COMPETITION for ruck spots has pushed Montana McKinnon out of Adelaide's team on a few occasions this year, but the young star is hitting the finals series in a rich vein of form.
The 22-year-old was named an emergency in three of 10 matches this year, with coach Matthew Clarke often at pains to say it was due to team structure (particularly in wet weather games), rather than form.
But McKinnon recorded a career-high 35 hitouts from just 69 per cent game time against West Coast on Saturday, including 15 disposals and two clearances.
"I think it's come with a bit of consistency. I went from the first half of the season in and out of the team, to getting a few games consistently, and it has really helped me get that confidence," McKinnon told AFL.com.au.
"'Doc' (Clarke) says, 'If you want to be part of a good team, selection is quite hard to crack into'.
"We've got a really good mix, there's myself and Jess (Allan) in the ruck, and then 'Gouldy' (Caitlin Gould) who is obviously playing really well up forward and can rotate through that ruck role as well.
"It's really good to push myself – if I wasn't competing for that spot, I wouldn't have worked as hard as what I have in the second half of the year."
Now in her fifth AFLW season, McKinnon was drafted as the top ruck prospect in the country in her 2019 draft class, playing 28 games in that period with the likes of the more senior Gould, Jess Foley and Rhi Metcalfe ahead of her at various points.
"Doc's been great. He's been our only ruck coach (as well as senior coach) since I started. But more recently, we’ve had [former Adelaide ruckman] Rhett Biglands coming in once every week or two and running a session with us ruck girls, doing some extra work with us which has been good.
"It's a different perspective – both have their own ruck drills and thoughts behind it, so it's really good to have that second opinion as well.
"For me, it's been my follow-up work. That's been a big one for me in the second half of the year that Doc has worked on – that follow-up after my ruck tap – that I'm definitely starting to see in games."
Adelaide will face Brisbane in Saturday's qualifying final at Norwood Oval for the 11th time in the club's AFLW history, with the Lions having a 7-3 winning record.
The Lions won their last encounter three weeks ago by three points, but had 17 scoring shots to nine.
"I think this Adelaide team is one of the youngest we've had, it's really good to see the young talent coming through. There's so many young girls on every line across the field. Coming into finals, it's exciting to see what this group can do," McKinnon said.
"It was a very close game. It's just going to come down to us playing four quarters of football. I think it was the second quarter that we dropped off in last game, so it'll just be about maintaining four really strong quarters against them.
"We know it's going to be a really high-pressure game from the first bounce. We're going to be training that this week and getting ready for it."