Briana Cossar was a star for the Pigeons on the netball court but the Toni Wilson Medallist always longed to be out on the football field. While she never had the opportunity to play herself, Cossar has now turned her love of the game into a career, helping to encourage the next generation of budding female footballers pursue their dreams. The Border Mail's Georgia Smith spoke with Cossar about the rise of women's football and the sustained netball success of Yarrawonga.
Georgia Smith: Being Murray Bushrangers' talent manager, you must love football?
Briana Cossar: Yeah I've always been passionate about football and loved dragging Pa out on the farm, he taught me how to kick from an early age. I always wished girls had the opportunity to play football.
GS: I imagine it would be a fairly full-on job?
BC: It's a full-time job and there doesn't seem to be enough hours in the week with everything we do in our roles. It's great that we have variety, so no day is the same and you don't feel like you're going to work. I absolutely love what I do. The biggest enjoyment I get from the job is seeing the players develop, not only as footballers, but as mature young adults, and knowing that we've had an influence on their lives.
GS: Where did your interest in footy stem from?
BC: I think I have a keen interest in all sport but football was always a big part of our family. We couldn't wait for the season to start and I would watch as many games as I could each week. With netball only available for girls in the towns I grew up in when I was younger, I had no choice. I always played netball as part of a football club and would always go out and have a kick at the breaks with any of the netballers I could talk into having a kick.
GS: Did you ever get the opportunity to play football yourself?
BC: Unfortunately I missed out on playing by a couple of years, but I would've loved the opportunity that girls have now.
GS: Would AFLW have been a path you would have liked to have taken if it was available earlier?
BC: Absolutely. Female football was never given exposure at any level, so unless you knew someone that played or was involved, you didn't know that it existed or had the opportunity to play.
GS: It must be good to see so many girls coming through the Bushrangers' program?
BC: Female football has grown at a phenomenal rate and continues to do so each year. It's fantastic to see so many girls coming through our programs. The talent is evident at younger ages with the local leagues embracing its introduction and with regions now having female Auskick. The players coming into our elite program each year are more consistent with their basic skill sets, fundamentals, awareness, decision making and game sense, which is exciting for continued growth and longevity.
GS: So you're seeing more and more girls interested in picking up the football?
BC: The number of girls you see with footballs in their hands and going to local and AFLW games is fantastic.
GS: Do the Bushrangers have any standout players for next year?
BC: We've got a lot of really good players that have had a couple of years in our program who are now about to head into their draft season. I'm really excited about 2021 and 2022. We have some players that have another two or three years in our program who are putting their hand up for selection for the under-18 NAB League competition, which is really exciting for our club and female football as a whole.
GS: Who have been some of the most impressive footballers you've seen come through the program?
BC: Millie Brown who was drafted this year at number 11 to Geelong under the father-daughter rule impressed from the first time I saw her four years ago. The way she goes about her football on and off the field is exceptional. She's well balanced in everything she does, has an amazing disposition and as a footballer she ticks all of the boxes with her elite skills and leadership qualities.
If I had to make the choice, I would've chosen football over netball.Briana Cossar
GS: You're also a very good netballer, would you say you like netball or football more?
BC: No question. I started netball when I was eight but I'm passionate about football and would've done anything to be able to play when I was younger if I had have had the opportunity.
GS: You won a Toni Wilson Medal in 2003, how was that experience?
BC: We had lost the preliminary final to Myrtleford the day before and I wasn't even considering going to the Morris Medal vote count. Somehow Tracy Gillies talked me into going. I was in absolute shock when my name was read out as the Toni Wilson medallist. Being awarded an individual honour like that had never entered my mind and never for a second did I think that I was actually a contender. A premiership was all I ever really played for, to have team success.
GS: Do you remember much about that season?
BC: We had all had a great season and were devastated when we were defeated so easily in the preliminary final.
GS: Who would you say was the best teammate from those years?
BC: Tracy Gillies was not only the best teammate but she was a mentor to me on and off the court, as well as being an amazing friend. I think anyone that has been involved at Yarrawonga over the years would say the same thing.
GS: Who would you say was your toughest opponent in the Ovens and Murray league?
BC: I'd say Karly Way, her and I used to have some really good battles out on the court.
GS: You played most of your netball with Yarrawonga and became a premiership player at the club, what would you say are some of the highlights from your netball career?
BC: Yeah I played majority of my netball with Yarrawonga and also had a season playing State League netball in Melbourne when I was in year 12. I was juggling a part-time job as well at the time, so time management was crucial to be able to have balance in everything I did. Team success was the pinnacle. We came runners-up in the State League and the premierships at Yarrawonga were always a highlight. My most memorable was when we won the first A-grade premiership for Yarrawonga in 2001. We played Albury in the grand final who had had our measure all season. When Lauren Ferguson was sent off for a couple of centre passes in the final quarter we played with six players. We were down by two goals and fought back to have the scores level. The time keeper was up alongside the umpire as she awarded a penalty against my opponent Shannon Terlich right when the siren sounded and advanced play to the goal ring. I remember having the ball and made sure I handed it straight to Sandy Roberts who shot the goal after the siren to make us premiers. It was an unbelievable feeling. I was also awarded best on court after the match, but to celebrate the team's success with my teammates was the most rewarding. We'd worked so hard to retain our group of players and develop each year, so to finally win was such a sigh of relief. To play and coach alongside Tracy Gillies will be something that I will always be grateful for. The lifelong friendships you make along the way with players from other clubs is fantastic as well.
GS: You also coached Yarrawonga to a C-grade premiership with the likes of Bridget Cassar, Sarah Wollington, Kylie Leslie and Kaitlin Cummins playing in the side as juniors. It must be pleasing to know that you played a role in their development given all that they have gone on to achieve at the club since then?
BC: It's great to have played a role in the development of players in the C-grade premiership side that I coached. To go through the home and away season and finals undefeated was amazing to experience as a coach. To see them all transition into A-grade premiership players and play alongside them was great.
GS: If you were given the option do you think you would have chosen football over netball?
BC: If I had to make the choice, I would've chosen football over netball. What I love about our elite program is that we don't make girls choose, we give them the flexibility and encourage them to play other sports. We work with the players to make it possible for them to continue to participate in all sports as it only enhances their development and we find that players make that choice themselves.
GS: Why do you think Yarrawonga's netball grades have been able to stay so strong year after year for so long?
BC: Yarrawonga's been so strong over the years by having someone of Tracy Gillies calibre and character at the forefront of the club to nurture and develop players who have all wanted to stay under her guidance.
GS: Do you hope to continue to see the popularity and participation in women's football grow?
BC: The continued participation in female football is something that I'm really excited about seeing for the future at not only local club level, but NAB league and AFLW levels as well. With girls having opportunities like the boys do now from an early age at Auskick level, it will only get stronger. And as we've already identified, the talent at younger ages is only going to increase, so our job at the selection table will become more difficult each year, which is a good headache to have.