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Melbourne Football Club

Hickey ready for year three at Melbourne

IN 2013, DEFENDER Melissa Hickey waited until the 10th pick of the inaugural AFL Women’s Draft for Melbourne to call her name.

Fast-forward two years and the self-described “competitor” is one of just six players retained on Melbourne’s list heading into the 2015 draft.

Hickey, who was recruited from top-tier Victorian Women’s Football League (VWFL) club Darebin Falcons, said she’d formed a connection with the club from day one.

“When I was drafted to Melbourne I got on the club website and tried to get an idea of the club and its history,” she told melbournefc.com.au.

“The more you’re around the club, you start to build a connection and Melbourne have supported the VWFL for so long – they’re the original supporter of women’s footy.

“It means a lot to us. I’m genuinely proud to be part of the club. The opportunities we get are genuine – it’s not token, they’re genuinely passionate.”

A relative latecomer to top-level football, Hickey took up the sport in 2009 and less than four years later, was among the first crop of players drafted to an AFL women’s team.

A strong, uncompromising centre half back, Hickey now forms a crucial part of Melbourne’s defensive unit and played an important role in negating Western Bulldogs star Katie Brennan in 2014.

Heading into the 2015 match, Hickey said she was looking forward to once again facing off against Brennan, a talented and ever-improving key forward, and her teammate at Darebin.

“Given we’re centre half back and centre half forward for Darebin, we do train against each other a lot,” Hickey said.

“I know her game really well and I know her strengths as well, so obviously playing against her is a big, big challenge for me.”

“I guess your pride [is on the line] as well, representing Melbourne, we like to win and put women’s football on display and try to produce the best game we can.”

With the already high standard of women’s football continuing to improve, preparation and recovery have become an increasingly emphasised part of the game, with the game’s elite as well-known for their professionalism as their obvious talent.

Heading into the final few years of her career, and with a knee reconstruction in 2012 still fresh in her mind, Hickey, a consummate professional, maintains a strong focus on her fitness throughout the season.

“Something I always have to be conscious of is doing all my rehab and doing lots of strength work – I’m in the gym a couple of times a week, making sure my body’s right,” Hickey said.

“Obviously we’ve got quite a long season and given the two AFL games, I’m conscious of getting the body right and making sure that I’m up for every game and especially those AFL games, I want to be cherry ripe for them.”

When looking at women’s football as a whole, Hickey said an overall increase in the “exposure level” and recognition of the sport, reflected in a growth in junior football participation, was the main change to have taken place during her time in the game.

 “I’ve noticed the level of awareness has already increased over the five or six years I’ve been involved,” she said.

“On that other side is obviously there’s more juniors, the youth girls competitions are growing every year – it’s pretty amazing, especially in Victoria, so it’s definitely having a flow-on effect.

“And I guess that means at the end of the day we’re just having a better brand of football, better skills and a better product at the end of the day if it all feeds up well.”

With a full AFL Women’s competition edging ever closer, Hickey said the sport’s development opened up a wide range of possibilities for girls to play a professional sport at the elite level.

 “I guess it’s your dream as a little kid and something that I definitely didn’t think was a possibility growing up, it was always just really a dream,” she said.

“I grew up in the country so I wasn’t even aware that a women’s competition existed.

“So for a kid that’s growing up now that will just be the norm [and] something they could aim for.”

As for the 2015 draft? Hickey will attend tonight’s event but as a Melbourne Football Club representative and spectator, rather than as a nervous nominee.

“It’s much nicer when you’ve already been selected,” she said.