout year in her first season, but just stepping up in her leadership and taking that next level in her game has been really good too. There's growth across the board, which is really exciting."