I’d be lying if said 2017 hasn’t been one of the toughest years of my hockey career.

For those who know me well, will be familiar with my injury struggles this season.

What should have only taken six weeks to rehab, instead cost me nearly five months on the sidelines including surgery.

I’m usually quite an upbeat person – it takes a lot to bring me down. But when the rest of the Hockeyroos squad headed off to Belgium for the World League, that was when it all got to me.

It sucked not being out there for our major tournament this year. You work so hard, put in all those long hours, and when those significant events are taken from you, it reminds you that there is a cruel side to sport.

Thankfully, I am back in my national colours, and recently enjoyed competing under lights in the three Test-match series against Japan in Adelaide.

Albeit I am thrilled to be back out there playing the game I love most, my body is still struggling to gain confidence on the pitch.

I have never had the most robust body, and at times, am finding that I things I used to be able to do I can’t seem to execute at the current time.

Gabi Nance

I know long-term injuries take time to recover from, but I’ve always been something who appreciates being in control.

As such, the months prior to my return were a difficult period for me.

Initially, the injury happened in April, and wasn’t managed properly in its early stages which was frustrating.

It wasn’t to the fault of anyone, the injury was simply difficult to detect; one day I’d be fine to go out onto the pitch, then the next four days I’d need to be on light duties.

It came to a point where our doctor and physio team persisted that I go see the surgeon.

It was only until I had met with the specialist did we determine the full extent of the damage.

To our medical staffs’ credit, they really encouraged me to be involved in the decision-making process right from the start.

They wanted to know my opinion, and valued my input as to what I considered best for my long-term hockey.

As tough a period as it has been, the silver lining I found is the new found confidence in our sports medical program.

What I noticed, during my extended stint on the sidelines though, is just how much selection pressure there really is across our squad.

We legit have 27 players who could stake their claim for regular selection, it’s an amazing problem for us to have.

Because as hard as it was not playing, I was still incredibly excited to see some of the debutants perform the way they did, they really stood up and showed they belonged in camp.

It’s even put pressure on me, which I love!

The beauty about our current team environment though, is there are no individuals anymore.

Gabi Nance

The previous support staff had a big influence on how we behaved, on and off the pitch, and often sort to look after their favourites.

I never believed in that style of leadership, especially when you’re charged with the responsibility of building a positive team ethos.

Led by head coach Paul Gaudion and assistants Nicole Arrold & David Guest, they have really worked diligently on changing the culture, and should be commended for doing so.

Nowadays, we have high standards across the board, but it’s delivered through positive reinforcement.

Even in our opening Test match against Japan, I didn’t play anywhere near my best, but we still won 5-1 and it was nice to see all of us still get around each other during those moments of celebrations, rather than break away into separate friendship circles.

Of course, as one of the more experienced players within the squad, I do a lot of personal reflection on myself anymore, and harshly critic all my performances.

But I’ve learned to do that at the right time, and enjoy and celebrate or reflect with the team after every game.

As that “veteran” type figure in the change rooms, I’m finding out more than ever what is required to lead by example, and be a positive influence around the girls.

Having missed so much hockey this year, that was challenging at times this year, but the girls have made it so easy as they really drive our culture and standards.

It feels amazing being back, and I’m looking forward to getting back to my best.

Gabi Nance

Gabi Nance is an Australian field hockey player who regularly features for the Hockeyroos.

Gabi represented Australia at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.