Injured Magpie 'forgot how to play footy'

IF PEOPLE weren't raving about Darcy Guttridge's leadership qualities, they were admiring how fearless the teenager from Traralgon in Victoria's east was.

Then came the moment that temporarily shook the Collingwood defender's world and taught her a lifelong lesson.

In typically daring style, Guttridge – a top-10 pick in the 2017 NAB AFL Women's Draft – had evaded one opponent and was attempting to do the same to a second when she was brought to ground in a bruising tackle.

Her howls of pain were a giveaway as to the seriousness of the injury she had suffered, which was later revealed to be a broken collarbone.

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The setback came in the dying stages of Collingwood's final pre-season match in late January, against Melbourne, and Guttridge subsequently missed the entire season.

The 19-year-old eventually made it back for round two of the VFLW campaign for the Casey Demons in mid-May, but a new problem developed in the early stage of her comeback.

"I forgot how to play footy in that short time I didn't play," Guttridge told AFL.com.au.

"I wasn't sure how to go about it, in terms of when to stay off contests, how to take contests and even when to tackle and take tackles.

"I was a bit stand-offish in the beginning … it was a weird psychological thing.

"You've definitely got to learn to take the contact again – and be willing to – and just know you're not going to get hurt, because what happened to me was a one-off."

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This was the first time Guttridge, who now lives in the south-east Melbourne suburb of Skye with her partner, required surgery for an injury, so it also made her take stock of the bigger picture.

Granted, football is a big priority in her life, but the incident taught her "not to put all my eggs in one basket".

Casey teammate Katherine Smith, who coached Guttridge when she was in the Victoria Country under-16 team, was pivotal in bringing the 'old' Guttridge back.

"She'd seen me play when I was comfortable and she said, 'Mate, we need to get you back to what you used to play like'," she said.

"She thought I played my best footy down back (Guttridge was being used in the midfield), so she just said to go there and see how I go.

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"I spoke to Casey's coaches and that helped me, in terms of what I needed to focus on going into games, but in the end the more you play, the more comfortable you feel."

Guttridge, the under-18 All Australian captain in 2017, baulked at the suggestion she could slot into the role injured NAB AFLW Rising Star winner Chloe Molloy played in defence in 2018.

She is also unsure whether the pressure is off her, given about 17 months will have passed since the Magpies drafted her ninth overall when she makes her AFLW debut next year.

"I think it does (lessen the expectation), but I'm also a second-year player technically and I haven't even played a game, so I've got that on me a bit," Guttridge said.

"I'm going to play my first game, but I'm probably not going to get treated as such."

Either way, Guttridge believes the difficult start to her AFLW career will prove to be "character-building".

"You sit on the sidelines and have to learn to enjoy the little things," she said.

"I was looking forward to playing in my first year, whereas now I'm just looking forward to being out there with the girls and having a kick of the footy and enjoying footy for what it is.

"I'm going into the competition now as a 19-year-old, with a full VFL season under my belt, so I'm more experienced in that sense, too."