Inaugural Geelong AFLW captain Melissa Hickey may have called time on her Cats career at the end of 2020, but the 36-year-old hasn’t been lost to footy, and is “busier than ever” balancing full-time work with coaching and commentating.
Hickey, who played 25 AFL Women’s games across Melbourne (13) and Geelong (12), following on from an illustrious state league career, is now passing her knowledge on to the next generation of junior footballers in the Geelong region and beyond.
Ahead of the 2021 season, she was appointed assistant coach at the Geelong Falcons, across its boys’ and girls’ Under 19 programs, and was later given the opportunity to be head coach of the Vic Country Under 19 Girls program.
“(It) was probably one of the most enjoyable coaching experiences I had to date,” Hickey said.
“Just getting to set up the program – we had four camps and three games. It was an awesome opportunity to bring a really talented group together."
Hickey jokingly refers to her Vic Country girls as the ‘national champs’, despite the fact no championship is awarded in the national under 19 competition. But her charges made it through a challenge match and their two championship matches undefeated, putting in a claim as the strongest team in the competition.
The efforts saw Hickey named coach of the AFLW Under-19 Championships All-Australian team, while six of her Vic Country charges were named in the team.
A huge congratulations to a couple of our VFLW Cats, Annie Lee and Chloe Leonard, on making the AFLW U19 All-Australian team! ??— Geelong Cats Womens (@catswomens) July 9, 2021
Cats fans may also find a very familiar name listed as coach ??
(congratulations @melissahickey18 ????) https://t.co/j3ruDliA4H
“It was just amazing,” Hickey said. “We got to bring together a group of girls from all over country Victoria, and that was the point of difference that we kind of galvanised – that we were country people and that set us apart from all the other states and, obviously, Vic Metro.
“I just felt that the girls gelled from that very first camp … and it was a pretty simple game plan, but I guess my philosophy as coach is just to really empower people to feel confident and go out there and do their best.
“We knew that if we played as a team, we could beat anyone. It was just really cool to see the level of talent that is out there.”
While Hickey’s coaching journey is gaining momentum, she says there is still plenty for her to learn, but isn’t afraid of setting the bar high: she would love to be an AFLW head coach one day.
“I’ve had female coaches in the past, and they’ve been amazing,” she said. “They bring different strengths as well, so I think I’m really keen to keep pursuing that and see how far I can go with the aim to one day being an AFLW head coach.
“I acknowledge I’ve got heaps I still need to learn, but I’m really excited to develop the game sense and strategy side of things, and keep working on that and learning around what it takes to be at that next level.”
Hickey, who works full-time as a consultant and team leader in the occupational rehab field, also managed to find time to squeeze in some commentary appearances during the AFLW season.
There would be weekends the former Cat would commentate one day, coach the next, and then get ready to head back to work for her Monday-to-Friday job.
Despite the full timetable, Hickey said she enjoyed the challenge commentating brought.
“It’s a different level of stress and pressure,” she said. “I think it’s getting used to so much stimulus around you and really trying to focus.
“It can be a bit related to footy in some ways: trying to stay in the present moment, and speak about what you’re seeing, what you’re thinking, not getting distracted because you can see yourself on the screen just below the camera, and you get someone talking to you in your ear, a producer, and things like that. That’s a challenge.”
Hickey also recently played her first game of footy since retiring from the AFLW, lacing up for local club Geelong Amateurs, where she had the fun opportunity to play alongside some of the girls she had coached through the Geelong Falcons program.