It has taken five seasons, but Ellyse Gamble finally feels like she belongs in the AFLW.
The 23-year-old from Wynyard had her finest campaign at the highest level in 2020, cementing herself as a key part of the Western Bulldogs' defence.
The key defender, who was one of the first Tasmanians drafted ahead of AFLW's inaugural season in 2017, averaged 5.1 disposals, 0.8 marks, 1.9 tackles, 1.3 rebound 50s and 0.3 inside 50s a game, polled a vote in the AFLCA AFLW Champion Player of the Year Award and was named in Champion Data's 2021 AFLW All-Star Stats Team. She also got to play in her home state when the Bulldogs played the North Melbourne Tasmanian Kangaroos at North Hobart Oval.
"You don't play to get individual honours like that, but to have something like that, it is a little confidence booster, as being a lockdown defender is a position where you might not get that much recognition,'' she said.
"If you look back to season one, each year has been another step up and you know that you have to go into a new season continuing to improve and I was looking to improve in certain areas to cement my position as a key defender.
"I missed out on round one and had to go back and I went away and really worked hard on the track that week and Burkey [coach Nathan Burke] put me back in and I stayed there for the rest of the year.
"So I am pretty happy with how I went overall as I think it was my best season so far and I do have that confidence going into the next season that I have that position to myself and now it is up to me to go up another level after that."
Gamble, who was speaking on Tuesday during her longest trip back home since being drafted, admitted a change in attitude had also played a big role, and credited the influence of Burke, who she said was the "best coach I have had in my sporting life".
"I guess I am now one of the senior players and having that feeling of being a leader in the team has helped me, but now I understand that doing just enough is not good enough,'' she said.
"I have a bit of a motto now to not just get through training, but to make sure I can actually get something out of training and that is something I have focused on a lot more with the season just gone, just going to training to not just try to get through it, but to actually get something out of it.
"Every player will agree that when you go in [after being drafted], you do go in with a level of confidence, but you are trying to build that sense of belonging that you can compete at the level and as the seasons have gone on I haven't just developed as a footballer, but also as a person."
Gamble, who has played 21 AFLW games [the third most by a Tasmanian], is preparing to enter somewhat of the unknown, with the next season to start in December.
She has only recently just finished her football commitments for the year with the Western Bulldogs' VFLW season coming to a close, with AFLW pre-season set to start in September.
"We will be training earlier in the year and for me it will be a very busy time towards the end of the year as I will be graduating [she is studying a bachelor of education],'' she said.
"We really don't know how it [the AFLW season] will look going forward. It is exciting to be able to play over the summer months more and hopefully we can still get that strong support and it is something we will embrace."
Gamble, the two-time Burnie Dockers premiership player who was drafted after a best on ground effort in 2016 TWL grand final, was also full of praise for what she has seen of the women's game in her home region, including watching last weekend's NWFL Women's clash between Ulverstone and Wynyard in person and the Women's Statewide All-Stars Series from a distance.
Which is on top of the smile that the NWFL Women's winning the series 2-0 brought to her face and made her wish she could have got the chance to represent her region "back in the day".
"To have that next level to step up to from the local competitions is just so important,'' she said.
"You need to be playing as high of a level as you can against the best players and to have the best girls in the state coming together to play in a series can only be really beneficial, especially for the girls who want to get drafted."