BENDIGO'S Bella Ayre is taking a "no regrets" approach to her second AFLW chance.
And the opportunity at Essendon is one Ayre admits has come quicker than she had expected after what had originally intended to be a low-key return to the football field this year with the Bendigo Thunder.
Instead, come Monday the 23-year-old Ayre will be taking the next step back to reigniting her AFLW career when she begins pre-season training with Essendon, one of the league's four new teams for the upcoming season starting in late August.
Ayre previously spent three years in the AFLW with Carlton (2017) in the competition's inaugural season followed by two with Brisbane (2018 and 2019) before retiring from the top level after battling post-concussion syndrome.
Three years on, though, Ayre's passion for the game that she completely stepped away from has been reignited and after playing with Essendon's VFLW team this season, she has earned a place on the Bombers' AFLW list as an open-age signing.
"I'm very excited and humbled by the opportunity," Ayre said on Thursday.
"I didn't think I'd get another opportunity this soon. I've had a few challenges this year in regards to COVID and some niggling injuries, so I feel very fortunate to be on Essendon's list."
Ayre has played five games with Essendon in the VFLW this year, while also remaining involved with the Bendigo Thunder in the CVFLW as an assistant coach.
Renowned throughout her career at both AFLW level previously and with the Bendigo Thunder as a key forward, Ayre has impressed for the undefeated Bombers in a new role in defence.
"I've loved it down at Essendon in the VFLW; it's a great program and it made me super excited to be around it again," Ayre said.
"I came into the side in round six and have played as a key defender, which I've never done before and I've loved the change.
"There's a great team and support network around me and we all just get in and do it for each other. It's a fantastic bunch of girls and I'm just loving my footy again."
The VFLW finals start this weekend with Essendon going in as the top-ranked side, but Ayre will have to watch the finals from the sidelines with the Bombers' AFLW pre-season program to now take No.1 priority.
Having started her AFLW journey as an 18-year-old with the Blues, Ayre is confident she is much better placed now to forge a lengthy career at the top level.
"I'm definitely a lot more mature than when I first started... my body is a lot more mature, stronger and faster and I feel like I have more leadership qualities," Ayre said.
I'm definitely a lot more mature than when I first started... my body is a lot more mature, stronger and faster and I feel like I have more leadership qualities- Bella Ayre
"And I feel like I'm more of a presence out on the field then I was when I was 18. Having been in elite sport when I was so young I feel like I've got so much to give and I just want to get in there and work hard and give it a red-hot crack... have no regrets."
Ayre and her AFLW team-mates will be introduced to the Essendon supporters at the MCG on Friday night as part of the club's 150th celebration game against Carlton.
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