WEST Coast vice-captain Dana Hooker is raring to get back on the field after a freak knife accident capped her 2021 season at just one game.
Well and truly back to full fitness after an operation to repair a lacerated tendon in her foot, Hooker has spent time training with the Eagles' WAFL men's side, which is also coached by AFLW leader Daniel Pratt.
"It was between rounds one and two last season. We had a snap lockdown in Perth, so were quarantining at home, and I was making lunch for my daughter (Alice) and reaching across the bench for a bag of buns to make her a second hotdog she'd asked for," Hooker told womens.afl.
"I knocked a knife which was on the bench and it fell off and hit my foot. Severed the main tendon to my big toe, essentially.
"I looked down and could see the skin was gaping, and could see white, so I thought it wasn't particularly good. I wasn't in a huge amount of pain, I was probably still more in shock at that stage."
Hooker called the club doctor, who got her to come straight into his clinic, and then she was off to a surgeon for a consultation.
While the 30-year-old had hoped the tendon damage was minor and she'd be able to return during the season, surgery revealed a complete tear, with the ends already sitting a centimetre apart from each other.
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Hooker had seven weeks in a moonboot and returned to running on the weight-bearing Alter-G treadmill at three months. Her main focus switched to rebuilding muscle in her calf, and started training with the WAFL side in May.
"Our head doctor and physio also work with the WAFL team, so it was good continuity for me to work with them," Hooker said.
"I don't really notice it at all when I'm out there. Everything's been smooth sailing and I haven't had any mishaps or setbacks in any way. I've been able to do a few months of training now, and I'm looking forward to pre-season starting.
"They were really welcoming, and I already had a good relationship with some of them from being around the club, Hamish Brayshaw who was in the AFL side is captain of the team.
"The boys train with a men's footy, so it's a size bigger, which was what I was used to before AFLW, so that was good. Their speed of ball movement and how far they can kick it is that bit bigger, so it tests you in different ways. Their pace is a fraction faster, so at training, the drills move faster, and the skill execution is really good as well, so I got a lot out of it."
COVID regulations and capacity around match-day meant Hooker was unable to have a role on the bench, despite coming in contact with the players during the week.
"We had the Derby the day after my surgery, and the club had put on a function for the non-playing players, as it was a closed game. I was still fresh out of hospital and on a lot of good pain medication, so I was quite emotional and sad I couldn't be out there helping," she said.
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"The more games I watched, it got easier, but being around the club at training, you just try and do what you usually do as a leader of the club, bringing the same contributions to meetings and trying to help the girls and have quiet conversations with them.
"It certainly wasn't easy, particularly in the first few weeks. I was upset I couldn't play, and I kept it very internal, I didn't want it to be seen by the girls, but it was hard. The very first home game we got to watch at MRP (Mineral Resources Park), I got a bit teary up on the balcony as the girls ran out, because what I was missing out on was right in front of me."
The Eagles won two games in 2021, doubling their tally from their first season, and settled into life under new coach Pratt.
"We only got our new coach pretty much in the week of pre-season, so there was a lot of changing around staffing between 2020 and 2021," Hooker said.
"'Pratty' came in and he implemented his new game plan, which was really good for the girls, but like any team, it takes a while to fully understand what the expectations are. You can only add so many layers in a small period of time.
"I thought the season as a whole was good in terms of getting a couple of wins on the board and building from 2020. We were hard-done by in the injury department with our more experienced players, but it gave more of an opportunity and responsibility to the younger girls like Bella Lewis and Mikayla Bowen."