For lifelong Essendon supporter, Bonnie Toogood, the opportunity to pull on the guernsey of the club she had followed for 24 years was merely the cherry on top of an opportunity she couldn’t refuse.
Drafted by the Western Bulldogs with their second selection and eleventh overall in the 2017 Rookie Draft, Toogood played 37 games and kicked 19 goals in an impressive stint, which included a premiership in 2018, the Players’ Player Award in 2021 and the club’s leading goal-kicker in 2022.
Season six was arguably her best, averaging 3.5 marks, 3.7 score involvements and booting 10 goals.
With plenty of memories, leaving Whitten Oval – the place she called home for five years – wasn’t a decision she took lightly.
“It took a bit of time. A few things opened up and I had to actually make a decision and really weigh up my options,” Toogood explained to aflplayers.com.au.
A move wasn’t initially on Toogood’s mind, giving all her focus to the Dogs, but the fan in her did sit up and take notice when the Bombers were named among the final group of AFLW expansion sides.
“It’s so exciting for the fanbase to finally have a team to support in the AFLW,” she said.
“You hear so many stories of people that haven’t had a W team to follow, so they support other clubs just for the women. It’s an exciting moment, not just for myself as an Essendon fan, but the wider community of the football club.”
While playing for the Bombers is undoubtedly a dream come true, the lure of the red and black extended far beyond her childhood connection to the club.
“The aspect of me barracking for Essendon was just the cherry on top, it wasn’t a huge factor in my decision-making,” she said.
“Other things aligned for me and at the end of the day it was this gut feeling that I couldn’t resist. I backed myself in and took the opportunity that presented itself.”
What impressed Toogood most about the Bombers was the resourcing poured into the women’s program, and a head coach she knew was more than up to the task.
“They’ve taken a great step forward with the resources that they’ve put into the program to make sure that we can be as successful as possible from the get-go,” Toogood said.
“I also have a great relationship with (Essendon AFLW coach) Nat Wood, who coached at the Doggies.
“When I heard that she got the head coach role I was super excited for her and thought that she was really going to excel at the role.
“When the opportunity to be coached by her arose, it intrigued me because we’ve only really scratched the surface of what she can do with a football team.”
Toogood continues to be impressed the longer she spends at The Hangar, as she adjusts to pre-season preparations like she’s never experienced before.
“It’s been a fair bit of management for the staff, making sure everyone’s training loads are right, but we’ve managed.”
With the draft now complete and the club’s VFLW side concluding their premiership-winning campaign, focus shifts to the pending AFLW season.
Starting from the ground up, crafting club culture has been high on Toogood’s priority list.
“We’ve all come from different clubs before, either AFLW or VFLW, and we can set the standard of what our club culture means from the get-go,” she said.
“That probably factored into my decision-making as well – being the first group of women to represent the club at AFLW level.”
That responsibility isn’t lost on Toogood, who is honoured to be part of a club steeped in history.
“We got the opportunity to attend the 150th gala which was amazing to be a part of in the sense of understanding the club that we are now a part of and that rich history of success.
“We have to carry the legacy and the honour of the guernsey – that’s something that’s really important and something that Essendon speak about a lot as a club, the honour of putting on the sash.”
And while there’s plenty to learn from a club that’s been around for 150 years, there’s long been a piece of the puzzle that has been missing.
“We have things that the men’s program can learn from us and there are things we can learn from them – everyone is along for the journey.
“I think when a footy club has a women’s team it makes it whole.”