Women made history this year with the launch of the AFL Women's competition and the response & support from the Australian public exceeded the expectations of every player, spectator and AFL official.
Celebrating what was amazing achievement and huge step forward in women's sport and gender equality, we chatted to Melissa Hickey, marquee player and inaugural member of the first AFLW All Australian team, about the season just passed, the challenges, triumphs and her hopes for the future of the league.
1. The love and interest to play football definitely runs in your family blood, what and when was your first moment when you knew that you wanted to pursue football as a dream career?
I definitely remember being in primary school and wanting to be a footballer, they were my heroes and I loved playing the game so much, I would have been maybe 10. Sadly that dream quickly faded when I realized that the AFL back then was only a place for men so it was an absolute delight and felt like a dream come true when Gill McLachlan announced the 2017 AFLW season.
2. The inaugural AFL Women’s match attracted a capacity crowd with many more fans locked out unable to get through the gates, how have you found the support for the league throughout the season?
The support has been absolutely overwhelming and has exceeded any expectations I had. It was so amazing to have so many people attend matches and watch it on TV also, the media coverage really impressed me also, especially early when there was not a lot of men’s AFL news. Some of my most treasured moments were after the game walking around the boundary and taking photos and signing autographs and meeting so many young fans, the majority that were young girls but lots of young boys too.
3. Melbourne Football Club label you as ‘the best central defender in Women’s football’, do you feel pressure having been selected as a Marquee player and how do you deal with it?
I certainly feel pressure to perform as a Marquee player, but generally they are my own high expectations of myself. It’s something that like most things gets easier as time goes on, so I found towards the end of the season I was thinking less about it. I dealt with it like I do most challenges and tried to really monitor my thoughts and tried to replace them with really positive thoughts about all of the hard work I had done and how prepared I was to play and to have the best season yet.
4. What has been the biggest challenge for you this season?
The biggest challenge has been juggling the increased training workload whilst having to balance work and all of other life’s commitments. I am certainly looking forward to having much more sleep now that the season is over.
5. If you had to choose one key learning from this season, what would it be?
For me it is always about football, so I really want to work on a few key things from this season and work really hard over the next 6-8 months to improve even further for next season and be ready for the AFLW 2018.
6. What do you think are the biggest challenges facing female athletes, specifically those in the AFL Women’s league.
I think as I mentioned before a lot of the girls would have been really challenged by balancing work and training loads. I think it is incredibly hard to be a semi-professional athlete, training until late hours and backing it up at work the next day. This has probably been a big challenge for female athletes over the years given the amount of money that we are paid to be athletes the majority still need to maintain full time work or close to. Hopefully that’s something we see change over the years and have seen changes in other female sports already which are really pleasing.
7. What are your hopes for the future of the AFLW competition?
I think the dream is for every AFL club to have an AFLW team, and for us to have our own full season. The players will be paid as full time athletes and be able to train as professional athletes with that being their sole occupation, that’s my dream for AFLW.
8. During the off-season as well as the on-season, you train long and hard. What do you love to do in your off-time to unwind?
I love my family, friends and good food so any combination of those really helps me to unwind, going out for brunch or dinner with loved ones. I also love going for a walk with my dog along the Merri Creek, it’s a beautiful slice of nature very close to the CBD.
9. Do you have a highlight moment from the first season of the AFL Women’s League?
I think the highlight for me was winning our first match against Collingwood in Round 2 when we came from behind to win. The feeling after the match with my teammates and running around the boundary are some of the best moments you can ever experience.
10. Finally, is there anything you would say to the young girls out there watching you, who want to play women’s football like yourself?
I would tell them to aim high, to reach for the stars, if they want to play in the AFL then if they can dream it and are willing to work hard for it, it can happen. It is the greatest game in the world and the feeling when you are running out with your team mates and are feeling fit and strong, it really is the greatest feeling!