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AFLW: Star Bulldog revitalised after tough times

Kate Brennan with her VFL best and fairest award on Monday evening - AFLW
Kate Brennan with her VFL best and fairest award on Monday evening
I think my mental toughness and resilience have gone to another level
Katie Brennan

REFRESHED, resilient and ready for redemption.

Meet the new and improved Katie Brennan, better for the testing times this year that temporarily saw her fall out of love with football. 

Perhaps only Daisy Pearce was seen more than Brennan in the lead-up to the inaugural NAB AFL Women's season, but the Western Bulldogs captain's grand plans for AFLW domination quickly came crashing down. 

A right ankle injury suffered pre-season haunted Brennan's campaign, despite the athletic forward ditching her moonboot to run out in the Dogs' historic opener in February. 

She aggravated the problem in her next game and missed the rest of the season, including tearing her right quad muscle in the ill-fated rush to recover.

This was not your garden-variety rolled ankle, as the 24-year-old Darebin Falcon explained after winning the VFL Women's competition best and fairest award on Monday night.

"I tore the deltoid ligament, so it's your weight-bearing ligament on the medial side. It was pretty much a 12-week injury that we tried to turn around in about six weeks," Brennan said. 

"I was in a moonboot for a few (weeks) then pushed back out onto the track probably earlier than I should have – and that was just the nature of AFL Women's. I wanted to get back out there, and we were pretty aggressive with our approach." 

Injuries are par for the course in footy, but that disappointment, paired with being billed as one of the trailblazing competition's first wave of superstars, made it all the harder to deal with. 

Brennan, a Queenslander who relocated to Melbourne four years ago, failed to live up to her own expectations – never mind everyone else's – and felt helpless watching as the Bulldogs struggled on-field.

It was another personal challenge after enduring a two-year battle as a teenager with bulimia, a condition she attributed to being stressed about her mother's mental health issues.

"It was really hard. I feel like I'm a pretty resilient person, but it was one of the hardest times in my life," she said. 

"We all saw the ride of AFL Women's and how incredible it was. Going back and watching [the] documentary, Everyday Heroes, was a bit of an insight into how crazy it was and how intense it was.

"I had to ride that high and mostly the lows for us Bulldogs girls throughout the middle of the season from the sideline. You couldn't really impact, so that was probably the hardest part. 

"But you learn so much during those times, and I think my mental toughness and resilience have gone to another level, and my leadership as well. 

"When you can't be out on the ground, you have to find other ways to develop relationships with the girls and build the culture."

Brennan hurt the ankle again in the gym mid-VFL Women's season, but rattled home with 20 goals in the last three rounds to top the competition goalkicking with 18-year-old Chloe Molloy of Diamond Creek.

She now has her sights set on winning another flag with the Falcons, assuming they get past the St Kilda Sharks in Saturday's do-or-die preliminary final. 

"We looked at surgery (after the latest setback) and I decided to have a break," she said.

"[I] went to Vietnam for a little bit … then came back and it felt really good after getting a bit of sun and a bit of down time. 

"So it's nice to be back out on the track. This year was just about getting the love for the game back. It's just been a fantastic season with the girls."