Harrington and Hynes revelling in new AFLW challenge

EARLIER this week members of Collingwood’s AFLW team posed for a photo wearing the jumpers of their previous football clubs.

The purpose was to “never forget where you came from”.

New Magpies’ vice-captain Emma Grant proudly donned her No.6 Bendigo Thunder guernsey, but for team-mate Eliza Hynes, she can be seen in the back row wearing an Australian volleyball top.

Bendigo’s Hynes is one of the AFLW’s “code hoppers” – an athlete who has excelled previously in another sport before grasping the AFLW opportunity.

For Hynes, her sporting background is tied to volleyball, where she has spent the previous decade representing Australia at both indoor and beach volleyball, while also playing overseas in Europe.

The 26-year-old has no previous ties to a football club – hence her volleyball top for the Collingwood photo shoot – and before signing with the Magpies her only experience with the Sherrin had been kick-to-kick with her dad and brother.

But Hynes – earmarked for a role in the ruck – has revelled in her new environment at the Magpies and on Friday night will take the field for her AFLW debut against Carlton at IKON Park.

“The biggest challenge I’ve found is just making sure you’re on top of your game because there’s so many variables to get caught up in with the systems your team is running, plus the opposition and who some of their go-to players are going to be,” Hynes said this week.

READY AND RARING: Eliza Hynes grew up a Collingwood supporter. Now she's a Magpies' AFLW player. Picture: COLLINGWOOD MEDIA

READY AND RARING: Eliza Hynes grew up a Collingwood supporter. Now she's a Magpies' AFLW player. Picture: COLLINGWOOD MEDIA

“The big focus for me is making sure I keep my head cool, calm and collected and that if I’m on top of my game then, ideally, it will be smooth sailing.

“I’ve still got a lot to learn and I don’t have the expectation of knowing it all come my first game.”

Hynes grew up a “mad” Collingwood supporter and says one of her more surreal moments of her experience so far has been working with one of her idols, Anthony Rocca, who played 220 games for the Magpies.

“Anthony has helped me out with a few sessions, and has been back this week helping myself and Emma King on our ruck craft and that has been fantastic to have him working with us,” Hynes said.

NATIONAL DUTIES: Bendigo's Eliza Hynes in action for Australia at last July's Group 3 World Grand Prix final. Picture: JAMILA TODERAS

NATIONAL DUTIES: Bendigo's Eliza Hynes in action for Australia at last July's Group 3 World Grand Prix final. Picture: JAMILA TODERAS

“The interaction as a whole club has been a fantastic. We trained together (with the men) a few weeks ago and I had strong interaction with ruckmen Brodie Grundy and Mason Cox, who were just open books.

“I couldn’t be more proud of the club I have chosen to support and now play with that they are such a whole club that wants to share information to become stronger.”

When 183cm Hynes takes to the field at IKON Park on Friday night in front of what’s expected to be another bumper crowd like last year, it will be just her fifth game of football.

She has played two practice matches with the Magpies, and also played two games last year with Edithvale-Aspdendale ahead of the start of pre-season training in November.

“Basically starting from scratch, I started just with short kicking, hitting targets and building from there,” Hynes said.

“I didn’t have any existing habits coming in, which has been good because I’m building my skills straight from an elite program and I’ve been able to get taught from the best.”

Friday night’ season-opening clash will feature another Bendigo “code-hopping” athlete – Carlton’s Kerryn Harrington.

Eliza Hynes during her volleyball career.

Eliza Hynes during her volleyball career.

Harrington had made her name on the basketball court and, like Hynes, has represented her country, having played for Australia at the 2009 and 2011 Under-19 World Championships.

But the former Bendigo Spirit point guard last year turned her attention to football with the Bendigo Thunder and made a seamless transition, jointly winning the best and fairest in a premiership season with young gun Tiahna Cochrane.

The 25-year-old had already been signed by Carlton as a rookie in May, but has since been added to the Blues’ primary list and has forced her way into the round one side.

A year ago Harrington was among the lock-out crowd of more than 24,000 at IKON Park as Carlton and Collingwood played the first game in AFLW history. And from that moment she was hooked.

DETERMINED: Former Bendigo Spirit point guard Kerryn Harrington has made the transition from basketball to AFLW with Carlton. Picture: CARLTON MEDIA

DETERMINED: Former Bendigo Spirit point guard Kerryn Harrington has made the transition from basketball to AFLW with Carlton. Picture: CARLTON MEDIA

“There were quite a few Bendigo girls who I knew playing in that game and already being a huge footy fan myself, I was just standing there in absolute awe of what I was witnessing,” Harrington said this week.

“It’s obviously been a big process to get to where I am now, but I certainly look back at that game last year as the moment where I wanted to be involved.

“The biggest difference I’ve found is the scale that women’s footy is on compared to the WNBL.

“We have a list of 30 players versus a WNBL list of 12 with a couple of development players. We’ve got five coaches, plus sports science, an enormous medical team and welfare team, so at training there could be up to 60 people involved.

“Clearly the training is different. The aerobic endurance that is required in footy is far greater than what it was for basketball.

“So there are some big differences, but also a lot of similarities with the professionalism of the staff and players in terms of preparation.”

Harrington is one of four former Bendigo Thunder players on Carlton’s list this year, along with Sarah Last, Tiahna Cochrane and Reni Hicks.

“My goal is to cement my place in the side first and then build team success, hopefully, towards a premiership,” Harrington said.

Harrington isn’t the only Bendigo player with a basketball pedigree on an AFLW list. Anna Teague is a former Bendigo Lady Braves’ player now with Melbourne.