Cross-coder Eliza Hynes took a significant journey last year; from playing Indoor Volleyball in Europe to Australian Football in her home state of Victoria – today her trip is shorter, though still challenging in its own way.
“You’ve caught me running from work to training! I’ve built up a sweat in this 30 degree heat...”
Eliza is just one of the dozens of women in the AFLW whose ability to compete at the highest level is predicated by the necessity of part or full-time work, a reality that deserves to be highlighted.
“These commitments actually throw a lot of people and when you’re starting from ground zero, the juggling act that all of these women are doing and trying to improve the sport and build the grassroots...I just want to commend all of the women who are doing it.”
It’s a suite of commitments that Hynes doesn’t take lightly either; the Collingwood ruck has hit the ground running since joining the biggest club in the land as a rookie, this season she has been rewarded with promotion to the senior list.
“I’m in a position where I’m the number one ruck and I’m earning that position every day. I never want people to have the opinion that I was given this position, I’ve very much worked hard from a cross-code rookie position to perfect as much as possible.”
Her dedication to improving the craft of rucking having come from a different sporting background has endeared Eliza to many already; she hopes that this continues and continues to be recognised by the people who matter the most to her football career.
“A lot of people would think it’s very different [in volleyball], that I wouldn’t have the intensity for football – but I beg to differ. Also, with volleyball being such a ‘ground’ sport, I’ve tried to take as much [of that] into football as possible. Being a ‘tall’ in football at six-foot (183cm), football people aren’t expecting me to play at that ground level.
“From not having played a game of football to hopefully being one of the most dominant rucks in the league, within two years...that’s my aim, to be the best positional player that I can be. I hope my peers and coaches can see the work ethic behind that.”
One thing Eliza and her peers will surely contend within 2019 is the almost forensic scrutiny that comes with playing in the infamous black and white stripes, as the Magpies look to improve on successive seasons marked by slow starts amid the tumult of new rules, teams and conferences.
“I’ve always barracked for Collingwood, so I know the stigma. I think everyone involved, at whatever level thrives off that scrutiny in a sense, because we always want to prove them wrong.”
Hynes says she is not burdened by the underdog tag, nor is she too concerned with crystal ball-gazing pundits, many of whom do not have the Pies in their calculations for the premiership.
“Coming into season three, just as a ‘whole team feel’, it feels very welcoming and there’s a lot of respect amongst all of the ladies.
“In these first few seasons, no-one can count anybody out, because teams can win on spirit over talent. It’s purely whoever connects as a team, whoever wants to work hard for each other, they will be the ones who ultimately prevail.”
The respect extends to her new teammates too, with one, in particular, a stand-out.
“I’m very impressed with all the girls coming through, but I can’t go past Maddie Shevlin. She has so much knowledge of the game and a voice amongst the junior and senior girls to share it.
“It all comes with a sense of care and a want to build the sport, what she says is so invaluable.
“I’m so impressed with how mature she is on and off the field, I’d praise her forever and a day – a very good team character. She’s got my tick of approval – very much a captain-in-waiting.”
It’s almost disarming how effusive Hynes is in her praise for mature-aged recruit Shevlin, but less so when couched against her outlook on the camaraderie of a large organisation like an AFLW club and a narrative that defines the fundamental relationship of sport to her life.
“My career, from beach to indoor volleyball and now football, has always had that sense of longing for a big team as a big family.
“With the girls recruited into the club, we’re recruiting on personal values, so I think everyone is bringing a [sense of] belonging and really the passion of wanting to be there, to become that family.
“As long as we’re all on track together, as long as we’re all in it for the right reasons, I don’t think we’ll have any issues this season.
“We have the ability to kinda build something really great.”