New Sun hopes to hit old heights after seven years away

IF THERE was some buried treasure to be found at this year's NAB AFLW Draft, Gold Coast might have hit the jackpot.

It wasn't that long ago this woman was rubbing shoulders with Katie Brennan, Kate Lutkins and Aasta O'Connor – and matching them kick for kick and medal for medal.

But after dominating in Queensland for five years, Jade Pregelj decided to give footy away and pursue a career, first in teaching and then the Army.

It took her away from the sport for seven years, but after reacquainting herself via the Australian Army team, the hunger came back and the Suns pounced. 

"I've had a nice hiatus, ticked some boxes and now why not be part of some history? I'm reinvigorated," Pregelj told womens.afl

Although conceding she is likely still a little way off her best, the 28-year-old has a high bar to return to.

She played for Queensland from 2007-2011, was part of five straight premierships with Logan City and won back-to-back best and fairests in the now defunct Brisbane Women's League. 

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Pregelj, who first played senior footy as a 15-year-old, formed a lethal ruck-midfield combination with O'Connor – "we tore it up for Logan" – and was a teammate of Brennan's. 

"We had a great dynasty, a great time," Pregelj said. 

"But priorities change, and we'd done it (won premierships). 

"With people moving on and new girls coming in, it was great, but hard teaching girls from square one again. 

"I tried to coach, manage and play before we got some more coaches, but the love went from it. I was just doing too much.

"I decided to leave footy. It wasn't because I didn't love it, just my priorities changed."

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After getting the teaching degree and using it for a year at Loganlea State High, Pregelj enrolled in the Army, headed to Sydney and worked with the Royal Australian Engineers as a lieutenant.

From Sydney, she went to Townsville in 2018, and in a remarkable twist, the small football world got her in touch with the fledgling Suns.

Fiona McLarty, head of women's football at Gold Coast, had coached Pregelj in a junior Queensland team and heard she was back playing.

She played three games in the Winter Series against Brisbane and was hooked.

"I'm quite competitive … I wanted to challenge myself to see if I could keep up with the big girls after all this time," Pregelj said.

"I think what I had was a 15-year-old was a lot of energy. Once my fitness is back, I'll be within reach of the Jade of old."

O'Connor was one of the first in touch after Pregelj was taken with the 86th pick in the draft.

"She sent me a message after and said, "Go easy on me when we play the Suns", Pregelj recalled.

"She was a big fan of my football and her priorities took her to Melbourne to play footy and mine didn't. It's going to be nice.

"I'd like to think I could still match those girls."