Imogen Barnett (right) celebrates the elimination final win. (Photo: AFL)

Collingwood’s Imogen Barnett has taken the next step in her game after being offered consistent opportunities in her side’s best 21.

The 2021 VFLW leading goalkicker was only selected for three games last season, struggling for form and not quite adapting to the top level.

She’s still yet to kick an AFLW goal, but that’s not quite her role any more.

Barnett has played the last six games in a row, including Collingwood’s down-to-the-wire elimination final victory over the Western Bulldogs – not as a forward, but as a ruck.

First she was playing second fiddle to Sabrina Frederick and Alison Downie, but she’s embraced more and more responsibility and taken it on as her own.

Speaking to The Inner Sanctum, Barnett described how the newfound role has changed her game.

“Switching it up a little bit has allowed me a little bit more freedom on the ground. I’m really loving being in the ruck,” the 27-year-old said.

“I played a lot of my junior footy in that position, and it’s where I fell in love with football. Had a chat with the coaches a few weeks ago and just agreed to give myself a run through the ruck in a scrimmage game, and opportunities opened themselves up.

“I’ve really enjoyed my football, and I think a lot of my strengths are starting to be shown on the field. I’m really proud that I’ve been able to put some solid performances on the track.”

Imogen Barnett goes up against Mim Strom in the ruck. (Photo: AFL)

With the guidance of Downie and Frederick, Barnett has become a strong part of the forward/ruck rotation at Collingwood.

While the Pies still haven’t been scoring overly strongly – offset by a brilliant performance by Eliza James – they share the load and make life harder for the opposition.

Barnett is playing the role that likely would have been filled by new recruit Olivia Barber, but she was injured early season and has only played four games.

“We’re lucky that we have three of us that can rotate through if we need, and we can also have all three of us play in the forward line,” Barnett said of Frederick and Downie.

“It’s always handy to have a dual role amongst a few players. I’ve learnt a lot off Al Downie. She’s a very experienced ruck in that area.

“Very lucky to have them around me. I’ve improved my game because of them pushing me.”

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In just her third game last season, Barnett returned to the team for the qualifying final loss to Brisbane after Collingwood was massively hit by COVID.

It wasn’t the ideal circumstances to appear in her first final, but it is well and truly in the past now.

Despite a charging Bulldogs outfit, the Pies held on to win by five points, with Barnett taking a game-saving intercept mark to kill their chances of one final foray forward.

“Not a lot [was going through my mind] to be honest,” Barnett said with a laugh of her last second mark.

“I was just relieved to get the win. I think it was more of a right place, right time. I was very relieved at the end of the game.

“Almost lost it there at the end, but we fought all the way for the four quarters. Stoked to get the win, and very excited to see what we can do against Adelaide this weekend.”

Barnett is yet to face off against the Crows in her 10 games, and will likely do so for the first time on Saturday.

She’ll have to battle an in-form Caitlin Gould, fresh off kicking two goals in their qualifying loss to Melbourne, and rising star Montana McKinnon.

But like the rest of her teammates, she’s up for the challenge of knocking off the reigning premiers despite losing to them during this season.

“They’re a pretty hard, contested team,” Barnett explained.

“There’ll be some players we’ll look to nullify through the game. As I’ve said to many people before, we just need to focus on our game plan and our structure.

“If all 21 of us are able to do that, we will be in good stead to get over the Crows.

“Finals are a completely different game to in-season. It’s really anyone’s match on the day.”

Barnett and the Pies go head to head with the Crows from 3:40 AEDT at Unley Oval on Saturday, November 12.

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