No hard feelings as Roo, Giant bond over Pilates, coffee and lunch

THERE had already been texts exchanged before their unlikely meeting in August this year.

Ash Riddell and Nicola Barr are AFLW footballers on another day – playing in different states – but on this one, as fate would have it, they unwittingly both enrolled in a Pilates course in Melbourne.

They hadn't set eyes upon each other since the Giant's ill-fated decision to bump an unsuspecting Riddell in their AFLW clash six months earlier, with the Sherrin roughly 40m away.

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GWS defender Nicola Barr has been suspended for one match for this bump on Ash Riddell from the Kangaroos

Barr subsequently copped a one-match ban – it was the first incident sent directly to the Tribunal – but it was worse for Riddell, who was playing just her second AFLW game after being overlooked in previous drafts.

The 23-year-old didn't play again for North Melbourne in the 2019 season, after requiring right ankle surgery from the somewhat freak accident.

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Barr apologised by text at the time but made a beeline for Riddell as soon as she realised she was across the room from her several months later.

"Nicola was really good," Riddell told womens.afl.

"She's super friendly and bubbly, so she came straight over to me as soon as she saw me and obviously apologised again.

"But it's absolutely fine (between us) and we actually went out for coffee afterwards. She bought me lunch, because I forgot my wallet, of course."

Anyone who knows or has come across Riddell knows she is similarly buoyant about life.

There was no 'woe is me' attitude after her ankle setback – and not even when she sustained ligament damage and dislocated her left shoulder in just her third game back in the VFLW.

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But the 159cm midfielder is human, admitting it was a "kick in the guts".

Riddell rebounded to finish fourth in the VFLW's best and fairest award despite playing only eight of a possible 13 games, illustrating how far she had come since no AFLW club wanted her.

Ash Riddell in action for Melbourne Uni in the VFLW this season. Picture: AFL Photos

The former osteopath-turned-teaching student found a silver lining from her ankle injury in February, saying her time off enabled her to develop her football craft.

"I come from a football background where it was sort of 'see ball, get ball', with no regard for anyone else around you," Riddell said.

"I knew I had to refine my game, whether it was blocking, sweeping, knowing when to go and when to not."

That process involved a lot of reviewing of her own play but also watching AFL, AFLW and VFLW matches to see how others in a similar role went about their business.

There was someone to learn from close to home, too – Kangaroos captain Emma Kearney, who Riddell took every chance to match up on at training.

"The knowledge she has in how to get past her opponents is second-to-none, so she's someone I always look at," she said.

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"I'll play on her at training if I get the opportunity, just to see what she'd do to me.

"We're both very competitive, so I think we like to challenge each other and I've got a lot to owe her."

Emma Kearney and Ash Riddell celebrate a goal in the opening round of the 2019 season. Picture: AFL Photos

For all Riddell's achievements to date, she is hyper-aware of her limited AFLW exposure and the need to prove herself all over again at the elite level.

"I've done OK at VFLW but I really haven't had the opportunity yet at AFLW and I'm just so excited and so eager to grasp that opportunity," she said.

"You get the excitement of playing round one (this year), then you're out for the rest of the season. I know how hard it is to get there and how you should appreciate each game you do get.

"I was so badly wanting to get back out there towards the end, but now I'm even more excited and driven for this coming season."

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