McWilliams thankful to be on the other side of injury battles

CARLTON stalwart Phoebe McWilliams made it back out on the park on the weekend, and in doing so reached the milestone of 50 games in the AFL Women’s competition.

Especially after the injury troubles she faces over the last year, the fact she has reached the milestone at all is something the Blues star is particularly proud of.

“It’s actually something I’m really proud of and it was something that was really big to me considering I broke my foot last year,” McWilliams said.

“So since I broke my foot it was probably my goal was to get back and play my 50th game because I knew it was the next one coming up, so to finally reach it after a year of rehab and I literally spent a whole year without a break just training, rehabbing my foot, learning to walk, learning to run, learning to play footy again and then to finally be out there and playing again. I’d made it out to be such a big deal and have all my family and friends. Besides the game it was a perfect day.”

She broke her navicular bone last year, so even returning to football at all is something McWilliams is particularly proud of.

“I think it’s something I’ll reflect on for a long time, just because the injury I had was quite significant and a lot of people told me that once you fracture your navicular you’re never going to come back and when they told me that I sort of used it as motivation to make sure I did,” she said.

“So like I said, it was a significant injury so I couldn’t put any weight on it for about nine weeks which was really challenging. So I was in a moonboot and on a scooter and crutches. I couldn’t walk for nine weeks and I live in a two story apartment so that was really tricky, and I couldn’t drive either because it was my right foot, and then once I got out of the boot I couldn’t run for another six months so I was learning to walk properly again without a limp or anything or trying to protect that foot.

“Then it was learning running patterns and movements, and then finally running and that was six months into the rehab and then the next six months was learning to play footy again, which some things came back really quickly and other things you can’t really prepare for, so for example running out on the field on Sunday. I just got so nervous, even though I was like ‘Phoebe this is your 50th game you should know what you’re doing by now’ but I was really nervous running out.”

Although she has many favourite moments throughout her career, she said that it “doesn’t get any bigger” than reaching 50 games, especially after the foot injury.

One of the first faces of the AFL Women’s competition, McWilliams has seen a lot in her footy career.

Starting as a 21 year old at the St Kilda Sharks in the Victorian Women’s Football League back in 2006, McWilliams has seen considerable change and evolution in the 17 years since.

“I played for 10 years at the St Kilda Sharks Football Club, and I remember we’d rock up at training on a Wednesday and Friday night and there’d be maybe 10 people there,” she said.

“It’d be freezing cold, you’d do the classic you’d run two laps for a warm up, and then you’d do a few drills and then do a lap to cool down and then there was no nutrition or anything like that. You’d probably go out for dinner and have a parma and things like that.”

“So I came from a very local community level standard of footy. I was really fortunate to get some opportunities with the Victorian state team and I’d played with Melbourne and the Bulldogs in those exhibition games and that sort of gave us a glimpse of what it would be like to be a professional footballer, but those camps were for only maybe two days, and you’d have people from all over Australia come together and you wouldn’t know how they’d play, whether they are left or right footed or anything like that.

“So you got a glimpse but it was very short and then we went to GWS and the AFLW started. They were sort of we did this like academy that sort of led into AFLW which gave us a little glimpse and it was once a week and a lot of the players that play AFLW came from that academy but I don’t think that really prepared us for what life would be like as an athlete.”

“So my first year at GWS I remember getting there and the strength and conditioning people were giving us running drills to do and I actually couldn’t do them. I said ‘I can’t do this, this is too hard, I’m not fit enough. I wasn’t fit at all and then the next year, the second season I realised what was required to play top level footy.

“I got really fit, I got a running coach, watched my diet and things like that, and from there every season it’s gone a step up. I mean this year compared to the first season of AFLW would be a huge jump again, so the standards and the requirements and the knowledge that we’ve all gained as athletes, it’s really been amazing to be a part of that journey from community level footy to semi professional athletes.”

That journey has seen her become quite the journeywoman in the AFL Women’s, playing across three clubs in her AFLW career to date.

First it was the GWS Giants, and at the time of her being signed by the Giants in 2016 she was between jobs, and through a friend who worked at the league told McWilliams they were looking for more Victorian athletes to move interstate to level out the playing field, and so McWilliams took up the opportunity to go play at the Giants.

Then it was off to Geelong, and thanks to the vibes she got from inaugural Geelong coach Paul Hood and the opportunity to be on the inaugural list of multiple clubs, McWilliams then moved from the orange of GWS to the hoops of Geelong.

However, commuting pressures and the mental toll of Covid saw McWilliams want to move to a Melbourne based club, hence the move to the Blues.

Football is certainly not the only thing keeping McWilliams busy these days, with the forward juggling a full time role in the marketing department of Cricket Victoria alongside her AFLW career.

“I love them both to be honest,” she said.

“It has been tough juggling full time work and playing footy, but I work in the sporting industry they’re really understanding of my playing commitments and they’re really flexible with it so I feel really fortunate to have such an understanding employer.”

“I love that I’m able to focus on work when I’m not focusing on footy. It’s given me a really good balance just mentally having something besides just footy in my brain.”

That ability of having something else to focus on is something similar for female athletes across both sports that McWilliams has noticed.

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