After rupturing her ACL in the penultimate round of the 2018 AFLW season, Melissa Hickey made her return to football last weekend. Donning new colours this season, the Geelong Cats captain opens up about the challenges she faced in rehab and the Cats season so far.
How was it to run out as the captain of Geelong for the first time last weekend?
It was pretty amazing. I’ve only captained Victoria for one game so I even had to be reminded of my job to toss the coin and address the team (laughs). It’s interesting at 34 to still be working through things for the first time in your career, it’s pretty cool. There were a few things going on on Sunday, it was my first game for about 11 months, at a new club and then as captain so it was a pretty special moment.
How’d your knee hold up being your first game back as you mentioned?
Yeah, it held up as well as I could’ve hoped. I thought about it maybe once at the start of the last quarter. I was like ‘oh, I’ve got through so far!’ but I didn’t feel like I was hesitant or anything. Obviously, I’ve done a lot of work to get through to where I am now so you trust the hard work that you’ve done. The staff here have got me up to a point where I’m fit, ready and strong enough to play again so it felt amazing.
Despite not getting the win, what has the energy around the Cats been like throughout this first season?
It’s an awesome group of girls. We were aware of not only being new to the comp but also setting some pretty high expectations as a group and we’ve got a pretty awesome experience to be able to set up a culture and try and drive values and standards. The club has their existing ones, but being able to implement what that means for this group has been enjoyable. It’s a great opportunity and each week we’re just trying to learn and get better and coming back home this weekend it’ll be nice for us to be back on our home deck.
How did being on a limited pre-season affect your ability to get involved with the club and your teammates during a time that is so critical in developing relationships?
It definitely tested my resilience and confidence as an athlete a bit because you always want to be training as much as you can and with the main group. The physios and our strength and conditioning staff were amazing in trying to get me into as many drills as possible. I wasn’t allowed to do contact up until the Christmas break so there was a fair bit that I did miss out on but there were also sessions where we tried to accelerate that so I did a bit more with everyone and could try to be ready to go for Round 1. I had a bit of a setback this side of Christmas with a sore hip that I had to get a bit of cortisone into so that disrupted things again but like I said it definitely tested my resilience a bit.
Coming over from Melbourne, what have been the key differences since arriving at Geelong?
I was pleasantly surprised from the first session as to how skilled this team were and how fit they were. Just the club as a whole, they’re genuinely excited about having this women’s side and giving us the best opportunity to be the athletes that we want to be. In terms of my leadership I feel really valued here, I have a voice and if I have an opinion about a certain part of the program then that’s listened to and acted on which is really awesome.
Has the linkage between Geelong’s VFLW team and the AFLW team helped?
Yeah, no doubt. Obviously all the other clubs are into their third season now so they’ve all had that chemistry and played together before and that connection. To have a core group that have played quite a bit of football together is obviously really, really important for that. It’s a short pre-season so to have some of those connections already is an advantage. The youth we’ve got in our side are some of the most skilled footballers I’ve ever seen.
Being the captain what key messages and advice have you been trying to instil on such a young playing group?
It’s interesting because there are quite a few of them that are just here taking their opportunity so there are a few you don’t really have to speak to but rather just encourage them to keep going. We’ve had quite a few challenges early on in the season with a few key injuries and players missing out so the maturity of this group to have been able to cope with that has been really impressive. Our focus is to keep humble, to keep working hard and just to keep learning from each game. We’ll only become better and better if we’ve got that attitude.
What key drivers have you established as a club to build that strong team culture and bond as a group to drive on and off-field success?
The club has its own set of values that we’ve adopted and curated to be a bit more specific to us. Being united first and foremost, trying to have precision with our skills, be adventurous to try and be an attacking side and having conviction. They’re the club values that we’ve adopted for our side. We’ve tried to adopt them and make them our own.
What has it been like to have three former Melbourne teammates join you as well?
It’s pretty special. I’ve also got two old Darebin teammates here so that connection when you’ve played with people before makes it that little bit more special and you can keep building on that at training. You’ve got a different level of rapport and respect because you’ve already played together. It’s pretty awesome to look around and see those guys out there.
Good luck for the season and thanks for chatting with me, Mel!
No worries, thank you.