NARRM ruck Rhiannon Watt admits a few of her teammates were probably scratching their heads when the club recruited her last year as a 34-year-old with an ACL injury who had little prospect of playing during Season 7.
Delisted by St Kilda in June last year after 22 games as the club's foundation co-captain, Watt faced the prospect of finishing a long sporting career in circumstances she had never imagined as she worked through the early months of her rehab.
But given a chance by the Demons, she found a way to provide great service off-field during a premiership campaign and finally got her chance to contribute as a player in a 70-point win against West Coast on Sunday in the feel-good story of round seven.
"I don't really have words for what the Demons did for me. It was tough leaving the Saints and I loved them with my whole heart. But the way I left, it wasn't a fun moment for me," Watt told AFL.com.au on Sunday.
"To come into the Dees, they didn't know me from a bar of soap and I hadn't played with too many of them. To come in at the age I am and not even be able to play, a few of them were probably scratching their heads and saying, 'Todd (list manager Todd Patterson), what are you doing mate? She's no good'.
"So I had a really deep need to make sure I gave absolutely everything to the footy club, and it's amazing that even though I hadn't played a game up until today, the connection I feel with the girls and the coaching staff and everyone involved, it just feels like my home."
Watt's first season at Narrm saw her collect the Demon Spirit Award, which is given to the player that embodies the club's values wholeheartedly. She was then elevated into the leadership group ahead of this season.
"A lot of the team look up to her and are inspired by her … and today we got to see her impact as a footballer on-field," coach Mick Stinear said. "The group absolutely loves her and it was a big thrill for them to celebrate her today."
Having waited 595 days between her 24th and 25th games, Watt arrived to face the Eagles at Mineral Resources Park on Sunday and realised she no longer knew what to do for her pre-game preparation.
It didn't help that the temperature was expected to peak at a stifling 35 degrees and Watt was a "notorious cramper".
"It was quite a surreal feeling, I got here and I'd forgotten what my routine is, so I didn't even know what to do," Watt said.
"I just absolutely winged it, and I'm a notorious cramper, so to come here and have my first game in this heat, I feel like I had about 40 litres of water, so half of my prep time was spent on the toilet.
"Then with about four or five minutes to go, Mick said, 'Let's get Rhi on', and I thought I do want to be on for this final siren. If I had to go for a sprint I thought I might zing a bit, but I managed to get through."
Watt was able to contribute well in a 70-point win, supporting Georgia Campbell in the ruck and getting her hands dirty at ground level to finish with 12 disposals, 12 hitouts and four clearances in somewhat limited game time.
Celebrating her teammates' goals is the aspect of the game she enjoys the most, making Sunday's return a game to savour as the Demons piled on seven unanswered goals in a clinical second half against the struggling Eagles.
Watt took a moment after the game to address her teammates after a unique year-and-a-half at the club, sharing her gratitude both for the way they had welcomed her to the Demons and then celebrated her on Sunday.
"I think sometimes people underestimate the power they have and how good they can make someone feel, and today was just a really humbling experience and everyone was so kind to me and supportive," she said.
"When you come in for your first game back after such a long time out, you can get in your head. But there was none of that today and my whole goal was to come out and have fun.
"The girls made every second of it so enjoyable for me, so it took all that pressure away.
"I've got two goals. One is to see them lift the Premiership cup, and the other is to run out there and say I played for the Melbourne footy club. To tick that box today was an incredible feeling."
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