Murraylands Swans are building a club, not just a women's footy team

It has been a turbulent few years for Murray Bridge's women's football club, but its leaders say they're growing something special.

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“I don’t care if you go down by 25 goals, just give me a good effort.”

Those were coach Paul Knitschke’s instructions to his players as the Murraylands Swans prepared to take the field against the Barkeroos at Le Messurier Oval on Sunday.

They didn’t go down by 25 goals in the end.

The margin was 139 points.

Mount Barker kicked 20 goals and 20 behinds to the Swans’ 0.1.

In fairness, one team was undefeated on top of the ladder and the other winless at the bottom.

The Swans are also the only club in the nine-team competition without an affiliated men’s side.

In fact, in a year when Murray Bridge’s men’s football clubs – Imperials and Ramblers – are celebrating their 90th anniversaries, it remains an achievement that the women’s team was able to run out onto the oval at all.

A year ago the Swans were homeless, playing all their matches away.

The club came close to folding altogether, so soon after its foundation in 2018.

But they forged connections with the Rambler Football Club, Murray Bridge council and the local branch of Soroptimist International after a story about their plight featured in Murray Bridge News.

Now they’re not just building senior and junior teams, but a club and a culture, inclusive and family focused.

Shirley Hartman led a celebration of National Reconciliation Week prior to their game on Sunday.

The Swans and Barkeroos line up to observe National Reconciliation Week with Shirley Hartman. Photo: Murraylands Swans Women’s Football Club/Facebook.

Club president and player Courtney Gilbertson said the playing squad had come along in leaps and bounds even since the Hills Football League season started eight rounds ago.

“It’s incredible how much we’ve developed as a team,” she said.

Part of that was match practice, but part was the new approach the club has taken to training this year.

Before the main Thursday night training session, junior coach Tyrone Brown leads a half-hour skills session for women and girls who haven’t handled a footy much before.

“With men, you’re starting at (age) five – it’s a reflex for them,” Gilbertson said.

“These are skills we have to teach ourselves.

“But we’re all losing weight, we’re all getting fitter and happier, in ourselves and in our home lives.”

Another adjustment has been the introduction of yellow armbands for players who are still adjusting to the physical side of the game, indicating they might not want to tackle or be tackled.

Senior player Ashlee Sandercock said the whole goal was to encourage girls to play footy, not scare them off before they could build up the necessary skills and muscle groups.

The Swans will send some of their junior players to development sessions with Sturt this year, with hopes that one of their own might crack the big leagues one day, now that those big leagues exist.

Next week the Swans’ captains will run a workshop for young Auskick participants at Jervois – girls and boys.

But they still need more people to get involved with the club, as players and as volunteers.

There are ex-Murray Bridge footballers playing for women’s sides elsewhere – a few locals on the sidelines were cheering for the visiting Barkeroos on Sunday.

But the Swans’ focus was on growing from within the community, Gilbertson said, and welcoming newcomers with open arms.

“We’re a really good bunch of girls, and we’ll include you whether you’ve played footy before or not, whether it’s just fitness or you just want to get out and do something,” she said.

Even footy-loving dads with young daughters should come along, Sandercock said: “If you want them to have a good club when they’re older, come out”.

After a week’s break while the men go and play inter-league football, the Swans will travel to Hahndorf and Mount Lofty in the coming weeks, then take a bye.

Their next home game will be against Onkaparinga Valley at Le Messurier Oval at 1.30pm on Sunday, July 18, with a junior game as a curtain-raiser.

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