All-Australian, B&F, coach's pet? Cats star riding a wave of success

OPPOSITION clubs beware. Olivia Purcell is only going to get better in 2021.

Fresh off a breakout season, the All-Australian and reigning Geelong best and fairest has used the lockdown period to ready herself for another year of rapid improvement.

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A second-place finish in the Cats' 2019 best and fairest was followed by last year's top gong, built off a season where the gun midfielder averaged 20 disposals per game in all six Cats matches.

Now, combined with surfing, study and work placement, the 20-year-old has zeroed in on her fitness to allow her to further compete with other elite midfielders in the competition.

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"It (COVID shutdown) probably gave me an extra-long pre-season and now we're all back together and we're hungry and ready to go for the season ahead," Purcell told womens.afl.

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"I felt like I gave myself enough time to switch off footy and since then in isolation I kept working out and doing as much footy as I can with my dad or teammates."

Purcell's father Kane – a local football star in the Geelong region – put Purcell through rigorous running and skills sessions alongside Cats teammate Georgie Rankin before their pair returned to training in November.

And it's allowed Purcell to take a big jump after spending last year's preparations recovering from a shoulder operation.

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"Just reviewing from last season I'm focusing on the areas I want to improve on… getting stronger and having more power with my kicking and running," Purcell said.

"It's been awesome to have more hours on the track and I've been able to do more sessions that last year and building on that to be able to play against those girls in the midfield but also keeping my agility and leanness as well."

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Purcell, regarded by some teammates as Paul Hood's coach's pet due to her tenacious extra sessions on the training track, heads the wave of young Cats alongside former junior teammate Nina Morrison.

After two seasons in the competition, the inaugural Cat can sense a greater sense of ownership from the playing group as they look to build on their 2-4 finish last year.

"It feels like we do have a young core group of players and we all want to push each other together," Purcell said.

At just 20, Olivia Purcell has the AFLW world at her feet. Picture: Michael Willson, AFL Photos

"This year I feel it's been a big thing through our whole group that everyone's pushing the standards and that we all want to do it for each other.

"I think it's going to impact of how we're going to play together… that's the biggest thing I've noticed coming into this pre-season."

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Outside of football Purcell, who is one of five daughters, is finishing a Certificate IV in fitness and a diploma of sports development and shares a class with teammate Rocky Cranston.

But it's the surfing that truly allows her mind to switch off footy.

"My whole family surfs and a few of the girls (teammates) do as well so it's a bit of fun to do away from footy and study to switch off," the Barwon Heads local said.

"Just getting in the water is nice even if you're not getting a wave," says Olivia Purcell. Picture: Michael Willson, AFL Photos

"Just getting in the water is nice even if you're not getting a wave.

"During the year and in isolation I was getting out a fair bit but now that I guess footy's back and I mainly go on my off days so once or twice a week."

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"A few of the girls have moved down to Ocean Grove so they're not far from me, Georgie Rankin, Nina Morrison and Denby Taylor and I've been out with them a few times.

"Nearly half the team want to start surfing so we're trying to organise a few sessions in before the season starts."