MELBOURNE midfielder Liv Purcell is now a two-time All-Australian, and at 22, she's just getting started.
The Geelong product earned her first guernsey at 20, named at half-forward following her second AFLW season.
She ruptured her ACL in 2021, ruining her last season at the Cats, before making the switch to Melbourne at the end of last year, keen for a fresh start and eager to experience success after some tough seasons at the then-lowly Geelong.
"I don't really think about my knee at all, which is a positive. It's a big credit to the club and program, they've been awesome over the past year," Purcell told womens.afl.
"I think it also helped being able to return in the second half of last season, just being able to play footy with new teammates and getting to know your team and getting that connection. For me, my fitness and football probably wasn't where I wanted it to be at, but I was enjoying being back out there again.
"I was pretty happy to have another season this year, because the more footy the better. I feel like I've got myself in a good position to have a good crack at pre-season (in 2023) and really understand my role for the team and be able to execute that. I feel like I'm playing the footy I am because I'm enjoying it and I'm really relaxed."
Over the last few seasons, Melbourne has slowly but steadily turned over its entire starting midfield, from the early days of Daisy Pearce, Karen Paxman and Elise O'Dea to the current iteration of Purcell, Tyla Hanks and Eliza West, with Lily Mithen providing rotational support.
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The quartet is one of the shortest midfields in the competition, with Purcell at 161cm, Hanks 157cm, West 162cm and Mithen 159cm, while ruck Lauren Pearce's agility at ground level helps add some height.
Despite that, the Dees sit sixth for average clearances this season (24.4), and their run and ball movement off half-back helps cover for any clearance losses.
"The relationship in our midfield group has been really awesome, it's so fun to play with 'Hanksy' and 'Westy'. Sometimes we forget we are still pretty young, Hanksy and I are 22, Westy is in her second year of footy and only 24," she said.
"You don't really realise you're shorter than the other midfields than when you get out there. Even playing on the weekend, I didn't realise how much taller Jasmine Garner is (175cm) compared to a couple of us, or Adelaide with Anne Hatchard (175cm) and Ebony Marinoff (169cm), they're a bit taller and bigger in real life than you expect.
"It doesn't really bother us, I don't think, because we know if we keep playing to our strengths, we'll be okay. It gives us confidence, knowing it doesn't matter how big we are, we'll keep playing to our role and being aggressive will help us. It's funny, we do have a small trio, don't we?
"I think the biggest thing is how we play for each other, and knowing we can only beat other midfielders if we do it together, we can't just rely on one or two of us. That's been the biggest enjoyment out of our midfielders wanting to do it together and wanting to get the best out of each other."
Purcell temporarily relocated to the city for the season itself, having spent pre-season making the trek up the highway from Geelong, but is keen to get back home and to her beloved surfing.
But first, a Grand Final against Brisbane awaits, Purcell's second in as many seasons after being part of the losing effort against Adelaide in April.
The Lions consigned the Demons to their only loss in their 10-round home-and-away season in round four, played in typically windy conditions at Casey Fields.
Purcell credits the loss for a reset in the team's mindset, particularly when it comes to their full-ground defence.
"Brisbane – I think I've said this a few times – they've been a great team since day dot, as soon as they came into the competition. They continue to be a great team every season, and I think that helps the AFLW, having teams like that because you want to keep getting better and beat the best," she said.
"That game we played against them, they probably did get on top of us in that second half, and they've got incredible work-rate, really great forwards who are classy and can finish.
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"We really reviewed that game, and I think that helped us in the second half of the season in how we wanted to play for each other and we used it more as motivation and fuel.
"I'm looking forward to playing them again, and I think it'll be a really good battle. That's why you want to play in games like that, against the best, and we'll see how it goes on Sunday."
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