Hung overcomes “hard” year to remain in draft contention

DESPITE missing almost all of 2023 due to stress fractures in her foot, Lions Academy representative Lilu Hung is still among the potential draft prospects in the upcoming AFL Women’s Draft. Hung only got through “five minutes” of her QAFL Women’s season, before her world came “crashing down” around her.

“I was coming off the back of a pretty good preseason, I was loving it with the Lions Academy. I got to my first game and within the first five minutes, something in my foot felt off,” Hung said. “I told the physio there wasn’t really much of an indication that it could be a stress fracture and it went undiagnosed for about a week and a bit until the physio at the Lions old me to get an MRI and a CT and X-ray all of those to see what was going on and it turned out I had two stress fractures in my foot which was really disheartening.”

There is never a good time to cop a long-term injury, but for Hung who was entering her most important junior football year, it was a devastating blow.

“This was about two weeks out from the start of the Coates League and I was meant to be part of the Autumn series with the Brisbane Lions so the whole world basically came crashing down which was not great,” she said.

However in the months following the initial reaction, Hung said there was plenty she took out of the experience and the recovery process.

“It’s been a great process and obviously been hard, but I’ve learnt a significant amount about myself and been really grateful to the support crew around me who have enabled me to actually get through this rehab stronger than ever so counting my blessings that it’s not the ideal draft year but trying to take everything as I can and focus on being the best I can,” she said.

Hung took the opportunity to sit alongside the highly talented Lions Academy and Queensland coaching staff to view the game from a different perspective, an element that helped her improve her understanding of the game.

“It’s not been too bad, I was learning the likes of (Brisbane Lions Academy coaches) Emma Zielke, Nat Grider, Shannon Campbell, Belle Dawes and (Queensland coach) Sam Iles and being in that coaching box has been crazy,” Hung said. “It’s almost hard to not learn something from them because they’ve got so much experience so now I think I’ve got a more multi-faceted view on footy and a bit of an understanding that would play to my strengths next year.”

Before looking forward, it is worth rewinding back to the beginning where Hung was initially a typical kid who played “a million sports” before one of her teachers, Ross Clayfield – University of Queensland QAFL Women’s senior coach – suggested she gave the sport a go.

Hung signed for Kedron Lions where she spent the first two years of her career before moving onto Wilston Grange.

“It was a bit more of an opportunity,” Hung recalled. “I realised I wanted to get a little bit more out of my footy and I really wanted to take it somewhere, so I went to Wilston Grange and it was great for the two years that I was there. We won the flag the first year in the Under 17s team being coached by Brad Power.”

In that team, Hung played alongside the likes of now Brisbane Lions premiership player Charlie Mullins, gaining plenty of experience before moving to Aspley ahead of the 2021 season and has been at the Hornets the past three seasons.

“I’ve loved it,” Hung said. “It’s been amazing. I could not have asked for better coaches.”

Unfortunately Hung did not get to see much action in 2023, but the strong marking forward still received a Draft Combine invite despite not being able to make her impact felt on-field this year. After believing her top-age draft chance was over due to the injury, Hung gained a pleasant surprise when she received the invite.

“Honestly, I did not expect it at all,” Hung said. “It was so great to actually receive it, it was a bit of a boost of confidence that my name is still circling and that clubs are still looking at me. But I had no prior indication I would be invited to the Draft Combine.

“I was in the high performance squad through the Brisbane Lions so there was always chat on the group chat but because I hadn’t been preparing for it, I didn’t expect the invite. It was great to go along and see all the girls put in the hard work. Your teammates are outperforming each other and it’s great. They’re putting the work in, so it was a really good experience.”

From an on-field perspective, Hung is a physical player with terrific natural ability and footy smarts, with her athleticism and fitness the key areas of focus, particularly with the year out of the game.

“I’d love to say my overhead mark is definitely one of my strengths and also a bit of physicality,” Hung said. “I always brought that to the contest, being bigger than all the other girls. I think I also have a pretty good footy IQ, growing up I had a pretty good sense of the game. But definitely I’d say my overhead mark coming from netball.

“I would say that it was probably fitness and my speed coming off the pack that was one of the main things that I needed to improve on, especially with all the injuries that I had. It was really hard to start building and keep building on that. That’s definitely one of my focal points coming into this next phase.”

Hung is gradually building up to be able to really go hard over the preseason and make up for lost time, with the Lions Academy working in the gym and back to running with a gradual increase in her session intensity.

“I’m doing three gym sessions a week and I’m doing a couple of running sessions about two at the moment and I’m just trying to subtly increase that,” she said. “Then I’m also doing a couple of bike sessions, truing to get my fitness up again in every aspect that we can without putting too much load through my foot. That’s what I’m trying to do at the moment and I think I should be right around the preseason in the next couple of months.”

Looking ahead to the draft, Hung has nominated nationally to give herself the best possible chance of being picked up. While her local club in Brisbane Lions would be the dream location, the Aspley tall forward is willing to go anywhere to reach the top level.

“It’s been really hard this year because they (clubs) haven’t seen a lot of vision from me,” Hung said.

“I think it would be amazing to be drafted by the Brisbane Lions as they’ve just been my grassroots club through the Academy and then all my idols are in there, and a couple of my friends so that would be ideal, but I think it would be stupid not to open it up to the actual draft just because I haven’t had so much exposure this year and just giving myself every chance that I have.”

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