THERE were two players who stood out during the Grand Final of the 2016 under-18 championships: Isabel Huntington and Courtney Hodder.
Huntington bagged four in a quarter playing for Vic Metro, and five for the match.
She went on to be the No.1 selection in the NAB AFLW Draft the following year, and after shaking off a number of serious knee injuries, is now an All-Australian and NAB AFLW Rising Star winner.
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Hodder is a year younger than Huntington.
As Western Australia was obliterated by Metro in that Grand Final, losing by 95 points and failing to score, the diminutive Hodder – named player of the tournament before her 16th birthday – was tireless in the midfield, ducking, weaving and terrorising Victorians with her lightning speed across the MCG.
But by the time the 2018 draft rolled around, and Hodder was eligible for selection, she was sidelined by a badly broken leg, suffered in a Super W (rugby union) match playing for Western Australia.
Last Sunday, Hodder made her long-awaited return to footy, kicking two goals and laying six tackles against Richmond in her AFLW debut as a Brisbane rookie.
The three-time under-18 All-Australian is back playing the game at which she thrived in for so many years.
"It was a rocky road, being out for two years and slowly weening my way back into sports late last year before being picked up by the Lions," Hodder told Brisbane's podcast, The Roar Deal.
"As much as (the injury was) physically hard, it's also a big mental battle. The first couple of weeks, you're down, you don't want anyone talking to you, you don't know if you're ever going to come back to sport."
Hodder had three operations in the course of her rehabilitation, having suffered a broken tibia and fibula.
"There were big doubts. I was just lucky to have a good support network around me, family, friends, and able to share my emotions with them," she said.
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"If I kept it in, honestly, I don't think I'd be where I am today because if you hold on to stuff, you're never going to let go of the past.
"My boyfriend was a big support. He helped me get my mind off things. Without him it would have been much harder."
The first bout of surgery was delayed by a few days for an important reason: her 18th birthday.
"I'll give you some heavy painkillers, you just party hard, no drinking," Hodder recounted the surgeon saying.
She's still feeling her way back to her top form, after primarily playing rugby upon her return from her broken leg.
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"I'm definitely not where I left off. That's the thing about leaving on a high and coming back from an injury, you never know how you're going to perform," Hodder said.
"I have high expectations for myself. At the moment I don't think I'm quite there, but I can slowly see glimpses of the old self."
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