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Melbourne Football Club

AFLW: Cranston ready to go

IN A peculiar way, being forced to throw out half her wardrobe has provided critical gains for dedicated Melbourne player Richelle Cranston.

That massive lifestyle shift gives the tough competitor, known affectionately as ‘Rocky’, the opportunity to be a more productive member of the Demons' midfield group for the 2018 NAB AFL Women’s season. 

Richelle Cranston in action during a training session (Photo Matthew Goodrope)

Cranston has shed an incredible 28kg in the past three years, including eight in the off-season, to present fitter and keener for the start of another arduous pre-season campaign preparing for the opening round in early February. 

"I wasn't fit enough when I started AFLW, but I'm building on that and I'm getting there. I still think there's a lot more to give and, with the time frame I had, I think I've done everything possible so far," she said before training at the Demons' headquarters at AAMI Park.

"My whole lifestyle changed. I watch everything I eat now, I count the calories. I've gone a bit over the top, but I think I just have elite behaviour now. I needed to change my body shape and I've given myself a good base to build on.  

"I think I just really believed in the program a lot more this year. I don't think I took all my opportunities last year, but I know I've done everything possible and I'm pretty prepared mentally and physically. As soon as the (inaugural AFLW) season finished, I pretty much got straight back into it because I felt I was a little behind in some areas." 

Cranston, who has trimmed down from a size 18 to a size 10, was back with her local gridiron team the week after Melbourne beat Fremantle in the last round in late March to finish third on the AFLW ladder and narrowly miss the Grand Final on percentage.

But the she broke her right foot in the first game (she’s a running back) and eventually had to sit out the first seven rounds with Geelong in the VFLW competition. 

"I used my rehab time. I was on the (exercise) bike every day and it helped me get fitter. I just wanted to catch up and Geelong has elite facilities with strength and conditioning coaches. And I followed Melbourne's (out-of-season) program closely too," she said. 

Melbourne's third-round pick in the AFLW's first draft was named in the VFLW team of the year, along with Demons teammates Daisy Pearce, Mel Hickey, Karen Paxman and Lily Mithen, despite missing half the season. 

Cranston was on the bench for the start of games in the debut AFLW season and she didn't get a run until the midfield rotations inevitably kicked in. 

"I was 106kg when I was playing local footy in Geelong and I didn't know it could go anywhere. Then the academy and the exhibition matches started and something clicked in my head: 'Okay, I want to do that.' It just changed my life completely," she said. 

"The midfield group is pretty hard to crack into here. I want to have more of a presence and, hopefully, I can get more time on the ground. It's going to be hard to get a game this year, as the team is looking strong and it's a good problem to have. You're going to have to work really hard to get a spot.

"We're miles ahead of where we were this time last year. We didn't know what to expect last year, I know I didn't. But this time you're aware of what's required and everyone is ahead in fitness and skills. Last year it was manic, but a lot of the group has stayed together and they have the composure to settle down everyone." 

A one-match ban for a front-on bump in the opening round against the Brisbane Lions is an unwanted part of history for Cranston as one of the first players suspended in the AFLW. 

"A lot of people think because I'm so big that's the way I play. I do like to have a strong presence, but one of the reasons I've worked so hard is to be known for more than that, not just a crash-and-bash type of player," she said.

Cranston's fierce attack on the ball and ability to play forward and in the midfield prompted Cats' VFLW coach Paul Hood to describe her as the women's version of Richmond ace Dustin Martin. 

"Right now the only similarities with him are maybe the haircut and the tattoos," she said with a grin.