This article first appeared in the May 2020 edition of EAGLE EYE.

Dana Hooker knew from the outset that West Coast’s inaugural AFLW campaign was going to be a test.

Having been a member of Fremantle’s 2017 women’s outfit, the 29-year-old had experienced firsthand the challenges that came with being a foundation club and she was well aware the Eagles’ maiden foray into the AFLW could be even tougher given most of the expansion side’s rivals had a three-year head start on them.

What Hooker could not have foreseen were the personal challenges she faced throughout the year.

The two-time all-Australian readied herself to receive more attention from the opposition throughout the pre-season. She worked tirelessly with midfield coach Andrew Embley to devise tactics to negate taggers and went as far as recruiting stoppage and skills mentor Brady Grey to play a run with role on her during match simulation exercises.

But what she could not prepare for were two errant kicks to the head (the first against Fremantle in round two and the second the following week against Greater Western Sydney), two bouts of tonsillitis and a 4am visit to the Emergency Department resulting from an allergic reaction to penicillin.

“It was the toughest season of AFLW that I’ve experienced so far,” Hooker said.

“Apart from the lead in to rounds one and two, I didn’t train a whole lot really. I had to deal with concussion symptoms after copping a kick to the head during the derby and then came down with tonsillitis. I managed to get up for the GWS game only to get a kick to the throat.

“I just got up for the Bulldogs game, which was really fortunate. I found out at 12pm on the Saturday that I had been cleared to play after jumping through hoops to prove my fitness from a structural and concussion point of view, but everything was ticked off by the surgeons and doctors.

“And then I had another case of tonsillitis after the Bulldogs game, which meant I was a bit crook leading into the Melbourne game. I also had that allergic reaction leading into the Gold Coast game, so I had to miss a few sessions there.

“It was a pretty average season in terms of what I was able to do on the training track. That was frustrating because I’m strong on preparation and I thought that was a bit hindered this year. Fortunately I was able to get enough support around me and just push through to get up for each game. It was a unique season, that’s for sure.”

Dana Hooker is helped from the field after copping an errant boot to the throat against GWS

In spite of all her setbacks, Hooker had a productive year in blue and gold, leading the team for average disposals (19.7), tackles (6.7) and marks (2.7).

However, the dynamic midfielder said she was most proud of the leap she took as a leader in 2020.

“Going in as probably the most experienced player on the list comes with a level of responsibility in terms of how you will contribute from a leadership point of view,” she said.

“I really tried to support people as much as possible and help them to get the best out of themselves. Prior to this season I have mostly led by example, but this year I wanted to take my leadership a step further by not just setting the standard on the track but by thinking out how I could help people off the track with their mindset around training and matches. That was a shift and different focus for me.

“I felt like my relationships within the team and with all the girls actually grew more this year as a result of investing that time. I found ways to connect with girls via their thought processes around training and how they go about their business.

“I had some challenging moments in terms of working through that, but it was very rewarding.”

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Hooker makes history

Eagles midfielder Dana Hooker boots the first ever goal for the West Coast Eagles AFLW team against the Pies

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West Coast’s first AFLW crusade might have come to an abrupt end due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but that hasn’t stopped Hooker from casting her mind forward to next year.

The two-time AFLW Best and Fairest Award runner-up, who was the only Eagle to earn a spot in the 2020 AFLW all-Australian squad, has already set herself some lofty goals for 2021.

“I’m not just content with playing the footy that I have been,” Hooker said.

“Overall I was happy with my season and being able to get out on the park and play my role for the team despite some of the challenges that were thrown my way, but I want to keep getting better and take my game to another level.

“I’m already excited for next year.”