Mead raring to go for 2023 return

AFTER a couple of injury and COVID-related interrupted seasons, Sydney Uni recruit Keiley Mead is keen to only look ahead as she chases her AFL Women’s dream. The NSW/ACT-based defender/wing was a rising talent in the AFL Sydney competition for Southern Power before the an ankle injury and COVID-19 cancellations put a line through her 2021 season, and more recently an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tear ruled Mead out of the 2022 year.

Mead began playing for the Power in 2018 when she was just 16 years-old, having come from an elite baseball background. She won back-to-back flags in the Under 18s competition and then stepped up to the Premier side in 2020. With AFL Women’s expansion talks in the air, Mead was looking to put in a big effort in 2021, but never got the chance.

“I stayed with Southern Power playing in their Prems team for a year (2020) and then the following year was playing with them again and did my ankle in Round 1 so not a great start to the season but then we had Covid so the season got shutdown much like the rest of the country,” Mead said. “Then trained up, was ready to go again and unfortunately did my ACL so had a bit of a dodgy run with injuries for two years.

“Before I did my ACL I was in the talks with a couple of the Swans people so I had some mates playing for them and was looking to try and jump into their train-on squad so they had their open athlete trials and they had a couple of different events like their Summer Series things like that so was looking to join all of that and obviously the ACL shut that down.”

In a more unconventional rehabilitation move, Mead did not opt for surgery, and instead was ready to go within nine months having built up the strength and confidence to get out on the park. When she does get back on-field, it will be in the new colours of Sydney Uni, pairing up with her radiography degree.

“We healed my ACL without surgery, so a bit of a different path that most girls take going through surgery and rehab,” Mead said. “I actually had a much quicker recovery, I was ready to go at nine months, but it was just taking the time since then to just get it strong. I’ve transferred clubs this year so I’m at Sydney Uni in my final year of radiography and so it made sense to swap across to them and I’ve joined up through Sydney Uni’s elite athlete program so on scholarship with them for the year.”

Playing alongside the likes of current Swans Kiara Beesley and Ruby Sargent-Wilson, and GIANT Brodee Mowbray, Mead has the hunger to reach that next level. A latecomer to the sport, the New South Wales prospect is hoping a strong 2023 season can put her back on AFL Women’s clubs radars.

“I’ve always been keen to play in the AFLW and move up, especially as it’s gotten bigger and we started getting those Sydney teams in which is really great to see. That’s where it’s up to at the moment,” Mead said.

Keiley Mead during her recovery from an ACL injury | Image credit: Supplied

Though now classified as a mature-ager, Mead is still only 21 years-old and feels better than ever. Working diligently on her recovery with each setback, the Sydney Uni recruit has aimed to “make the best of it”.

“I’ve found that every time I’ve been injured I’ve come back as a better player. I’ve gone back to my basics, I’ve gotten stronger, I’ve gotten faster,” Mead said. “After my ankle I know that going into that 2022 season I was probably the fittest and strongest I was up until that point and now even again post-ACL injury I’m fitter, I’m faster, my skills are better because there’s not much else you can do in that first month or two when you’re sitting there dropping the ball at the ground waiting for your knee to heel up.

“Obviously it puts a massive toll on your plans, not many clubs are looking to pickup players who are out for the whole season and so that’s why I’m quite keen to get a move on with it this year. I’m still young, I’m only 21 and so that’s where it’s been at, but it’s definitely been a massive hold up with the plans I obviously had, but just moved and changed and find ways to make the best of it.”

Naming her strengths as kicking, reading the play, power, composure and defensive pressure, the versatile talent said following the conclusion of her degree she would “love to explore” a move interstate if it gave her the best chance to step up to the elite level.

“I’ve always been very clear that I wanted to finish my degree here in Sydney,” Mead said. “I wasn’t interested in deferring or finishing later at this stage so I’m in my final year now and love the degree that I’m in, but obviously loved footy as well. As uni is wrapping up, uni has been great and happy to help out with whatever we need to make those plans work. This year is the first year where I’ve looked interstate.

“The last couple of years in my degree hasn’t made that feasible, so I was mostly looking at those Sydney-based clubs so Swans and GIANTS. But coming into this year I’m really interested in looking further.”

Though the AFL Sydney Premier season is a little while off, keep an eye out for Mead who is ready to have a big year and put her injuries in the rearview mirror.

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