When you see the booming kicks of Aileen Gilroy, the exceptional power of Daria Bannister, or the dashing speed of Kaitlyn Ashmore, it can be easy to forget that so much of football is played between the ears.

Confidence, application, composure and sheer hard work are some of the most important parts of the game, but the intangibility of such attributes means it can be difficult for those outside to the club to recognise growth.

After playing two games in her debut season and impressing at VFLW level, Alice O’Loughlin’s 2020/21 campaign was ended early by an ankle injury. It’s allowed her to approach a new season with fresh eyes.

With North Melbourne’s AFLW side currently in the midst of a ‘pre-pre-season’, the number six says she’s zoned in on what she needs to improve to make herself a mainstay of the senior side.

“At the moment the big thing I want to work on is my confidence in myself, just the feeling that I do deserve a spot and I’ve put the work in for it,” O’Loughlin told North Media.

“I feel like having a small taste of the big time let me realise how much stronger and more competitive it is, so working on that mental side of the game is a big focus for me heading into the season.

“I really want to learn more off others who’ve been in the program a lot longer than I have. I feel like the more I do that, the more I can help myself leading into the future.”

With a new set of first-year players including Tess Craven and Tara Slender coming through the ranks, O’Loughlin is no longer one of the freshest faces at Arden Street.

Having integrated into the group and becoming comfortable with the training standards over the course of last season, she says she’s excited focus on her football more than ever before.

“It’s definitely crazy seeing the first-year girls and knowing I was in their shoes last year. I definitely know how they’re feeling,” O’Loughlin said.

“It can be pretty daunting to come into a new environment for your first season, just not knowing how everything works and how to go about your training.

“Coming in this year knowing what the expectations of me are and what I need to do is a big help. I’m really looking forward to getting into it.

“I’m just a lot more comfortable, and I’m excited to be able to focus on my footy rather than any of the external stuff that comes with being a new, first-year player.

“Knowing the ropes a bit better is really handy, and already knowing all the girls coming in has made me really keen to get into it and really start improving my game and my craft.”