SHOULDER surgery, a new role and an off-season spent in Australia have been the keys to success for Niamh Kelly.
The Adelaide winger eschewed an extended holiday back home in County Mayo, Ireland, over the footy break to focus on shoulder surgery and developing her craft.
Now in her fifth season of AFLW – and her second at the Crows after moving from West Coast – Kelly is in career-best form.
"It's so nice to be able to play this year and not be injured. I dislocated my shoulder in round four last year against Collingwood. I think I took three games out, strapped it up, and the physios and medical team were able to get me as fit as possible," Kelly told afl.com.au.
"I was very limited in how I could play, it would sublux (partially dislocate) quite a bit throughout the season. So you're very limited when you can't give it 100 per cent.
"I got surgery at the end of the season and obviously it's been really nice to be out in Australia in my off-season and put more work into my rehab, my skill execution and have all the coaches at hand to help me, push me and get me better as well.
"I went home for two or three weeks, just for a quick holiday, but normally I'd go home for the whole off-season and play a bit of Gaelic. So when I was injured, I thought I'd stay in Aus and work on areas of my game, get to know Adelaide a bit more and the girls as well, with the new team."
Kelly has also moved positions this year, seeing her average disposal more than double from 8.8 to comfortably a career-high of 19.7.
"I'm more on the wing this year, which is really nice, get out into space and use a little bit of my run that I hope I can bring to the team," Kelly said.
"Last year, I was more in the forward line, so it's been really nice to get out there, and play alongside the likes of 'Noffy', 'Hatchy', 'T' (Ebony Marinoff, Anne Hatchard and Teah Charlton) and all them inside, and try to play my role the best I can with my team.
"Each year, I’m learning more about the game. I was quite new for the first three seasons (has played 33 games in total), and then a new team last season, so I'm learning more and more. I've got the best people to be learning from, and everyday I'm learning something new.
"The likes of 'CJ' and 'Doc' (captain Chelsea Randall and coach Matthew Clarke), they're constantly giving me feedback, which is great. It's great to be in an environment where you can constantly improve and learn."
Such were the benefits Kelly received from a properly fixed shoulder and a full off-season in Australia, she won the Showdown Medal as best afield in the round one clash between Adelaide and Port Adelaide.
"It was great to play in the Showdown, because last year I missed out – so on a personal note, it was lovely to play," she said.
"Everyone played well that day, anyone could have got it, but it was a cherry on top to come away with the Showdown Medal. It was just so nice to be out there, injury-free, and it was an honour to get the medal."