'I pinch myself': Dockers star still loving the journey

HOW DO YOU back up an All Australian year? 

If you're Fremantle's Gemma Houghton, you keep listening, keep learning and get excited for a new batch of Docker stars.

The 26-year-old's footy has developed alongside the AFLW competition: the first game she ever played saw her lining up in the ruck against Adelaide's Rhiannon Metcalfe in a 2017 practice match.

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The basketballer had been brought down to the club's talent ID day by Ebony Antonio, a schoolmate of Houghton's older brother Joel (who was on the Dockers' list himself in 2010 and 2011).

"I sometimes pinch myself. You look back, and you've been playing for four years since the AFLW was established, and it doesn't seem like that," Houghton told womens.afl.

Gemma Houghton enjoyed playing forward for the Dockers in 2019. Picture: AFL Photos

"Our season is shorter (than the AFL), going from November to April, but it's just gone so fast. Overall, the women's competition has grown massively. You don't believe it sometimes that it's been four years."

Houghton showed flashes in 2017, had a so-so 2018 campaign, before a move to the forward line last year reinvigorated the athletic tall.

Fremantle itself was also a different side, a free-flowing attacking team that made a preliminary final before crashing out to Carlton, a loss influenced in part by mounting injuries.

"One of the biggest things I've learnt since coming into Fremantle was watching the girls around me like Kiara Bowers, Ebony Antonio and Kara Antonio, and the way they go about their footy and their preparation," Houghton said.

Gemma Houghton (right) and Ebony Antonio. Picture: AFL Photos

"It motivates you and it helps you lift your game. The more matches I played, the more I understood the game a bit better and learning what my weaknesses and strengths were within the game.

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"We felt every game last year there was something about the group that was so united, and when we were playing, we were enjoying ourselves. I think that was a credit to all the hard work over the pre-season with (high performance manager) Kate Starre and people who did things behind closed doors.

"I liked playing in the forward line last year, it was a lot of fun and every goal that was kicked – no matter who it was – there was always that celebration which lifted the team."

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Fremantle has recorded a win over West Coast and a loss to reigning premiers Adelaide this pre-season, and Houghton is looking forward to lining up alongside dynamic youngsters Sabreena Duffy and Roxanne Roux against Geelong in round one.

"Roxanne Roux is so aerial and athletic in the forward line, and she adds that bit of x-factor, that unpredictability, you never know what she's going to do," Houghton said.

"They're so young as well, they're the girls who will be at the club for hopefully a long time and their skills just every year keep going up. I can't wait.

"With the current girls we have at the moment in our team, pushing for selection might be a bit shoulder-to-shoulder because there's just so many putting their hands up for round one.

"Personally, I want to have another good season, and with the way the girls are at the club at the moment, I think we'll all be having good seasons."