AFTER five years in the NAB AFLW competition, Western Bulldogs recruit Rocky Cranston finally feels like she belongs.
The 32-year-old was delisted by Geelong after a disappointing 2021, averaging seven disposals and kicking five goals across nine games, playing in a team that won just one match for the season.
For Cranston, it seemed to confirm deep-seated fears she wasn't up to AFLW standard.
"Obviously it's been a tough few years for everyone in the world, but in a football sense, it was tough being a forward, not kicking goals and not getting much of the football and it was frustrating," Cranston told womens.afl.
"There were high moments, obviously I still love the girls at the Cats, I always will and I've made some of the best friends I'll ever have. But it was just tough, I guess there's no other way to describe it.
"I guess I just didn't love it anymore and that didn't sit right with me either. It was tough mentally, especially getting delisted again. I've always had a bit of impostor syndrome and felt like I didn't really belong in AFLW, and when I was delisted, it was 'it's finally happened'.
"But 'Burkey' (Dogs coach Nathan Burke) has made me believe in myself again, and the girls have been incredible. The Bulldogs have really turned myself around a lot, my mental health and everything in the way I think about myself has changed a lot."
From the very beginning of the NAB AFLW competition when she had a full head of long dreadlocks, Cranston caught the attention of fans with her attack on the footy, but that didn't translate to on-field confidence.
Since receiving a lifeline from the Bulldogs as a delisted free agent, things have been slowly changing.
"Like you said, I'm like a veteran of the competition, but I always feel like why did they ask me to do this media? I've always thought it's just because I got tattoos and I just look a little bit different," Cranston said.
"I guess I've always had negative talk towards myself, which is something I'm working on, but I've always felt like I haven't quite belonged and I'm not good enough to be here.
"This is probably the first season I've gone in not thinking that, so I'm kind of excited for it. And hopefully, it makes me play some really good footy, because I actually feel like I belong. We're getting a bit deep here."
A few words of wisdom from a teammate alerted Cranston to the affect her negative self-talk was having on the wider group.
Since then, it's been something the dynamic forward has constantly been working on.
"When I'm happy and confident and if I'm having fun, I play good footy. I take the game on, I'm play with energy and I can lift my teammates up. If I'm not playing like that, I can drag my teammates down," Cranston said.
"Georgie Rankin was pretty fresh to the Cats at the time, I love her and have always had a really great relationship with her and tried to help her as best I could.
"She pulled me aside and said, 'you talk badly about yourself, but I see you as one of the best players around me. So how do you think that makes us feel?'
"Ever since then, it's been on my mind. So, I've been working on positive self-talk and try to treat myself the way I would treat my teammates, because it was a pretty powerful thing 'G' said."