No fuss defender has career that would speak otherwise

ALTHOUGH not one to make a fuss, Tanya Hetherington enjoyed an illustrious career that often did not get the attention it deserved.

That illustrious career came to an end in Season 7 of the AFLW competition, after a six season, 46 game career in the orange and charcoal.

Ever the team player, she did not want to exit the game with much fuss or fanfare.

“I think if you know me pretty well I like to think I’m someone that gets more enjoyment out of seeing others thrive, so for me it kind of never sat well with me if I was ever the centre of attention,” she said.

“As much as people would still have a laugh and a joke about me kicking a goal, that was always something I would have loved to have done, but for me to be honest, firstly I never made decisions prior to the end of a season anyway. I can honestly say I took every season on its merits so it was a case of “how do I feel at the end of this season? Do the coaches still see value in me? Is my body still holding up?” So I would get to the end of a season and be in that position where I’d address those questions, but coming into this season is the first time that I’d come in prepared for it to be my last.

“I’d never done that prior, and that’s based on the fact that I know that the comps getting younger, they’re getting quicker and I’ve never wanted to go out not being the player that I was.”

But her time in Sydney was only one part of the no nonsense defender’s journey.

A life long love of the game was sparked at home as a young girl with her dad.

“My dad was actually an umpire, so I grew up as a young girl, there’s actually this cool photo of me in gum boots and in our back yard, but I reckon I’m maybe two or three doing a full drop punt.

“So growing up I don’t remember being taught how to kick a footy, but obviously I was, so I think having Dad as an umpire, I just remember my childhood we used to go to his games even though he was umpiring.

“You can’t really cheer for an umpire,” she said with a laugh. “But we used to go to the games all the time.

“So I just remember growing up kind of footy mad, but again I have no living memory of being taught the skills.”

Despite being a talented netballer as a youngster, Hetherington always had a love for footy and used to play in once off school tournaments and things went from there.

Although recruited to the Giants from Diamond Creek in the VFL Women’s competition, her path to Diamond Creek actually began further east at university at Deakin University in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs.

After playing at the University Games in the inaugural football competition alongside friends and future team mates such as Dianna Haines, Anna Saxton and Laura Ernst, they eventually went on to join Surrey Park and be a part of their women’s team.

However, despite loving the season she played there, things would take a turn for Hetherington and her crew.

After being called into a meeting, they were told by the men’s side of the Panthers that the club no longer wanted a women’s team, so the group found themselves stranded.

However, after Ernst and fellow team mate Laura Fraser went to a delegates meeting, things turned around for them and a new home at Diamond Creek was found for the group.

They would go on to have a long career at the Creekers, with many joining the committee and ultimately winning the 2012 Premiership in the old VWFL Premier Division against arch rivals Darebin.

Although she did nominate for the 2016 AFLW draft, she was not selected in that inaugural draft and had to sit and watch 2017 from the sidelines.

However, this was not a shock to Hetherington like it would have been for many others who did not get picked up that day.

She was still in the process of recovering from an ACL injury after having injured it in the 2015 Preliminary Final, so although hopeful that one of the clubs would give her a chance, she was ultimately realistic about her chances, particularly after some conversations with some key individuals.

She did not spend the 2016 season quietly by herself. She was given the opportunity to coach her beloved Creekers, and after the initial hesitations she was convinced by the likes of Steph Chiocci to go ahead with the move.

This saw her on draft day more feeling proud that so many of her charges had gone on to get drafted than disappointed that her own dream had not been realised.

Her experiences in 2016 proved more beneficial for Hetherington than perhaps she initially anticipated.

After what happened in 2016, she returned to the Creekers in 2017 with a new attitude to playing. She took the stress out of playing and it worked wonders for her.

“One day I’m driving to work at Monash and I end up getting a call from Chyloe Kurdas who had explained to me [the pair knew each other because Hetherington had done some coaching for Kurdas prior], and she calls me and she says ‘you’ve been playing some really good footy at the moment’ and I just thought she was having a chat, and then she goes ‘I’m actually doing some scout work for the Giants in Victoria and they’ve got a trial weekend. Would you be interested in trying out for that?’ I thought ‘Why not?'”

This was the start of what ultimately led to her joining the Giants.

After attending the trial dates and after a number of meetings and conversations with key Giants personnel, she was told that the Giants were going to take her.

As part of the process, she was actually told that her coaching experience at the Creekers was one of the deciding factors that led to the Giants picking her. Her coaching experience and the benefits it could bring to the young Giants group was appealing to those at the Giants, and that’s what got her over the line.

In an amusing twist of fate, although she had that certainty of where she was going on draft night after her coach Alan McConnell had given her that certainty, an old rivalry meant she had other things on her mind on draft night.

“When we get to the draft I remember one of the things I was terrified of was that Jess Dal Pos was the one that was calling out the names, and she’s obviously from Darebin and I was like ‘Oh my gosh’ and I was terrified of Dally and I remember saying to Choch [former Creeker and now Pies skipper Steph Chiocci] ‘is she even going to call out my name?’. That rivalry was so strong, I was thinking ‘is this going to work? Are we even going to get along? What’s it going to be like?’ and I was really nervous for that, that’s actually what I was nervous for and I remember she obviously read my name out and came down and gave me my name card to keep.”

“But that was one of the things I was really daunted about, but I think what helped is Alicia Eva was there and I knew her again from, you get to know a lot of the girls when you play against them for so long and Alicia was one of them that I did know from Melbourne Uni. She obviously had the trade to the Giants so she was there, and I remember that was really helpful because I was like ‘ok, there’s another Melbournian going up there’, because I remember thinking I don’t really know anyone other than them.

“I was also lucky Phoebe McWilliams was one of the first I reached out to. I actually played netball with Pheobe back in the day, and then she was at the Sharks so I knew her quite well so when she was there she was the first one I reached out to.”

Despite the nerves that would have been normal in this situation, Hetherington came in with the attitude of wanting to prove a point and came in ready to work hard and make the most of the opportunity she had been given.

Now that the dust has settled and her career is all done, Hetherington suspects her younger self would be proud of how far she has come.

“I think my younger self would say that ‘you knew you could do it’” she said.

“Growing up and having a kick, she’d just be really proud. She’d say ‘you probably did it the hard way, but you did it and you’ve just had an absolute ball doing it.’ Because that’s why you play footy, and I loved it as a kid and I still love it now. That never weaned for me, and that’s the message I’d give people. If it’s no longer fun, you can’t do something you don’t enjoy anymore and that’s why I got the most out of myself because I genuinely loved going to training and loved playing the game.”

Although she struggled to name one favourite memory from her career, a couple she did name included the love she felt after her final game, and “the ride” she went on with her “misfits” in her first season, and the win against the Bulldogs to give themselves a shot at an inaugural Grand Final.

When asked what was next for her, Hetherington had one simple answer – coaching.

There was hope that she could have gone into a role at the Giants, but due to budget constraints that was not possible.

But with a number of offers currently on the table, Hetherington’s love for coaching will continue  and those under her tutelage will get to benefit from an often underrated stalwart of the game.

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