LAST FRIDAY night saw Danielle Hardiman back where she belonged, on the football field.

Carlton's eight-point win over Collingwood in the season-opening clash of the NAB AFL Women's competition was the Blues' defender's first match since March last year.

Hardiman suffered a serious ankle injury in Carlton's round six loss to Fremantle and consequently missed the entire VFLW season with her side Cranbourne.

"I had a syndesmosis injury, which is to the ligament joining two bones together at the top of my ankle," Hardiman said.

"I had to have surgery where they put screws in to hold it in place. So, I was in plaster for two weeks and then on crutches and in a moon boot for three months. 

"After that I had another operation to remove the screws, so was in plaster for another few weeks."

It was a frustrating time for the active 23-year-old, who said she found it tough not being able to complete her usual gym routines for such a long period.

"I was lucky, in a way, that Nat Plane (Carlton teammate and fellow defender) had the same injury about a month before I did, so she helped me out a bit, sent me some messages of support along the way."

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Both Plane and Hardiman featured last Friday in a formidable Carlton defence, alongside Kate Gillespie-Jones, Brianna Davey and Gab Pound. 

Hardiman had 12 disposals, including eight intercept possessions, playing on the likes of Moana Hope and Sarah D'Arcy.

It was the culmination of a long road back for the defender, who only started running a few weeks before Carlton's pre-season started in November. 

"I was just concentrating on getting back for AFLW and wasn't worrying about playing [at state level], so having that in mind helped [in rehab]," she said

"The AFLW has meant we're all aware now that hard work really does pay off, and we can really make the big time.

"[Carlton ruck] Breann Moody was one who did especially well over winter; she worked really hard and won Cranbourne's best and fairest."

Off the field, Hardiman is working in sales for a plywood company, and progressing through an online personal training course. 

Having started playing footy with boys at Carrum Downs (in Melbourne's outer south-east), Hardiman then worked her way up the ranks with Cranbourne's youth girls' team, culminating with playing for Victoria's under-18 side when she was 16 as a forward.

While she's now much more comfortable at the other end of the ground, she has tipped a young forward as one to watch – teammate Georgia Gee.

"[She] has a lot to show. Once she gets her first goal, she'll definitely be causing some havoc," Hardiman said.

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