Geelong recruit Lilly Pearce poses for a photo. Picture: Geelong Football Club

FOR MOST players, getting delisted is heartbreaking. But that wasn’t the case for Geelong ruck Lilly Pearce, who is at her second club and is yet to make her AFLW debut.

For Pearce, being axed by Richmond felt so good.

And now Pearce, and other less experienced players like her, are set to be the biggest beneficiaries of mid-week football in this year's NAB AFLW fixture.

The condensed nature of the draw – which will see teams play 11 games over a 10-week period, with four- and five-day breaks in play between weeks four and seven – means teams will have to rely on all 30 players more than ever before.

Management, rest and rotation will be key for clubs, particularly for players in specialised positions, veterans and those with fewer pre-seasons under their belt.

Pearce's position within the Cats' line-up has shifted in recent days after the retirement of fellow ruck Erin Hoare, while 33-year-old key forward Kate Darby can also provide ruck relief.

Geelong has until the end of pre-season to name a replacement for Hoare, and is likely to once again be scouring the country for a ruck.

But the fact remains that the younger players across the AFLW are set to be relied upon more heavily given the packed period of the fixture. 

Pearce herself was signed as a replacement player for Liv Fuller (work commitments), and is now undergoing her first full AFLW pre-season, having joined Richmond a month before the 2023 season.

"I feel so good about getting delisted. I know people don't say that, but I couldn't say anything bad about my time there. I grew so much, that I think you can't take that away," Pearce said.

"I didn't know I could develop into the player I've become in such a short period of time. I think it's been the most eye-opening experience, and I'm so grateful for my time there.

"I dream about this. I'm a massive 'journaller', I write every day. In my affirmations, I write about AFLW every single day. I'm so excited."

Pearce hails from the Gold Coast, having played for Southport in the QAFLW, and was a national heptathlete (100m hurdles, high jump, shot put, 200m, long jump, javelin, 800m) at under-18 level.

Matilda Dyke and Lilly Pearce compete in the ruck during Essendon's VFLW clash against Collingwood in round six, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

She was tempted to return home after her delisting from Richmond – having also had a few stints as a train-on player with Brisbane – but opted to stay in Melbourne, playing VFLW with Collingwood in a bid to reignite her career.

"After the season finished with Richmond, I think I wanted to chase the Gold Coast sun more than ever," Pearce said.

"But I looked at being in Melbourne as an investment into my future, and I was here to play footy, and I knew what I needed to do. I loved the Pies, and I was so grateful for my coaches and mentors there, really lucky to have that assistance.

"Without being cocky, I was thinking 'I am going to make this happen'. I knew what I had to do, and I was going to get there no matter what.

"I had a slow start to the (VFLW) season, but I think we're also our harshest critics. I think my coaches were happy with me and had a lot of confidence in me, so when Geelong reached out, it was super exciting. I came down for a meeting, and it lasted four and a half hours, it was super comfortable."

At 21, Pearce still has plenty of years of top-flight football ahead of her, and knows exactly where her improvement will come from.

"My exit interview with Richmond actually was really positive, they didn't give me any feedback, it was just keep doing what you're doing, you're doing really well," she said.

"I think my confidence is my worst attribute, and I think once I can build that up, [which] just comes with more touch and practice, then I don't think I'll know myself as a player, and I'll be able to attack the game more than I ever have."