CHARLES Sturt University skipper Ashleigh O'Leary micro tears her patella tendon almost every time she steps onto the netball court.
It's a reminder of the perseverance and determination she's needed just to play again, let alone lead the Bushsows to this Saturday's Farrer League grand final at Robertson Oval.
The 21-year-old spent two years in the netball wilderness after undergoing back-to-back reconstructions on the same knee.
The first time her anterior cruciate ligament gave way was playing for her home club the Finley Cats, based just before the Victorian border on the NSW side.
After months of rehab she was set to return when it snapped again when trialing for the Bushsows in 2017.
She returned last year as past part of the grand final loss to The Rock-Yerong Creek, who they meet again in Saturday's decider.
Last year the Magpies prevailed by two points and O'Leary is keen to make it third time lucky after losing a decider each with the Cats and Bushsows.
"I was pretty devastated," the goal defence said.
"The second reco is a bigger and more invasive operation. They use a bone graft, scoop some bone off the knee cap and use that.
"There was lots of bruising, I was on the couch for two weeks not able to do a lot because because that bruising dropped into my leg.
"Obviously the injury itself when you do it doesn't tickle, and it is in the back of your mind when you come back and play.
"But I was too excited to be playing at all last year to think about it too much."
O'Leary needn't have feared because her return has been outstanding.
She won last year's Rising Star award after missing out on the Marilyn Brooks Medal for the Farrer League's best and fairest by a single vote.
This year she polled 31 votes to finish a massive 14 clear of nearest rival, Barellan teenager Paige Kenny.
"Occasionally you get niggles in it, I get micro tears in the patella tendon pretty much every time I play," she said.
"It just pulls up sore and means I have to ice it and take a bit more care of it. The way they do it is they take the middle section of that tendon, so you're left with the outside sections.
"It is weaker that patella tendon, but my actual ACL graft is stronger because it's thicker."
O'Leary, who is studying agronomy at university, will have a busy schedule on grand final day.
At 11.20am she will attempt to guide the B grade side she coaches to a premiership against Temora, before switching her focus to the main game at 2.10pm.
First grade goal attack Claire Wilson will also coach the Bushsows C grade side against Barellan.
"It (coaching) definitely will be (a nice distraction). I remember in the (B grade) preliminary final I was yelling but now I'm a bit more prepared for that competitiveness earlier in the day, and will have time to settle," O'Leary said.
"I'm sure B grade will come away with the win and I'll be in a great frame of mind."
O'Leary said two straight years of high performance individually was just what she needed to get her belief back.
"It was nice and being my first season in Farrer League it was different netball to what I was used to, especially after two years off," she said.
"It was a confidence boost and it felt good to just be playing again."
O'Leary said beating the Magpies in the qualifying final, their only defeat this year, was a huge mental hurdle before they play for all the marbles on Saturday.
"The Rock play a fairly mental game and for us to get over that was really good," she said.
"Every time we've played them (previously) we've had a lead and just let it slip, they're really good at capitalising on that.
"This time I think we're well and truly prepared and got a mental boost out of that win."
O'Leary first injured her knee aged 17 when still in school.
She harboured dreams of trying her luck in Melbourne after being urged by those in the know she had enough talent to make the big time.
"I don't know if I could have done it, I just wanted to see if I could because I had a lot of people express to me I had that capability," she said.
"I do love netball and I think I could have done it, but since I injured myself I had an early entry offer so I thought I'd go straight to uni.
"I am content, but I think if I don't (try again) I will be a bit disappointed because I'll never know.
"At the same time I do graduate next year and I'll be in a difficult position again. Do I go and work or do I pursue netball, because where I pursue netball my field of interest isn't likely to be around.
"It's a lot of perseverance, I didn't ever think about giving it (netball) up. I'm excited to be back playing.
"Saturday will be a big day and hopefully it will be a great day to be a Sow."
GRAND FINAL SCHEDULE
Under 17s: East Wagga-Kooringal v Marrar (9am)
C grade: CSU v Barellan (10.10am)
B grade: CSU v Temora (11.20am)
A reserve: EWK v Temora (12.45pm)
A grade: CSU v TRYC (2.10pm)