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Nicole Callinan on Melissa Hickey

With the abrupt end to the 2020 AFLW season, a number of player retirements followed. Two of those retirees, Melissa Hickey and Nicole Callinan, were teammates at the Darebin Falcons long before the AFLW came along. There they shared great on-field success, multiple premierships and displayed a level of dedication to the game that went far beyond what the competition at the time demanded. Their AFLW game tallies ended on 25 and 24 games respectively, but those numbers hardly do justice to their contribution and commitment to women’s football.

In the first of a two-part series, Siren decided to interview each player about the other. After all, a teammate can gain a better appreciation for a player than someone standing on the sidelines ever could.

First up, we chatted to Western Bulldogs recent retiree, Nicole Callinan about her former Darebin teammate, Melissa Hickey.

What were your first impressions of Melissa Hickey when you first arrived at Darebin in 2012?

Nicole Callinan: First impressions was someone who is very easygoing, welcoming. Always had a smile on her face and would genuinely ask questions about how you are. She was also really encouraging through drills and things like that. Yeah, a teammate that you want to have that’s for sure.

Melissa Hickey leading her team out of the race. [Photo: Megan Brewer]

What was she like as a teammate?

NC: During training, just her work ethic, she always trained hard and that influenced you to train just as hard, or try to! She was always a really helpful teammate and game-wise, same sort of thing, but also someone that had your back. 

She’d control down back and use her voice very well, very directive. She read the game so well, such a smart player. She was a player who kept her head too. You just knew if times were tough, she’d take a mark and just knew when to tone it down or when to go as well and take on the opposition.

At Darebin she wasn’t a captain per se, but was obviously in the leadership group quite often and a really strong leader around the Club. What was she like as a leader on field and off field?

NC: Off-field she was someone you could talk to any time and that’s about anything, it wasn’t just about footy. Also off field, she just did the right thing and helped around the Club. She worked hard to get fit and do all the right things with nutrition. Her morals stood strong and I could relate well with those, we’re both very family oriented.

With her on field leadership, using her voice well was one thing, but it was the way she carried herself on the ground. Very professional, always elite with how she’d warm up and prepare her body. And just by leading by example, taking strong marks, organising down back and someone that inspired me to want to get better. She was very selfless too and I believe she could have played anywhere.

What trait or ability of hers do you wish that you had?

NC: An ability to mark like she did (laughs). I wish I had her hands, that’s for sure.

What do you see her doing in football in in the future?

NC: Definitely giving back in some way. Yeah, because of her knowledge and care for the game, I think she’ll give back in some way whether it’s mentoring or a form of coaching. 

She could even go into the media because she’s got so much knowledge and experience and reads the game well. And she can help inspire people, the way she trains hard and her resilience after injuries as well and her ‘never give up’ attitude. So, she’ll be a great mentor to a lot of people. I think she should stay in the game. She’s definitely a very valuable person to give back to the game. But also, she’s got to look after her and what she wants to do in life as well.

Darebin Falcons 2017 VFLW Premiership team [Photo: Rob Lawson Photography]

What kind of legacy do you think she’ll leave, both on the clubs that she’s played for, and also the women’s game more generally?

NC: A lot. Obviously her leadership is one key aspect of her game. Her personality, she’s just been a great team player who gets along with everyone and gives her all in every game.

Her courage both in games and when going through injuries and her resilience to just never give up, and I’m sure that will be left as well. You know, you can have setbacks and things like that but, it doesn’t mean that that’s the end. So, that’s one huge thing.

And changing clubs, just the adaptability to do that as well. She could have stayed at Melbourne with her mates and where she was comfortable but she took on a good challenge to start fresh and new. She had some injuries but she she took it on her shoulders and really showed the young ones that you can still stay involved and what she did to help Melbourne before she left and then Geelong. I think just that ‘never give up’ attitude I think that’s one of her major legacies. 

And with her leadership, just to get everyone involved together I guess, and also get everyone on the same page. Her inclusiveness and care for her teammates will carry through forever. So, that’s one thing I’ll always remember at Darebin, that she was a teammate that always had your back and encouraged you. Even if you made a mistake, she would reassure you. 

So, just genuine care and had your back, and you know, a star player in all areas of the ground…. Well maybe not forward (laughs). I’m the same, we’d love a goal if we ever got one! 

But yeah, I think she was a teammate that you knew would do her job, take a great mark when we needed it and calm the situation. A great leader who would have a cool head in finals and her experience. Wherever she’s played she’s left a great impact. She’s definitely someone who has helped AFLW get to where it is today.

Read part two here.

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