AFLW Operations Manager Rachael Sporn admitted she was ‘rapt’ with how week one of the Port Adelaide women’s program unfolded.
Reflecting on the first week of training, it felt like a long time coming for the senior leader, who started her role in March, four months after Juliet Haslam was appointed the club’s head of AFLW.
The leadership team, including Sporn, Haslam, list manager Naomi Maidment and head coach Lauren Arnell, has achieved so much in such a short time – they’ve signed 23 players and enlisted six additional coaches, all while construction of the new ‘W’ facility has continued in the background.
In a fast-paced environment, it’s easy to always look forward to what’s next, but Sporn and her colleagues ensure they always take time to reflect.
After the first training on that Wednesday, Sporn, Haslam and Arnell took some time to gather in the player lounge, have a bite to eat and discuss the night that was.
“We reflected at the end of training and felt like we did everything we could and we were absolutely rapt with the outcome,” Sporn remembered.
“Sometimes when big events are happening, you have things going wrong behind the scenes that you hope no-one notices. In the case of the first night, that just didn’t happen. Everything went so well.
“We were committed to making it feel like a functioning, high-performance environment from day one.”
In a moment that gave Sporn goosebumps, she and Haslam were able to play a small, but memorable role in that first night.
“What was most special to Juliet and me was that we got to open the race doors for the team to run out onto the ground for the first time,” she said.
“That was a really emotional moment for both of us because we knew how much work went into that. We loved that Loz (Arnell) bestowed that honour on us.”
The way the players have come together and built chemistry has already been quite remarkable, especially considering many had never even met each other before.
“I think it's been pretty incredible how quickly they’ve gelled and felt comfortable with each other,” Sporn said.
“We've chatted a lot about connection already and we wanted our players to be really proactive about creating those connections with each other.
“Ange (Foley) has been amazing, organising player profiles and team dinners. Jacqui (Yorston) organised them all to go to the men’s game. Erin Phillips, Hannah Dunn and Gemma Houghton are natural leaders in this space as well. They’re all embracing it.
“It’s amazing to see because it's so unique to expansion teams, this dynamic. To see them all come together as a group so quickly has been really pleasing.”
On the field however, Sporn has been impressed to see just how tough and competitive the women are as footballers.
Once they’re in training mode, everything else just melts away.
“When they step over the white line, they’re athletes and they’re unapologetic about how tough and hard they go,” Sporn said.
“But when they walk off the field at the end of the night, they resume back to how they were before. I really enjoy seeing that – it’s clear there is respect all around.”
With the NAB AFLW Draft taking place on 29 June, the next step will be integrating the seven draftees into the side.
But Sporn isn’t worried. In fact, she feels quite the opposite.
“The coaching staff are so nurturing and will really support that transition,” Sporn said.
“I’m excited because I know the whole group will embrace (the draftees), take them under their wing and make them feel part of the family straight away.”