‘Football, friendship and fun’: Renegades’ recipe for success
While a coveted premiership eludes them, the Brunswick Football Club women’s team are kicking goals in other ways
Noel Blencowe says CERES’ present day success was borne of innovation and hard work.
WHEN the captain of the Brunswick Renegades football team, Clare Woodhouse, led her team mates onto Gillon Oval on Saturday to open the 2023 season, she also celebrated a significant milestone.
Woodhouse, a tenacious rover, is the first Renegades player to reach 100 matches – proof that the women’s team is now well and truly established at Brunswick.
Further evidence of how the womens’ team’s development over the past decade has transformed Brunswick Football Club is that the club’s president, Kelly Dungate, is also a Renegades player.
While they are yet to win a premiership, the Renegades are leaders at Gillon in other ways, including celebrating the annual Pride round and launching a special guernsey for the Indigenous Round last year.
All past and present Renegades came together for a reunion in the clubrooms on Saturday, where there was pride in the achievement of Woodhouse to reach the 100 game milestone. Woodhouse has been at the Renegades since the start, having previously played for Box Hill and Melbourne University in a 264 game career.
Unfortunately for the Renegades, they couldn’t convert the milestone into a perfect start to the season as they ended the day with a 36 point loss to Old Yarra Cobras.
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Aged 39 now, Woodhouse was lured out of retirement to play for the Renegades in their inaugural season way back in 2014.
“I had been playing footy at Melbourne Uni for years and had effectively retired and stopped playing and a friend of mine said have you heard about this new club that has started, would you like to come down and play?” she said.
“I needed a more social club, something that was a bit less intense from what I was doing and something that was more about fun. I was getting injured a lot and was playing at the highest level at the time and had broken a lot of bones and needed to step it down a notch.
“I think the way the club is so social and and has embraced providing opportunities for anyone to play is what makes it special.
“I have seen so many people you would have thought would never pull on footy boots who have come down to the club and have a game.”
Club president Kelly Dungate concurs with Woodhouse that the Renegades are all about “football, friendship and fun”.
Dungate was a bystander on Saturday as she has been sidelined with a knee injury, but she was a member of the team alongside Woodhouse that took the field for the very first time back in May 2014 and has been there every step along the way ever since.
However, Dungate says it was a man, Jonathan Barlow, who was the driving force behind the establishment of the Renegades a decade ago.
“There used to be the Renegades [pub] football league that would play here [at Gillon Oval] on a Sunday and there was a lot of female players in there, and Jonathon thought it was kind of an untapped market, why wouldn’t we try to start a female team,” Dungate said.
“And that’s why we’re called the Renegades.”
Barlow was the team’s inaugural coach when the Renegades first appeared in Division 5 of the now-defunct Victorian Women’s Football League, before joining the Victorian Amateur Football Association after the VWFL was disbanded at the end of 2016.
The Renegades are not the only women’s team in Brunswick; both West Brunswick and North Brunswick football clubs have also begun fielding women’s teams in recent years.
The Renegade’s first official match was a forfeited win so the first time they took the field was at Gillon Oval on May 18, 2014, resulting in an 11-point win over Melbourne University.
“Excitement was at fever pitch as the girls ran out to riotous applause from the assembled junior and pub footballers who were in attendance as they got to see their new favourite team for the first time ever,” began the official match report from that day.
Photos of Renegades teams from their first season in 2014 (supplied).
Photos of Renegades teams from their first season in 2014. (supplied).
About a third of the team that day were, like Dungate, playing their first ever football match.
Growing up in Western Australia, Dungate, 44, was always an enthusiastic footy fan on the sidelines at her brother’s matches, but there were no opportunities for her to play the sport so she opted for athletics and netball instead. That changed with the establishment of the Renegades.
“A friend invited me down and said there’s a new Brunswick football club, I think you’ll really enjoy it and I went down and watched training, kicked a few balls with them and by the end of the training session I had been signed up for the game that weekend,” she said.
“We were in rented jumpers, our jumpers hadn’t arrived in time, it was all a bit pulled together but we had a really great bunch of players, a lot of players who had come from other teams with experience brought together with all these newbies like myself who had never played the game.”
The Renegades made it to the preliminary final that year, earning a promotion to Division 4. They went all the way to the Grand Final in 2015 when they were defeated by South Morang.
In the following years, they continued to climb up divisions, culminating in another Grand Final loss in the Premier C competition of the VAFA in 2019 against Yarra Old Grammarians, who happened to be their opponent again for last Saturday’s season opener.
This year, the Renegades have been promoted again to Premier B despite finishing sixth out of eight teams in 2022.
Senior coach Sasha Dougherty is in her first season in the role having hung up her boots after 52 games with the Renegades since 2017.
With eight first-timers on the list, her aspiration for 2023 is to build the foundations of a team that can challenge for the flag in a few years’ time.
“We have a lot of senior players who can teach them the basics of kicking and handballing and we try to live by the motto of keep asking questions and if something doesn’t make sense, just ask,” she said.
Up until the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Renegade’s trajectory was constantly upwards and although playing numbers have dropped off, Dungate is excited that within the next couple of seasons the first girls to have come up through Brunswick Dragons Junior Football Club will be old enough to play for the Renegades. There are about 80 girls in the junior program this year.
“When the AFLW started [in 2017], we just exploded,” said Dungate.
“There was one year I think we had to cap it at 90 players across two teams, and when you’re only fielding 22-24 across each team and you’ve got 90 players, it was a bit crazy, a lot of rotations and a lot of hard work for the coaches to deal with it. And we also had a lot of players waiting to join as well.
“Unfortunately, after COVID the reverse happened and everyone’s found different things to do. We struggled a little bit last year, we had a few times where our reserves could only field 12 and we got top up players from the opposition.
“We really rely on word of mouth and locals coming down to the club and I guess that’s what we’re really aiming for is to have that feeder group come through from the juniors, I guess that’s the only way to sustain a club.”
Woodhouse is also looking forward to juniors coming through the ranks to play with the Renegades. When she started playing football as a 14-year-old for Box Hill in 1988, there were only a handful of female teams in the whole of Victoria and she had to play with grown women.
The growth of the womens’ game over the past two decades has been “amazing”, she said.
Despite taking longer to recover from each match at her age, Woodhouse has no immediate plans to retire from the Renegades, and when she does she will probably continue her involvement as a coach.
“When I woke up on Sunday, I was ‘oh God, maybe I need to retire’, my body was so sore.
“At this stage of life, it’s not about winning a premiership but if I stop having fun and don’t love it any more, that’s when I will retire. But I’m still playing okay and enjoying myself at the moment so I have no plans to give it up.”
Kelly Dungate is the first woman to hold the title of Brunswick Football Club president on her own (a past president Kim Hennessey shared the role with Jarryd Browne).
After injuring an ACL in 2019, she has been stranded on 75 matches but has not ruled out making a comeback to strive for 100 games for her beloved Renegades.
Meanwhile, women’s footy is now an entrenched part of the Brunswick Football Club, which was formed in 1963 as North Old Boys Amateur Football Club.
Since the addition of junior boys in 2008, the Renegades in 2014, and junior girls in 2015, the club has grown to 19 teams across all age groups.
“[The men and women] were kind of like ships in the night at first, we kind of existed but there wasn’t a lot of integration but when we had our co-presidents Kim and Jarryd they kind of pushed the one club mantra.
“There’s still a bit of work to do but every season we get a little better at it. We have events together and things like that, and I think that’s what really cements the one club is doing everything together.”
The Renegades next home game at Gillon Oval is on April when they host Mazenod OC on April 29, and following that is the derby against North Brunswick on May 13.
The Renegades are always open to new players who are welcome to show up at training on training nights are Mondays and Wednesdays from 6.30pm to 8pm.
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