Emily Warner can vividly remember how she felt before her Dubbo Demons debut in 2017.
"I couldn't sleep all week. I was the most excited I think I've been in a long time," she said.
"I spent my whole childhood wanting to play footy and that was the first opportunity I'd ever got."
Warner has been a regular in AFL Central West since and that passion for the game and excitement to take the field with her teammates hasn't changed at all.
"I still don't sleep very well most Friday nights," she laughed.
"I just love it that much that it's still still that same every Saturday."
Warner is not only one of the most passionate players in the competition, she's arguably the greatest female player to take to the field in this region.
She was named best on ground in the grand final after the Demons' thrilling five-point win over Bathurst Giants and now another accolade has gone her way.
The best in the west
This week AFL Central West awarded its major prizes for 2023 and Warner was named the women's best and fairest. It marked the fifth time she's collected the game's top individual honour.
Considering she only debuted in 2017 and didn't play at all in 2019 when the Demons didn't compete due to a lack of numbers, it's an amazing achievement.
"It's quite humbling but definitely very special to get that because I think the comp has gone from strength to strength since I started playing in 2017," she said.
"It's not something that you go out to try and do. But you go out and do your best to play the best game you possibly can each week.
"That's all that you can do."
Warner has earned rave reviews for her performances for the Demons virtually from the time she debuted.
Just this season she was labelled as AFLW quality while hearing clubmates refer to her as "a freak" given her talent is a common occurrence.
"Within the competition there's a number of really good players and within our team as well," Warner said.
"We're just really lucky to have some really good footballers there that sort of inspire you to want to do better each week.
"I guess it's pretty humbling to hear that (praise). But, as I said, it's a sport that I absolutely love and it's just nice to be able to play more footy."
A driving motivation
If it wasn't clear already how much being part of the Demons and being able to play meant to Warner, her commitment and the lengths she goes to each week cements it.
Warner lives roughly 30kms outside of Coonamble and is kept busy in her job as a vet, but still manages to attend training in Dubbo, almost two hours away, while matches at Bathurst are often an eight-hour round trip.
"Yeah, it's a bit of a drive," she laughed.
"I rack up a fair fuel bill each week. But no, it's all worth it.
"Luckily I've got good mates down in Dubbo so often stay down there a little bit. But training on a Thursday, I usually won't take a lunch break and try and leave a little earlier around 4pm and you want to make a bit of a night of it.
"We have dinner after footy training and get back at 11.30 or midnight some nights."
Those trips are already being made again as the Demons women have begun pre-season training ahead of their 2024 title defence.
It's not because new coach Lynton Auld is keen to make his mark and work the premiers during the summers months, but instead a much more simple reason.
"We've had a couple of weeks and I think all the girls were just really keen to get back out there," Warner said.
"You spend so much time together during the season and I think we had a few weeks off and everybody started to miss seeing each other at training all the time.
"So we thought it was a good chance to get back out there and it's nothing too formal.
"We've got the new coach and he was really keen and it's been great to have some good numbers already."