The eruption in the Southern Saints’ changerooms when Hannah Stuart and Deanna Jolliffe were drafted was massive, but it wasn’t as big as the smile on coach Dale Robinson’s face.
Between the thumping on the walls, cacophonous cheers and humorous chants of ‘Spewy!’ for the recently recruited Stuart, Robinson could only grin while capturing the moment on her phone as another two of her players saw their AFLW dreams realised.
While it was farewell in one sense for Stuart and Jolliffe from the Southern Saints, it was a warm welcome in another.
Absolutely 𝑩𝑨𝑵𝑨𝑵𝑨𝑺 🤯— St Kilda FCW (@stkildafcw) June 29, 2022
Nick Dal Santo swung by Southern Saints training to give Hannah Stuart and Deanna Jolliffe the big news...
The reaction: insane.#AFLWDraft | @WebcentralAU pic.twitter.com/mze1jXn6tE
Robinson won’t be far from the draftee pair at RSEA Park, having been elevated to St Kilda’s AFLW Assistant Coach – Midfield ahead of AFLW Season 7 after leading the Southern Saints to its maiden VFLW Grand Final berth earlier this year.
The newly appointed line coach served as an AFLW Development Coach in 2021/22 alongside her VFLW Head Coach duties.
“It was absolutely huge when that happened. When Dal (Nick Dal Santo) announced it on draft night… to see the reaction of the girls and group around them, it was just phenomenal. There are almost no words,” Robinson told saints.com.au.
“I was hopeful that we would get a couple across the line this year, but to have my captain and my vice-captain come to us at the Saints was something that I’m really, really proud of, not only as a coach, but also as someone that’s really been there and supported that journey.
That passion to make a difference and help even one player in the journey has been the driving force behind Robinson’s coaching career to-date.
All four Southern Saints who have been recruited to AFLW clubs – Stuart, Jolliffe, Lucy Burke and Tara Bohanna – all attest to how vital Robinson has been in making it to the elite level, in many cases over the span of several seasons.
Football has been part of Robinson’s life from virtually the moment she was born. The eldest of three children from Camperdown, the sports-mad youngster would always be the one to drag her two brothers out of the house for a kick.
More often than not when playing at school – even as far up to Year 10 – her PE Teacher would make her use her opposite foot, just to give the others a chance at getting a touch.
Robinson first discovered the Victorian Women’s Football League, the pre-cursor to AFLW, when she was 25 years old. Although playing state-league netball and basketball for several years, footy was always the sport which drew her back.
The future coach eventually hung up the boots after a Premiership for the VU Western Spurs in 2011, but still that lingering feeling of giving more to those coming through remained.
“Footy is one of those games where I get a lot from it, and it’s something that I want to give a lot back to as well,” Robinson said.
"To have the chance to be able to see the opportunities for players in their pathways now… to help guide that was something that really spoke to me."
Robinson spent time as an Assistant Coach at the Spurs under women’s football trailblazer and Australian Football Hall of Fame inductee Debbie Lee, plus developed umpires in the VWFL for multiple years before landing a role when St Kilda first started putting together its inaugural women’s side.
Despite the drive from the western suburbs to Seaford at the time, Robinson built up her repertoire and experience over the years with former AFLW coach Peta Searle before St Kilda’s landmark AFLW debut in 2020.
Robinson has been involved in the club’s women’s program since day one, eventually assuming the role of VFLW Senior Coach two seasons ago. Being spread across both the AFLW and VFLW programs, the importance of connection from both an individual and team perspective has further reinforced the backbone of her coaching philosophy.
Robinson will aim to bring that and more in her new role at St Kilda, joining Senior Coach Nick Dal Santo, Assistant Coach – Forwards and Football Strategy Lead Lachlan Harris and Assistant Coach – Backline Dave Carden for Season 7.
“The way that I coach, the biggest thing I value is communication and connection,” Robinson said.
“When you’ve got a group that just want to play for each other, you know you’ve got something right.
“Every week for the Southern Saints you could see they just got stronger because they wanted to play for each other: it wasn’t about them as individuals, it was about them as a group both for the girls that were playing and non-playing. When you get a connection like that it’s pretty hard to beat.”
To say Robinson’s past few months have been a whirlwind would be an understatement.
Two promotions in both her football and professional career, coupled with her VFLW commitments has presented its challenges, but Robinson’s passion for developing those around her hasn’t faltered. Thankfully, there is a six-week holiday on the cards come season’s end before the both the AFLW and VFLW sides get underway again in 2023.
True to what she’s implored to all those who have come under her wing, hard work does pay off.
“The last couple of years I’ve grown a lot as a coach and sometimes I think when you put your hand up to take up a head coach role, you’ve also got to be open to a lot of learning,” Robinson said.
“Not everything will work and it’s about being able to adjust to those things as you go. I felt ready when the opportunity came up to step up with the AFLW side, it was something that was the next natural step for me in terms of my coaching career.
"The workload of my job away from footy, finishing off a pretty hectic VFLW season and coming straight into AFLW hasn’t been without its challenges, but when I get here and I get around the girls, our coaching group and the whole squad, it’s exciting to be here.
“It gives me a new lease around my footy and the things that I’m learning, because this is another area for me of continued growth and a new challenge.
“I’m always teaching, but I’m always learning.”