Kate Shierlaw celebrates a goal during the preliminary final between North Melbourne and Adelaide at Ikon Park on November 26, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

IT'S BEEN a long and winding road, but at 34 years of age, Kate Shierlaw will be playing in her first AFLW Grand Final.

The North Melbourne key forward only picked up the game at 27 while working in London, having focused on the unusual combination of basketball and javelin while growing up in South Australia.

A year later she was on Carlton's inaugural list as a rookie, playing two seasons before she was delisted.

After spending 2019 out of the system, St Kilda pounced and added another four seasons to her career, including co-captaining the club in 2020 and 2021, before landing at North Melbourne for 2023.

"When I played my 50th (game, in round seven) I did a bit of, 'Well I've come around the harder way'," Shierlaw tells AFL.com.au.

"I was very lucky to get a chance in the first place. I had a lot of work I needed to do on my game to get better and I think each year, I've added things to my game.

Kate Shierlaw kicks a goal during the match between North Melbourne and Port Adelaide at Arden St Oval in round seven, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

"Coming to a new club has refreshed that as well, and being around some unbelievably talented players and hardworking players, it really fits the way I go about things.

"I just keep trying to get better. I know at my age, it's probably hard to keep improving, but I do think there are different things I can keep getting better at."

Shierlaw is well-known for her work ethic and drive to improve, with numerous coaches from her teams across the years commenting on her pre-season training and constant seeking of feedback.

"I want to win, that's the main thing. But I've come in really late, and I've got a lot of catching up to do," Shierlaw said.

"I think footy's really cool that there's so many things you can learn and still get better at, particularly having picked it up late.

"I love the game, I love vision and I just think being self-aware and knowing where you're at and what you need to get better at, and getting that guidance from the experts, is something I've really enjoyed.

"Half of me, when I look at the 18-year-olds now, thinks to be a key forward (at that age) would be so exciting. But on the other hand, I've crammed in quite a lot at the end of my playing days, so it's been good."

Shierlaw represented Australia in the 2008 junior world championships in javelin, but preferred the team environment basketball offered, making her eventual jump to footy a better fit than sticking with an individual sport.

Having alternated training nights last year with her partner Emma Kearney, a reunion at North Melbourne has been an added bonus to joining a premiership-contending side.

"When I used to go and watch Em, I knew a lot of the girls, and everyone was so friendly and welcoming. When I used to watch them play, in the back of my mind, I used to think, 'geez, I'd love to be a forward in this team'.

Kate Shierlaw (left) and Emma Kearney celebrate North Melbourne's win over Melbourne in the qualifying final at Ikon Park on November 12, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

"When the opportunity came up, it was at the stage of my career - and Em's as well - where it was a no-brainer to finish my career trying to win a premiership. It's a bit closer to home, too.

"It's been unreal. I just think it's really special to play with players who really want to get the best from the team. It's a really selfless forward line. We've got the midfield and defenders who have provided us with some really good ball and front-half footy."

North Melbourne and Brisbane last met in round four, a game the Lions won by just two points.

Tahlia Randall, Emma King and Kate Shierlaw during North Melbourne's official team photo day at Arden Street on July 18, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

"It feels like a long time ago we played them – they play a really tight one-on-one (defence), which is different to a lot of the other top teams that are around at the moment," Shierlaw said.

"It'll be another good challenge. They're really feisty, athletic and in your face. I think the way we've embraced that messy, chaotic footy over the past month or so should hold us in good stead against them. I'm really looking forward to the feistiness and the fight both teams will show.

"One hundred per cent we're a different team to the last time we played them. I think the last time, we were trying to play really pretty, nice footy, which we still can at times. But since the Adelaide game in round nine, I think we've embraced that really dirty, bit of mongrel style.

"The girls have really caught on to how effective it is, and it’s contagious."