MEG McDONALD was one of the very last players signed to the Western Bulldogs' inaugural list in 2016 as an undrafted free agent and key forward.
Fast-forward four years, and the All-Australian key defender is now the captain of Geelong.
She was delisted at the conclusion of that 2017 season, spending a year honing her craft at VFLW club Darebin before re-joining the AFLW through the Cats in 2019.
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"I consider myself to be a very different player than who I was then," McDonald told womens.afl.
"I've played a lot of games since then and had a lot of learnings, but I look at that journey and think of the really significant people in my life who have guided me and developed my leadership.
"While I don't think my values have changed, my ability to perform and learn what it takes for me to contribute to this team and be a part of the competition – it won't be the same for everyone, but I hope that journey will hold me in good stead in trying to help my teammates."
McDonald will be supported by vice-captain Jordi Ivey, veterans Aasta O'Connor and Renee Garing and leadership group newbies Maddy Keryk and Nina Morrison.
She'll be following in the footsteps of inaugural club AFLW captain Melissa Hickey, who retired at the conclusion of the 2020 season. The pair also played together at Darebin Falcons before the introduction of the AFLW.
"She is Geelong. She epitomised the Geelong person and she helped us create a fantastic foundation as to who we are as a club, how we relate to and care for each other and performance our standards," McDonald said.
"To follow from her, but importantly to have learnt from her across more than just the past two years, I hope it stands the whole group in good stead. I've learnt so much from her and I hope to continue on the work she's begun."
Lockdown for McDonald was a tour of some of the city's most iconic grounds: runs around Princes Park and going for a kick with O'Connor at Victoria Park during her government-allowed one hour of exercise a day.
"I spend too much time with Aasta anyway," McDonald said with a laugh.
"It was very challenging, and when you're in it, you just want to get through, and that's just speaking broadly as a member of the population.
"Now, having things like footy come back into your life, you realise you were in survival mode for a fair bit of the time, and that's not to say it impacted me any more than other people.
"I was lucky enough to have full-time work, great people in my life and in my 5km (allowable radius from home), but it was a significant change to our lifestyle, and hopefully we're through it, because one hour a day was tough."
Geelong's 2021 season will begin the way its 2020 ended – against North Melbourne at GMHBA Stadium.
As the nation readied itself for a COVID-enforced shutdown, there was a surreal vibe around that game on Friday, March 13.
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In what was ultimately the last AFL/W match fans could attend in Victoria for the year, the Cats played some of their best-ever footy in the first half to shellshock the conference-leading Roos.
But it was a short-lived burst. The leg of much-loved young star Morrison was caught in a tackle at the start of the third term, re-rupturing her ACL, and the Roos put the foot on the accelerator, resulting in a 51-point turnaround.
"I think it'll feel weird when we start again against North down here. It'll be like [the year] never happened, but also with a lot of repercussions," McDonald said.
"It epitomised that period of time, that Friday. It was bizarre, and then continued to become more so. It's simultaneously been both the longest and the fastest year."
"Even looking at photographs from that first year, compared to this year, you can see the change and development.
"But at the same time, the passion remains, and it's exciting. The trajectory is fantastic as we move towards it becoming an elite sport, we're all for that and doing our bit to accelerate it."
What's next for the Cats?
"Establishing who we are, how we relate to each other and our values in the first two years is so important, but we're trying to create something greater than just the 2021 season and start to realise our identity and potential as part of this club and the competition.
"For the season itself, if we go about it the right way, then first thing first is getting our brand of footy and executing it for a full game. I don't think we've done that yet."