Collingwood Vice-Captain Brittany Bonnici might be the reigning Club Best & Fairest coming into 2024, but she was never going to rest on her laurels throughout the off-season.

In fact, the midfielder has done anything but.

A little over six months has passed since the Pies finished up their 2023 season, with Bonnici packing in some career and life-shaping experiences over the first half of 2024.

“I was reflecting just before that the best part of our pre-season is that technically we’re about to start the physical component of it, but I feel like intellectually and in personal development, the off-season has provided so much,” Bonnici said on the eve of pre-season, which begins on June 3rd.

“It’s been big for sure, but it’s been really eye-opening and now moving into pre-season, it’s going to be about trialling a few of the things you did and seeing how they fit into the system and structure of pre-season.”

But what are the “eye-opening” experiences that Bonnici speaks of?

Things ramped up in early April, when Bonnici, alongside seven of her teammates travelled to Exos Sports in the United States for a training camp – a training centre based in Phoenix, Arizona, that specialises in training for professional athletes.


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In what the inaugural Magpie described as an invaluable experience, the group spent 10 days training their bodies and minds in ways that they hadn’t ever before.

“We didn’t go on a footy camp, it was a camp to help us understand our bodies and understand how to utilise our bodies differently,” Bonnici said.

“America really challenged our mindset of implementing things.

“You feel like you implement things as an athlete when you’re back home but then you put yourself in an environment like the American camp and see what it really looks like.

“When you’re at home you have work, or need to clean the house, or maintain social relationships - all these things that are important – but when you have that removed from you and purely focus on either performing, training, recovering or preparing, you understand what those things really look like.

“You don’t necessarily have to replicate that when you come back but you definitely take pieces from it.”

Bonnici was part of a varying group in terms of experience who went to America, from first-year Irish recruit Muireann Atkinson to leadership group members Jordy Allen and Mikala Cann.

For the Club’s Vice-Captain, that was one of the best aspects of the experience, allowing all eight of them to come back to the group armed with techniques and skills that can service the entirety of the squad.

“We definitely had a lot of conversations about what we wanted to take back,” the Pies foundation player  said.

“We want to be the versions of ourselves that we were there as much as we can in our environment because we felt like we were able to achieve so much in the small period of time.

“Being in America, you learn what you can get from other resources and in a way the girls who went on the trip after are able to be the resource for the girls who didn’t.

“The other part though is the girls who didn’t go on the America camp, they’ve been at the Club, playing VFLW, going on their own camps and experiencing things that we haven’t, so we can lean on them in that same realm.

“It didn’t really matter whether you were a first-year player or a senior player, that camp was really about understanding what you could embrace for yourself.

“Then coming back it’s about asking: ‘how can we use this to help other people excel as well?’”

The trip was somewhat of a  pivotal moment for the program, with it being the first time a group of players had gone overseas to an institution such as Exos Sports.

On day one, the octet was able to train alongside the likes of NFL star Odell Beckham Jnr, someone Bonnici has idolised while coming through the ranks.

And encouragingly for the 26-year-old, the experience showcased that a lot of the processes and techniques she and her teammates have in place, are done by these athletes too.

“When we went to America, we were training alongside these athletes you think are the pinnacle like Odell Beckham– these unbelievable athletes – so you understand that our worlds aren’t as far away as you think they are,” she said.

“America has a lot of resources and all of the rest but at the absolute basis of it, it’s all about your training habits, your ability to get after it and bring people along.

“You start to see through growth of resources, yes American sport and AFLW seem so far away because of monetary values and viewers and those external things, but at the basis of it, it was really energising to understand that those worlds aren’t that far away.

“All of the things that AFLW players do as athletes isn’t dissimilar to what they’re doing and our role is to keep doing these things and to trust the process and constantly lifting those training habits.”

Not long after touching back down in Australia, Bonnici was off on a development camp in Townsville alongside the likes of new Head Coach Sam Wright and AFLW skipper Bri Davey.

Spending a few days at a Military base in the northern Queensland town, Bonnici was able to yet again immerse herself in learning new ways to improve her mindset and game.

“There were leadership parts which were awesome, but I just loved the military part of it, it was so much fun, so different, so challenging and I loved it,” she said.

“I love that stuff and if I didn’t play footy, I’d love to see how far I ever would’ve gone in the military, it’s always been something I think I would enjoy but I don’t know how I’d actually go doing it.

“I would love the physical side and the constantly having to be alert and in tune and switched on … a lot of the people there they would say they just sit there for hours on watch and everyone would rotate through and those little parts might be my undoing.

“I’m pretty good in game at flicking the switch and having my off time when I’m on the bench or whatever, but I feel like even then you know who you’re about to go against, so it was cool to learn a different way of going about things.”

That could easily have been enough for one off-season, but Bonnici wasn’t done yet.

During the week of the AFL team’s Round Nine clash against West Coast, Bonnici was immersed within the program from the start to the final review of the game.

The inaugural Pie has spent time within the men’s program here and there since joining the Club back in 2016, however never for an extended period of time.

It was an important opportunity for Bonnici who said understanding what the process as a full-time athlete looks like is a crucial next step for the AFLW competition.

“I’d done days in their program here and there where you jump in for a day and try and pick things up, but I wanted to do a week with their program so that you could really see the whole process,” she said.

“I wanted to see how the coaches identified things, how they shared that with the players, and how they players trained and implemented those things on game day.

“Seeing the way it operates and the way they utilise resources and understanding the different aspects and dynamics of the program was great.

“The biggest part was how much of a group they are that eat, breathe, and sleep the messages.

“You see that from the outside and being within the four walls you get a bit more of an insight.

“Going into the program for a full week and seeing their ability to literally show up every day breathing those messages was really energising for me."

Whether it was team meetings, on the track, or reviewing the game after that fact, Bonnici was there.

It was clear to the midfielder that some parts of the men’s program are very similar to how things are done within the women’s, while some aspects of the game and its processes are vastly different.

And for Bonnici, recognising that both things can be true, is an important step in implementing her learnings to the AFLW group ahead of 2024.

“I really wanted to understand how the AFL list is so different to the AFLW list, they have 40-plus players, we have 30 players,” she said.

“They have a wide number of players who never play at AFL level in a season, but we have 30, so majority of your girls will get that opportunity if not in their first season, then in their second season.

“The games are different because there’s (the AFL men’s) moves a lot quicker which is something I definitely learned being out on the training track with them.

“They have four extra people playing than we do as well, so there’s differences, but there’s also a lot of similarities in the program.

“They talk about getting better every day and to see that embodied and the things they do to get better was really eye-opening.”

That last point is what excited Bonnici most.

Just as she felt while training in America, the mindset to be constantly improving each other that oozed out of her time in the AFL space is something already embedded within the women’s program.

“In the men’s program they don’t just say words, they embody the messages that they portray,” she said.

“They speak about getting better every day and getting that next person better and after being in that environment I can then reflect more on the America trip and the parts I want to use to get the girls better around me.

“It wasn’t too dissimilar in that aspect to what we do in our program, but I would say the amount of contact hours they have allows for a lot of clarity in those messages.

“There’s so much time for them to ensure everyone is across those messages which is awesome and they’re thing things I picked up.

“Bridging the gaps between the programs isn’t that far away which was really exciting for me to understand.”

Another important feature of the week for Bonnici was looking to some of the AFL group’s leaders.

Expressing her intrigue at the way senior players interacted with younger members of the group, and vice versa, Bonnici looked to the newest member of the men’s leadership team for continued learning.

“One of the players I kept a close eye on was Isaac Quaynor,” she said.

“Being young coming into the leadership group you could see the two-fold of him being really fresh in understanding what the younger players might need, but also to the stage of having a level head.

“I looked at the way he went about his week and I could see he was always trying to help people get better in a really authentic way.

“I saw him doing a lot of extras and immersing himself with the younger guys a lot.

“I saw a lot action through him and that’s something as a leader myself that I really value and he was speaking through actions and valuing the growth that’s going to come through those younger players.

“Understanding the way that the senior players bring their young players along and the way the young players challenge their senior players was a really big part to understand.”

Now just a couple of weeks out from the official start of AFLW pre-season, Bonnici gets the chance to put everything into action.

But the 57-game player emphasised it wasn’t just her that had had a jam-packed six months ‘off’, with Bonnici excited at the prospect of a hungry group returning all on the same wavelength.

“We speak about how big this last month has been for me but it’s been big for everyone,” she said.

“Our program is well on the way there. I reflect on our group and this mentality of getting better every day and you think of the America trip, there were girls who went to Townsville on a camp, you see Tarni White in the men’s program, you see Bri Davey on the bench in the VFLW helping girls get better.

“You see Kindy (Kalinda Howarth) who’s in our environment coming back from an ACL and she’s in every single day and she hasn’t even had the chance to wear our colours yet but she’s just so determined.

“You see Muireann who hasn’t even done a formal training session with the AFLW squad yet and she puts her hand up to take herself to America with a group of us because she wants to buy into that.

“It’s the start of pre-season yes, but there’s been a mountain of work that’s been done over the off-season to helps set ourselves up for success.”

And for Bonnici personally, the drive is there to elevate her game even further.

Already one of the stars of the competition, the midfielder’s time overseas and consuming knowledge from various other programs has her determined to bring success to the Club that gave her a first chance in the league.

“There were things the men’s program did that I was like ‘I want to be able to get to that spot’ in terms of their knowledge of the game,” she said.

“It made it really evident for me in terms of game IQ and my ability to roll out that game IQ where I want it to get to.

“The men’s program is an unbelievable resource and I have no problem individually saying I see them reach success and that’s where I hope our team can get to for the Club.

“I want to be able to get to a year where both teams are rocking up at the end of the year with silverware and we’re celebrating together as a Club.

“That would be the pinnacle for me.”