Broken foot, blood clots: New Roo's challenging journey back to AFLW

AFTER tasting professional football once before, Tahni Nestor is back on an AFLW list, but her resurgence has been challenging to say the least.

Despite playing three games as an injury top-up player for Carlton in the inaugural 2017 AFLW season, the creative defender was overlooked in subsequent drafts. And after two seasons in the VFLW, her dream of returning to the top level became blurred.

"I still always had the hope to make it, but towards the end of the year (2018) I was considering whether I should keep playing football," Nestor told womens.afl

Off the field, Nestor works as an emergency nurse. She studied paramedicine at university, but due to competing workloads has been unable to work as a paramedic.

"It was something that I was really tossing up; whether to pursue the AFLW dream or focus on my career and work," she said. 

"I was questioning where I wanted to place my priorities when 'Scotty' (AFLW North Melbourne coach Scott Gowans) rang and asked if I wanted to do a train-on with North Melbourne over the summer.

"I got quite excited about it and realised that I still had the passion for football."

Nestor resolved to stay at Arden Street in 2019 and play with North Melbourne's VFLW affiliate Melbourne University. But her resilience was tested yet again as injury struck in a practice match against Darebin.

"In the third quarter my foot went into the sand and a girl tackled me. I did a couple of fractures in my foot, strained the Lisfranc ligament and ended up in a boot," Nestor said.

"It was extremely frustrating because I felt like I needed to get out there and push myself, and that if I could just get a couple of games in at the end of the season then I still might be a chance for the draft."

Tahni Nestor putting in the hard yards at the Kangaroos' gym. Pictures: North Melbourne Football Club

Several setbacks with the injury, including deep vein thrombosis (blood clot) in her boot-bound leg, kept her sidelined.

"I was hoping to get back for the last game and qualify for finals, but it wasn't to be. After that I thought that it was potentially over for me," she said. 

And up until pick No.64 in October's 2019 NAB AFLW Draft, Nestor may have truly believed that.

Predictably, the hard worker was in the gym when her name was called out, trying to distract herself but unable to look away from the draft coverage on the screens above.

Behind the scenes, the North Melbourne selection panel – sweating on other clubs potentially pouncing on Nestor – had a brief moment of panic when West Coast selected the similarly named Tarnee Tester with pick No.56.

"I got a call from Matt (Kangaroos AFLW footy operations manager Matt Bolitho) and I was in shock actually. I was overwhelmed. It definitely made going through the year with the injury and coming out the other end absolutely worth it," Nestor said. 

Nestor was the only non-AFLW listed player to be voted into Melbourne University's 2019 leadership group; a decision which was made after her foot injury, highlighting her off-field qualities.

"It gave me motivation to know that I was still a valued member of the group despite not being out there," she said.

"With VFLW and AFLW girls coming together, it was important to provide a link between them and gel as a tight-knit unit before the season.

"There were quite a few girls that hadn't played much football before so it was good to be someone that they could talk to and provide support that way," she said.

On the field, Nestor's defensive craft is defined by sharp decision-making and neat ball use under pressure.

"I think it was helpful that I was a train-on over the summer so there was some exposure to the way that I play. And of the games that I did play at Carlton, Scotty (Gowans) was the backline coach so he'd seen a bit of me," she said.

The club's AFLW list manager Rhys Harwood praised Nestor's commitment when talking to Kangaroos Media following the NAB AFLW Draft.

"She's been a leader at Melbourne Uni and we can't wait to give her an opportunity, and think she thoroughly deserves it," he said.