When Molly Denahy Maloney’s 2019 NAB League Girls season was derailed by illness, she had to find different ways than first expected to fulfil her role as Sandringham Dragons captain.
The 18-year-old ruck played only five of nine games in a fragmented campaign for the Dragons after contracting influenza shortly before Round 1.
She appeared in Sandringham’s opening match under some duress, before missing three weeks and then finishing the NAB League Girls season coming in and going out of the team.
Denahy Maloney had virtually returned to full fitness in time to represent Vic Metro at the NAB AFL Women’s Under-18 Championships in June and July, where she showcased her competitiveness and leadership for AFLW clubs ahead of the 2019 NAB AFLW Draft on October 22.
But the Port Melbourne Colts and St Kilda City (South Metro Junior FL) product’s struggle to find consistency on the field earlier in the year caused her to question those qualities.
“The flu just totally knocked me down,” Denahy Maloney said at last week’s NAB AFLW Draft Combine, where she was the best-performed NAB League Girls graduate in the standing vertical jump.
“After recently being announced captain, it broke my heart that I couldn’t be with the girls and fulfil my role. It really sucked to not even be able to go to training because I was too unwell.
“It set me back because my fitness levels dropped having not trained or played for a while and I sort of lost confidence in myself. The worst part was having to miss games when I should have been there for my team.”
Both on the field and off, Denahy Maloney had to adapt her leadership style to the circumstances.
“For the first two weeks after being diagnosed I wasn’t even at the club, but I was still sending messages into the team chat to check up on how training was going,” Denahy Maloney said. “When I did come to training, I’d help with coaching aspects like taking handballing or kicking drills and giving direction to the girls as well.
“It was hard when I was back on the field because I was at a lower level of fitness. When I had to sprint over to ball-ups and it was such an effort when normally it wouldn’t be, I was getting frustrated and kept putting blame on myself.
“I ended up getting over that and saying: ‘Since I can’t play to my ultimate level, what are other things I could be doing?’ I started laying shepherds if I knew I wasn’t going to get the ball and tried to make an impact on the game elsewhere.”
Denahy Maloney’s efforts to remain a leader through illness paid off at the AFLW Under-18 Championships.
“That was me at my peak, when I felt most comfortable in my running and everything,” she said. “My leadership showed through and I was quite strong in my force on the game.
“It had never really crossed my mind prior to the Championships that I’d be invited to the Combine, but I knew I always wanted to play in the AFLW. Now that it’s a possibility, I’m definitely going all-in.”
NAB LEAGUE ‘FAST FIVE’ QUESTIONS
Most influential person on your football at Sandringham:
“My strength and conditioning coach Sonia De Rose. She really helped me take care of my health and fitness. She educated me in the gym and knew I had potential to improve, but I never knew how I was able to do it myself. My coach Tamara Hyett was also an incredible mentor and a really good friend.”
Most valuable lesson learned in the NAB League:
“The NAB League involves a lot of local teams coming together and there are a lot of rivalries between clubs. If you come into a team where you’re possibly playing with those girls, you just have to push that all aside and become one team.”
Teammate you’ve most enjoyed sharing the NAB League journey with:
“Sophia Rothfield. We joined the Dragons together three years ago and we’ve been close ever since. She was part of the leadership group with me this year and we bounced ideas off each other. She’s just really funny and great to have around the club as well.”
Most difficult NAB League opponent:
“My first game after getting the flu – but when it hadn’t been diagnosed – was against the Geelong Falcons, and having to play against them was really hard.”
Most memorable NAB League moment:
“Possibly when I was announced captain, because there were so many other potential candidates who I thought would have been equally capable. To hear that the team and coaching staff had faith in me was a big privilege.”
* CLICK HERE to see other stories in our 2019 AFLW Draft Watch series.