BENDIGO Thunder coach Cherie O'Neill says she is impressed with how her players have attacked the pre-season.
The Thunder hit the track for about four and a half weeks before Christmas, with second-year coach Cherie O'Neill reporting strong player numbers and high levels of enthusiasm.
"There was a lot of new faces and a lot of old ones coming back and we are averaging about 26 to 28 players on the track, which is pretty good compared with this time last year," she said.
"There's quite a few youth girls coming up (to seniors) - it's looking very promising.
"We're taking a little break now - the players have got programs to go with over Christmas and we'll be back into it at the end of January."
The disappointment of a grand final loss at the end of an otherwise flawless 2016 on-field season appears to have spurred the playing group to new heights.
With the Thunder's three AFL Women's League draftees and two free agent acquisitions absent from training with their new commitments, O'Neill said a new group of players, including Leah French, Elise Strachan and Jac Loutit, had stood up as leaders.
She said the appearance of several footballers from the BJFL Youth Girls competition had also breathed new energy into the playing group.
"I'm finding that the skill level these girls are entering at is a lot better than in previous years," O'Neill said.
"The way these girls have adapted speaks volumes for programs like the Youth Girls and the (Bendigo) Pioneers."
The Thunder will for the first time this season field a development team in a lower tier of the women's competition.
Like all Thunder officials and followers, O'Neill is counting down the days to the opening of the inaugural AFL Women's League season.
The season kicks-off on Friday, February 3, with Carlton and Collingwood to do battle at Olympic Park in Melbourne.
The clash will pit the Thunder's 2016 captain Emma Grant (Collingwood) against her Thunder buddies Bella Ayre, Sarah Last, Jess Kennedy and Hayley Trevean (Carlton).
"I'll be trying to get down to a few games and support the girts," O'Neill said.
"My kids are really keen to support the girls too.
"Hopefully Carlton v Collingwood is one of the ones we get too - it should be a great moment."