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The weekend saw a triumphant return to AFLW after the COVID-19 pandemic saw the 2020 season tragically cut short in March last year.

After defying the challenges presented in 2020 and succeeding in securing a spot on AFLW teams’ lists, four former-SMJFL players donned their new colours for their AFLW debuts.

At RSEA Park on Friday 29 January, former-SMJFL player Alice Burke (East Brighton Vampires JFC, Brighton Beach JFC and St Bedes/Mentone AFC) played her first game as a Saint.

An already-exciting debut for Burke was made unique in that the Saints’ first game of the season was up against the Bulldogs – the team coached by her father, St Kilda legend Nathan Burke.

The young-gun was signed to the Saints under the father-daughter rule in October 2020, and she was one of six debutants in red, white and black.

 

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Above: Alice Burke and father Nathan Burke after the Saints’ win against the Bulldogs

The Saints defeated the Bulldogs by nine points in the exhilarating season-opener, which also saw Sarah Hartwig (St Peters JFC, St Bedes/Mentone AFC) debut on the Bulldogs’ back-line.

Former-SMJFL player and reigning AFLW Best & Fairest Izzy Huntington spoke highly of Hartwig in a post-match interview – with Hartwig affectionately nicknamed ‘Twiggy’.

“I had no doubts (the debutantes) were going to come in and just sort of seamlessly transition into the game,” Huntington told Western Bulldogs media.

“‘Twiggy’ and ‘Lynchy’ off the back-line as well gave us some great bursts, and they’re only going to get better from here as well which is exciting.”

 

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Above: Hartwig is presented her guernsey by teammate Izzy Huntington

Up North on the Gold Coast, East Malvern-alumni Eliza McNamara shone on ground with 18 touches, bringing tenacity and energy to the wing

McNamara delivered on the high expectations that were set after she made waves in pre-season for pipping All-Australian captain Karen Paxman in the club’s 2km time trial.

 

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Above: McNamara celebrates a first game and first win with fellow debutantes Megan Fitzsimon and Alyssa Bannan

Sunday evening also saw East Sandringham JFC and Brighton Beach JFC alumni Isabella Eddey captivate in North Melbourne’s 62-point triumph against Geelong.

The No.13 draft pick took her place on the forward-line in the clash against the Cats, and impressed as she banked a blood-rushing goal after collecting the ball from the edge of the goalsquare late in the second quarter.

Above: Eddey secures an exhilarating goal on the scoreboard with help from teammate Daria Bannister

Congratulations to all of our stars of tomorrow – we can’t wait to see what these promising young players achieve in the rounds to come.