MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - FEBRUARY 06: Montana McKinnon of the Crows celebrates during the 2022 AFLW Round 05 match between the Carlton Blues and the Adelaide Crows at Ikon Park on February 6, 2022 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Dylan Burns/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

Adelaide Crows AFLW ruck Montana McKinnon says it was "pretty tough" missing selection for every game in 2021 but admits it could be a blessing in disguise "in the long run".

McKinnon, who was taken with the Crows' first pick in the 2019 AFLW draft, had a career-best 12 hit-outs and 12 disposals in her side's 39 point win over Carlton on Sunday.

The performance saw her receive a NAB AFL Women's Rising Star nomination along with Carlton's Mimi Hill, who was outstanding in her return from an ACL injury with 26 disposals.

After playing two games in her debut season, McKinnon missed selection in every game throughout 2021 as Adelaide made their third AFLW grand final.

Speaking to media on Wednesday, McKinnon said watching her teammates' success from the sidelines inspired her to work harder to force her way into the team.

"I obviously didn't play last year which was pretty tough, so I knew in the off-season that I needed to improve my fitness, strength," she said.

"I was in the gym, running a fair bit, so both in the off-season into the pre-season I worked pretty hard."

While McKinnon said that missing out was difficult at the time, the 20-year-old suggested it may have been the best thing for her development.

"Obviously ... it wasn't too fun not being in the team," she said.

"It makes it a little bit easier when the girls were performing so well, getting to watch them play the grand final and still being a part of that game day experience was just unreal.

"But I worked a lot harder this off-season to put my best foot forward and put my hand up for selection so hopefully in the long run it (not playing in 2021) helped out."

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McKinnon paid tribute to senior coach Matthew Clarke, who remained supportive while she wasn't in the team.

"He was saying just keep working hard, my time will come ... when it comes, just enjoy it," said McKinnon.

Clarke, who himself played in the ruck, was also a Rising Star nominee in 1994 and McKinnon says it's been great to learn her trade from the head coach.

"It's really good having 'Doc' as our head coach, he definitely knows his stuff," she said.

"Us rucks getting to train under him has been really good."

McKinnon's ruck partner-in-crime, Caitlin Gould, was also influential in the 39 point win, kicking a goal to go along with her 10 disposals and nine hit-outs.

McKinnon said she is enjoying playing with her 'really good friend'.

"Me and Caitlin are really good friends, we're both loving getting to play together."

"We both bring our strengths into the games and I feel like we work really well together."

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Adelaide, the most successful team in AFLW history with two premierships from three Grand Final appearances, are the only unbeaten team at the halfway point of the season and McKinnon highlighted the 'vibes' at the club.

"It's just really fun. The group of girls I'm playing with are great," she said.

"The vibe's really good - even since pre-season the vibe around the club has been really good."