Women’s football in the region began in a monumental way with a pre-season carnival pitting Shepparton and Bendigo sides against each other.
The Northern Country and Central Victorian women’s leagues combined to contest the carnival, with 11 teams taking part.
After being defeated in last year’s Northern Country league preliminary final, Shepparton showed it was in for the long haul this season after hoisting up the cup following the grand final.
The Bears met Echuca in the decider as both were clearly the top sides in their respective pools.
Sarah West snared the first goal of the game to put Shepparton in front, with Maddie McNeil and Jessie Barassi chiming in with the remaining two majors to put the margin beyond their opposition.
The Murray Bombers had their chances to win, but squandered opportunities as Shepparton prevailed 3.1 (19) to 1.4 (10).
With the Bears showing strong indications for the season, McNeil was a clear best-on-ground in the grand final.
Key forward Bree Davison said McNeil had lifted her game another level.
‘‘It’s really the ones that played well last year that have stepped up again this year,’’ Davison said.
‘‘Jacinta Turgoose, our ruck, was really dominating and has improved her fitness and kicking and Maddie McNeil and Emma Keady were good as always.’’
With the Northern Country league splitting in two after just one season, Bendigo-based clubs headed across to the Central league.
With two weeks before the first Northern Country league round, Davison said the Bears would not be overawed by the pre-season premiership.
‘‘We’re not going to get too far ahead of ourselves, we were there to have a bit of fun and concentrate on what ‘Boxer’ (coach John Wilson) has taught us over the last six months, so if we keep doing those things we’ll be competitive,’’ she said.
AFL Goulburn Murray’s Tegan Fairley and Sharon O’Dwyer were co-organisers of the pre-season carnival, with Fairley anticipating this Northern Country league season could have any side push deep in the finals.
‘‘It gives us an indication of what the season will look like and there was no standout winner that we can pick,’’ she said.
‘‘The Bears looked really competitive and we sort of anticipated they would be, but there were a few new teams like Rumba and Nathalia who were quite competitive too.’’
The Purples are only in their infancy as a women’s football club, but the input of AFLW player and Purples export Reni Hicks added some experience.
Hicks’ elite training made her a hard player to cover.
The Purples snared a win in their opening match at Rochester Recreation Reserve as they look to make an impact in their inaugural season.