Brisbane Lions midfielder Emily Bates could have left the club seven months ago at the end of a career-best season but says she is now reaping the ultimate reward for staying loyal.
Bates will play in her fourth AFLW grand final for the club on Sunday when Brisbane host Melbourne at their new Springfield home.
The 27-year-old won the best-and-fairest award at the end of Season Six earlier this year.
Bates had options to leave the Lions with Hawthorn one of the expansion clubs leading the charge for her services after a season where she also won the Coaches Association Champion Player of the Year and the Players Association Most Valuable Player awards.
She said she "definitely" made the right decision to stick with Brisbane. The players made a pact after losing last season's preliminary final to the Demons to remain together as a unit and go one better this season.
"It was great fuel for the girls and it also galvanised our group," Bates said.
"There was a lot of expansion that happened last season and we made a commitment as a group to stay together. We thought if we did that we could go that step further and make a grand final, and hopefully win one.
"Heading into the prelim (against Adelaide) there was a feeling that losing wasn't an option for us. We have that belief because we have worked so hard together and hopefully that pays off on Sunday.
"It is a nice reward that we get to play in this grand final because we did stick together."
The 2021 premiership winner was not named recently in the All-Australian squad for AFLW Season Seven but that did not faze her.
"I am quite self-aware and I know I wasn't as dominant this season as I was last season, but I don't play for any external validation or rewards," she said.
"It is more about how my teammates and coaches see me. If they are happy with how I am performing then that is all that matters."
Bates has been at the top of her game in the Lions' two finals wins and intends to replicate that form on Sunday.
"You know (in a grand final) you can leave everything out on the field because there is absolutely no tomorrow," she said.
The Lions trained for the first time on the Springfield playing surface on Monday night.
"It was pretty special yesterday to finally get to train on the ground after staring at it for the last six weeks," Bates said.
"Everyone is really excited."