Dermott Brereton sidled up to Tayla Harris at a Fox Footy season launch and casually dropped a bombshell.
The Hawthorn legend told the then Carlton spearhead she could be the best player in footy given she possessed such power and strength to reach the ball high in its arc that no defender could stop her.
To witness that conversation first-hand was to see famed centre half-forward Brereton anoint AFLW cult hero Harris, a player with the competition at her feet.
Her gifts were priceless: sublime talent, huge marketability and a national profile borne from her efforts to fight against the social media trolls who tried to bring her down.
This off-season after a disastrous 2021 at Carlton – just 16 marks and four goals in total from six games – Harris found she did have a price.
And it wasn’t a figure the Blues were even vaguely keen to match.
Carlton labelled her as distracted and distracting, a divisive presence who wasn’t worth the fuss given her diminishing on-field returns.
Her camp suggested Harris’ salary demands were severely overplayed, with the 24-year-old willing to do the work to bounce back.
What happens next for Harris, now at her third club, Melbourne, intersects with one of the most intriguing storylines in the new AFLW season.
For all the hype and publicity about Victoria’s AFLW sides, only one of them has been able to get it done in the five seasons and four grand finals (Covid wiped out the 2020 finals series).
The Western Bulldogs held aloft the 2018 trophy but Adelaide (twice) and the Brisbane Lions (last year) have won three of the four flags on offer.
For all its promise and talent, Melbourne hasn’t tasted success, playing in only two finals for a single victory (last year’s qualifying final win over Fremantle).
This year shapes as Daisy Pearce’s last hurrah, and there is no doubt the Demons have gone all in.
Harris arrives after Carlton gleefully moved her on and the Demons gave up plenty for Geelong onballer Olivia Purcell in a trade.
So Melbourne, like many AFLW sides, needs to get a wriggle on.
So to do competition newbies Richmond and Geelong, in their third and fourth seasons respectively.
That pair illustrates the challenges four new teams will face when they round out the competition to 18 teams next year.
Collingwood seems locked and loaded, with reigning MVP Bri Davey and stars including Chloe Molloy, Jaimee Lambert and Britt Bonnici despite the loss of ruck Sharni Norder (nee Layton).
Norder’s megawatt personality will be missed and throws up an interesting theme about the new breed of stars the AFL knows must eventually take over from Pearce, Adelaide’s Erin Phillips and Carlton’s Darcy Vescio.
The new breed is here – led by Carlton’s Madison Prespakis, Nina Morrison (Geelong), Roxy Roux (Fremantle) and Izzy Huntington at the Bulldogs.
But unlike the early trailblazers – Harris, Mo Hope, Norder – most are heads-down, bums-up personalities who don’t yet have the marketing dynamism or incredible backstories of their predecessors.
As Norder said, she had to fight the fight for AFLW because too few players were willing to put their name out there and risk the downside of extra media coverage.
Covid will be a noise humming away in the background in season 2022.
St Kilda’s Georgia Patrikios seems in no hurry to be vaccinated, a huge blow given she is new coach Nick Dal Santo’s best player.
Adelaide will cover the blow of first-team defender Deni Varnhagen, while the AFLW season will be a kind of crash-test dummy for the March men’s competition as the league attempts its first season of living with Covid instead of crossing the country dodging it.
Anyone who has watched the evolution of the five AFLW seasons knows the standard has risen significantly, and is also sick of defending it.
It is what it is – a very young competition making massive advances that will still never be able to live up to a quicker, faster men’s game in the eyes of its critics.
Yet consider what it will become in the next decade – a highly watchable, fully professional game with massive commercial opportunities for its players, clubs and the AFL.
There is a difference between discerning fans who want to watch a little but not a lot of AFLW and blinkered middle-aged men happy to tear down the legitimacy and standard of the women’s competition.
As Richmond’s Hannah Burchell said this month, the new breed of fans just want to be entertained.
“It’s so comforting to see the growth of footy. It’s not a question of whether girls should or shouldn’t play footy any more,” Burchell said.
“And the even cooler thing is young boys don’t see it as a difference. The awesome thing is they come to the footy and don’t see it as men’s or women’s footy, they have just grown up with it.”