2017 must have been a torturous time for Eastern Devils footballer and AFLW draft hopeful, Jessica Trend.
Last year, her dreams of becoming one of 200 women to be granted an AFLW berth were shattered, after tearing her ACL only weeks away from the inaugural AFLW draft.
First picking up the oval ball during her junior years of high school and playing competitively throughout, Trend then spent two years away from the game before a chance encounter with a future teammate got her involved with and playing for the Eastern Devils – then East Burwood – Football Club in 2012.
Four years later, after breaking her way into the senior side, Trend’s playing career was to be unfortunately put on hold once again.
Round 16 against Melbourne Uni, and the Devils were out to an early 30-point lead by the first change. Trend too was starring, kicking a ripping goal thanks to an assist from Sarah Perkins.
But Jess’ amusement soon turned to anguish as she felt her knee buckle beneath her early in the second quarter.
“As soon as I did it, I kind of just said ‘okay, I’ll just get up and I’ll stretch it out’ as I got taped up” Trend said, recently speaking with GPF’s Peter Holden.
“But when I did the little run along the sideline, that’s when I knew deep down that something wasn’t right.
“I remember ‘Hutchy’ [teammate Meg Hutchins] pulling me aside and saying ‘there’s only two weeks to finals, so just take it easy’ but we never thought or guessed that it was an ACL until I got my MRI results.”
It was a notorious injury that had become far too common in the women’s game, with Renee Forth, Kiara Bowers and Jordan Zanchetta all succumbing to the same grievance that season.
For Jessica Trend too, it came at the worst possible time, just two months away from the first ever AFLW draft.
In perhaps an even more agonising turn of events, the decision was made early on that Trend would be forced to sit out the entire 2017 VFLW season.
It was a bid not only to ensure her recuperation was not rushed, but to hopefully give herself the best chance of being selected by an AFLW club in the 2018 national draft.
“It was a very, very tough decision.
“I remember [senior coach, Brendon] Major and I talking and we actually took a couple of days deciding on what I wanted to do.
“I knew that this wasn’t just any old injury; I really wanted to take my time and make sure I came back to footy at 100 per cent.
“It was a pretty long conversation with Major, and even just deciding not to put me on their list of 40 was pretty tough.
“It did rock the boat and it felt like a bit of a roller coaster and a step backwards, but when I look back at it now… I think it’s probably the best decision I [could] have made, because I can be sure that I can trust my body and make sure that I’m working towards [being] the fittest and strongest I can be.”
Her injury was also a disappointing result for the Devils, who had quickly begun to reforge their reputation from being an uncompetitive side in years gone by, to becoming a serious finals contender.
Speaking of the turnaround, Trend reflected on the club’s overhaul of the culture, brought about by the appointment of the side’s senior coach Brendon Major in 2015, and how the changing professionalism of the sporting landscape and renewed attitudes helped improve her own game.
“It definitely comes down to the culture of the club that we built with Major.
“When he hopped on board, he spoke with bringing us all together, and really grounding our culture and what we’re all about.
“It was a huge leap. At the start, I think it was more just the social aspect for me.
“Just getting to know new friends and having a bit of a run around every Wednesday and Friday night and then Sunday [on game day].
“As soon as I saw the game growing and having that competitive side, I knew that I wanted to be a part of that.
“I knew that I definitely had to step it up a notch, and it just happened naturally.
“Being around [all the girls] at training you just had to step it up and become professional athletes and train to that standard, otherwise you’d be left behind.
“I’m a pretty competitive human, so seeing how well and the standard the girls around me were playing, I knew that I had to keep up a good, consistent game each Sunday.”
While the time spent away from the game gave Trend the opportunity to pursue her other career passion of teaching, she still remains optimistic about her chances of being picked up by an AFLW side later this month.
“I’m definitely just trusting that the form that I was in is still on the recruiters’ minds, and understanding that I do work hard and I am motivated, and that this is something that I really want.
“Obviously I’ve just been promoting my rehab just as a little reminder that I am still here and that I’m still pushing to reach that dream.
“It’s more just the support of all my Devils and my family just saying ‘if it doesn’t happen now, look at where AFL Women’s footy is going and how much it is going to grow’.
“The motivation and the constant fuel to keep going is the biggest thing I’ve got from my Devils family and my own friends and family, but it’s really just remembering what will be is what will be, but fingers crossed.”
We wish Jess all the best in pursuit of an AFLW career.
The 2017 NAB AFL Women’s draft is to be held on October 18.
You can listen to Peter Holden’s full interview with Jessica Trend below, or by searching ‘Girls Play Footy’ on iTunes or Soundcloud.