New Tiger itching to go after off-season surgery

SHE MAY be at her third club in four years, but Christina Bernardi's pre-season is different for another reason.

The Richmond recruit underwent right foot surgery to remove a bone spur after the conclusion to the 2019 AFLW season (where she kicked seven goals for Greater Western Sydney), and a subsequent stress fracture saw her miss the entire VFLW campaign.

She's now itching to get into running with the main group.

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"With rehab, I've had to spend a lot of time in the gym and been doing a few new things like Pilates and gymnastics to try and get strong," Bernardi told womens.afl.

"I only hit the track for the first time in a few drills [in the first week of December], and it was so exciting to be back on the ground with the girls.

"It's been really challenging in that respect. No one wants to be in rehab, that's been very different and I've been trying to do everything right until after the Christmas break, where I can ramp up a bit.

"It's frustrating that I have to hold back, particularly at a new club where I want to be out there on the track and help new girls out. I wasn't as happy with my season up at the Giants, so not really being able to develop and work on my skills during the off-season has been really hard."

The Tigers allowed Bernardi, a secondary school PE teacher, to develop off-field skills by observing the club's AFL coaching group in action, as well as help on the interchange bench in VFLW games.

"I got to sit in coaches' meetings, watch training, and be in team meetings pre-training, and pre-match meetings as well," she said.

"I was really, really lucky to get those opportunities, particularly in a year where we won the premiership. I'm very thankful for that."

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Bernardi started her AFLW career with Collingwood, playing two seasons and being named All Australian in 2018 after a breakout period.

She took up an offer to move north and play with the Giants, but has since returned to Victoria to the familiar territory of Punt Road, having previously played with the Tigers' VFLW side in 2018.

Up until the 2020 season, AFLW players could only sign one-year contracts, which allowed for greater movement during the expansion period. Bernardi has now signed a two-season deal with the Tigers.

"I was pretty nervous about playing for a third team and I didn't take the decision lightly. I don't want to go anywhere else now I'm back in Melbourne with friends and family," she said.

"I trusted a lot the people here and knew them quite well, so that's probably what got them over the line. I love the culture too, it's super."

The club's AFL side has been celebrated for embracing vulnerability and enjoyment in football in a marked change of mindset from the end of the 2016 season, where the team finished a disappointing 13th.

It has since won AFL flags in 2017 and 2019, and Bernardi said that sense of fun has permeated throughout all the Richmond sides.

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"You're pretty open to be yourself here. What cemented it for me was not long after I had signed, I sat at a sponsor's breakfast and 'Dimma' (AFL coach Damien Hardwick) and Tim Livingstone (co-GM of football) spoke about what had changed for them and how having fun playing footy is now a big focus.

"That's exactly what I want to be doing. Hearing them talk was a lightbulb moment of 'I've made the right choice to come here'.

"One of the club's core focuses is celebrating; it's through the VFL, it's through the AFL and it's through our program."

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