Eliza Hynes was a mad Collingwood supporter growing up in Bendigo. She was forever booting the footy around her backyard and the school playground. She dreamed of emulating her Magpie heroes. But when she was a young teenager, the footy pathways for talented young girls were virtually non-existent.
Still, even as a young girl, she was fiercely competitive and driven. She clearly had an abundance of athletic talent. And her self-belief was unshakeable. “I made the commitment that I was going to do some great things in sport,” Hynes says. “I moved school twice as a kid just so I could get the best possible coaching and be in the eyes of those recruiting for the AIS [Australian Institute of Sport].”
Indeed, as a sportswoman in her teens and twenties, she had an immense range of talents and a unique sporting CV. She was at the AIS as a beach volleyballer and played for the national team. She played state league netball. She played elite-level volleyball in Finland and Germany. And now she’s playing Australian Rules, a sport that is arguably the most challenging of them all.
But nothing was ever handed to her. “My first overseas volleyball contract was to a team in Finland,” she recalls. “I worked so hard at getting that opportunity. I wanted to make sure I committed myself to succeed. I told everyone, my parents included, that I had the nine-month contract signed, sealed and that I was off. I didn’t tell them it was a two-week trial for a position in the team.”
Despite her footy career coming out of the blue, there were likewise no guarantees and no quarters given. Yes, she had the leap and the long levers of a volleyball player. But, like so many other AFLW rookies, she had to start from scratch. She was playing for the Ariels in the Victoria Netball League and the team’s strength and conditioning coach happened to be Cecilia McIntosh, an AFLW pioneer. They were kicking the footy and started throwing a few ideas around. Just like that, the seed was sown: McIntosh put her name forward to Pies coach Wayne Siekman.
“I’d always dreamed of playing AFL, so I didn’t think twice,” she says. “I came home [from Germany, where she was playing volleyball], trialled and signed. Ambition is often about taking risks.”
The same applies to her day job as an acquisition specialist at Australia Post. Securing the job was about taking a risk and about backing herself. Thriving in the role has been testament to her ability to juggle an extraordinary workload – both in the office and on the field.
“I got my current job with $7 in my bank account and a trail of debt. I got it by identifying my personal values and skills and my self-worth. I established all that, then I reached out to someone I aspire to be. I’m now working in an organisation that I dreamed I’d be working for.”
Juggling these immensely different roles is a challenge, however, as it is for all AFLW players. Dealing with a string of losses and social media trolls can exacerbate the pressure.
“There are days after a hard loss or a tough late-night training session where you are in a mental rut, but you have deadlines or meetings the next day, and it can be very challenging. Saying ‘leave it at the door’ is much easier said than done. But working full-time is humbling. There’s a lot of support in the workplace, which more than outweighs the negative social media posts.”
Hynes’s sporting life hasn’t been all rainbows and butterflies. She’s lived in a stack of share houses. She’s had to let go of sports she loved. And she admits to questioning whether she’s making the right choices, whether she should just pack it in and concentrate on her working career. But she is a competitor to the core. And her desire for sporting success is insatiable. “Ambition is the reason we cry when we lose,” she says. “We want to achieve that dream so much that it hurts.”
Even her brief footy career has been a whirlwind ride thus far. Since signing on as a rookie with Collingwood for the 2018 season, she’s played in front of nearly 50,000 people at Optus Stadium in Perth. She’s had to deal with being dropped. But she’s since established herself as a key member of the Collingwood side. And, despite being 27, as a relative newcomer she still has plenty of upside.
For someone who’s been immersed in the elite sporting world from a young age, she’s better placed than most to comment on the burgeoning AFLW competition. “The women playing are so diverse. No matter their age, race, personality, occupation or previous sport, there’s a real sense of camaraderie,” she says. “This won’t change. We’ll only get stronger as a competition and as a sporting community.”
Eliza Hynes was one of four Collingwood AFLW players to have been immortalised in art on two new street murals commissioned by CGU Insurance. The artwork was created to celebrate the women's sport and shine the spotlight on the ambitious women that play professional AFL, many of whom also work second jobs.