THERE is a common thread developing across the AFLW, with five current or former Western Bulldogs players taking on captaincy roles this season.
Ellie Blackburn, an inaugural Dog, has been a captain of the club since 2019 and as vice-captain led the club to a premiership the season prior. She took the reins from Katie Brennan, who now leads Richmond and has done since joining the club in 2020.
Emma Kearney left the Bulldogs for North Melbourne in the first ever round of AFLW expansion ahead of the 2019 season, immediately stepping into the captaincy role and still holds the title today. Meg McDonald was an inaugural Bulldog and after a year out of the game, returned with Geelong in 2019 and took over the captaincy the following season.
And most recently, Bonnie Toogood has been named co-captain of a brand-new Essendon side after four seasons with the Bulldogs. Former Dogs vice-captain Brooke Lochland has also been announced in Sydney's leadership group for this coming season, with the club yet to officially confirm who has the top job.
So what is it about the Western Bulldogs that breeds leaders? According to Kearney and Toogood, Debbie Lee's presence has a lot to do with it.
"Having people like Debbie Lee leading the charge. Someone like her is the ultimate role model," Kearney told womens.afl.
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Lee, who has recently left the Bulldogs to take up a role as National Women and Girls Action Plan lead at the AFL, has helped to create an environment in which players have thrived and been able to develop as people.
"(The Bulldogs) have so many resources as well as a lot of support staff that are into leadership and things like that," Toogood said.
"I was someone that looked to better myself in that way and I have a lot of people like the likes of Debbie Lee to thank for that."
An emerging leaders program which aims to develop those skills in younger players is another key pathway to captaincy roles, as is the support provided by Blackburn and, in earlier seasons, Brennan.
"I've been a part of programs at the Bulldogs such as the emerging leaders, as well as Katie (Brennan), early on, and then Ellie (Blackburn). Being led by the likes of those two, you learn a lot and it's a really special club the Bulldogs," Toogood said.
"I just think the group of girls that they have is wonderful, and that kind of environment breeds I think, empowerment."