The 'weird' tactic helping new Tiger bounce back from disappointment

RICHMOND draftee Holly Whitford's story is one of determination.

She was passed over in the 2017 NAB AFLW Draft before being picked up as a rookie, playing five games for Collingwood over two seasons (including just one in 2019).

Whitford was subsequently delisted, but a strong VFLW season with Melbourne Uni saw the Tigers come knocking, selecting her with pick No.43.

The 20-year-old is a resolute figure both on and off the field. A small utility, Whitfield is a fierce tackler who didn't get a heap of the ball when playing with the Pies, but ran hard, with concentration and a small, focused frown etched upon her face.

Whitfield enjoyed Collingwood the club – the players, coaches and staff – but the seasons themselves were tough. She reached out to a psychologist, through the services provided by the AFLPA, for reassurance and support when she wasn't getting a game. 

"She helped me through, all I did was try my hardest, supported the girls as much as I could as a player, friend and teammate," Whitford told womens.afl.

"I got as much feedback as I could from the coaches, I tried my hardest and at the end of the day, it wasn't working. No bad blood (with Collingwood)."

Holly Whitford in action for the Magpies in AFLW last season

Whitford said while meditation didn't work for her, one "weird" tactic that did was using playdough.

"[The psychologist] said the fumes in playdough can sometimes relax you, so as embarrassing as it is, I play with playdough when I get stressed, constructing things or cutting it, and it relaxes me," Whitford said.

"Collingwood were really good about all that sort of stuff. They were really supportive, they know it's tough and this industry is brutal. I was trying little things like the playdough or Lego, just trying to reassure myself that I wouldn't be here if I wasn't good enough.

"I've been lucky enough to get a second chance, I'm going to throw everything I have at it.

"Not that I didn't last year, but it obviously wasn't meant to be.

"I've learnt from it, I know what it's like to feel like you're not getting picked every week, and I'm going to throw everything at it, because it's a shit feeling.

"But it's part of it, and you bounce back because you love the game, you love your teammates and your club, so it's worth it."

A consistent six months at VFLW club Melbourne Uni – under Whitfield's former Vic Country coach and current North Melbourne leader Scott Gowans – helped restore some confidence.

Holly Whitford playing for Vic Country at the AFLW under-18 championships in 2017

"It was really hard leaving Collingwood (and not playing VFLW), but looking back now, it was probably the best decision I'd made. It revitalised me, I felt more confident, I had a different group of people," Whitford said.

"When [Gowans] contacted me, I couldn't pass it up. I had a really good six months in the VFLW, felt more confident, I was starting to love the game again. I worked really closely with Scotty and all the line coaches, even the North AFLW girls were there and I was integrated with them. 

"I was getting more feedback from different kinds of people, different views on everything, about my footy and how I went about it.

"I was working on just getting my hands on the ball, decision-making, whether to go left or right. Pretty much just being confident when I had the ball, not freaking out, taking a breath before I kick and having the confidence that when I do that kick, I'm going to make it."

Whitford was at a friend's house on the day of the draft, pacing back and forth between a jigsaw puzzle and the television before her name was read out.

She's now hoping to take up a third opportunity to line up in a season-opener (against Carlton on February 7), having not been selected for Collingwood's round one matches in 2018 and 2019.

"It's a burning rage, but it's good. I am striving so hard to get that opening game, that's been my goal. This year, there's so much rage inside of me, but I need it."