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Dream football return for Tiah HaynesFriday, July 31, 2020 - 9:44 AM - by Chris Pike

SPORT is capable of providing some of the most remarkable heartfelt stories and the WAFL Women's competition had its own dream return in Round 1 in the form of Subiaco inspiration Tiah Haynes.

It had been two years since Haynes had last run onto the football field and with the devastating knee and shoulder injuries she's been through, you can understand why there were times she doubted whether she could make it back.

But the former AFL No. 1 draft pick not only made it back, but she was the captain for Subiaco in Round 1 of the 2020 WAFLW season that had been delayed months thanks to COVID-19 just to add an extra layer to the whole scenario.

However, it proved a night that Haynes will never forget. With Hayley Miller unavailable, she stepped into the captaincy role and helped lift Subiaco to the Round 1 victory against Claremont at Leederville Oval in her first official WAFLW match.

To be able to do that after it being two years since she last played after her latest nasty shoulder injury and subsequent surgery tugs at the heartstrings, and never fear, it's only work that has left her out of the Subiaco team last week and again this weekend.

For the 27-year-old, she couldn’t hide how happy she was with how the return went after rightfully being a little nervous beforehand.

"I was happy obviously but it was actually quite a nervous lead up as well because I was supposed to have work straight after the game, and I didn’t know right up until the last minute if I could play or not," Haynes said. 

"That little bit of an extra wait could have been the scariest part, but the fact that it was about 21 months since my last surgery so it was a massive thing for me to actually get back out there. 

"I tried not to think about how long it had been until after the game when I celebrated it a little bit, but to get back out there was super exciting. To then take home the win in a nail-biting game was that extra cherry on top as well."

Haynes' work was always going to make things tricky coming back to play football this season and that did lead to her missing last week's win for Subiaco against East Fremantle, but overall she felt good after that Round 1 win against Claremont both in body and mind.

"Obviously I was pretty sore after the game and I tried to remind myself that after the game you are meant to feel like that," she said. 

"But for me I can't complain and it was just a huge tick to get through the game. The support I've had as well is pretty massive and for me that's even more exciting."

Growing up with strong family connections to football as a relative to the legendary Graham 'Polly' Farmer and with her father Jonathon playing 54 matches with the Perth Demons in the 1990s, Haynes grew up an exciting young talent with that football pedigree.

Then even before there was an AFLW competition, Haynes was taken with the No. 1 pick in the 2014 draft for the upcoming exhibition matches. Rightfully she was on top of the world, but that's when the horror run of injuries would begin.

She ruptured her ACL before even getting to play in those games requiring a knee reconstruction and then would soon go down again hurting a knee and needing another upon her return.

You couldn’t deny her talent, though, so the Fremantle Dockers were quick to add her to their AFLW list when the competition started up.

Haynes found herself in the team and ready to make the most of things with her knees now recovered, but this time it was a heavy collision that led to a serious shoulder injury in 2018 that put things on hold.

She hadn’t played since that and had undergone surgery leading to her missing two years of football given it happened during the AFLW season of 2018, and she went on to miss the entire 2018 and 2019 campaigns.

Haynes was then ready to go for the start of 2020 months ago before COVID-19 struck everything down, but she never let herself give up that she could make a successful return, and couldn’t be happier to now have made that a reality.

"I'd be lying if I said I hadn’t had doubts if I would get back. I definitely had moments where I thought my body might be trying to tell me something or I might be pushing my body too hard to try and get back to compete," Haynes said.

"But I'm just too stubborn to let my body do the talking and I'd rather call it on my own terms so I was pretty determined to get back whether it was just me enjoying it or being involved in some way or another. 

"Watching is super hard and with this COVID stuff it extended the break that bit longer so it did make you question if it was trying to tell me something, but I'm a bit too stubborn to let that decide anything for me."

Haynes was back to full health by the end of the 2019 season but there was to be no risk taken on a quicker return so the eyes were always on being ready for the start of 2020.

Everything has gone to plan since, aside from the Coronavirus but that only made it sweeter when Haynes was finally able to be out there with her Subiaco teammates in Round 1 under lights at Leederville Oval.

"I was good to go by the end of last year and it was good to get the clearance after being fresh off another injury and having a year out which meant I missed out on the AFLW," she said. 

"But this last few months did help to work on those few things and get that little bit extra preparation for my body. It probably was a bit of a handy thing for me and it made it that much sweeter when I was finally able to get out there with the team to play in Round 1."

Haynes now wants to put behind her the horrific run of injuries she has had and who could blame her. 

"It's definitely exciting to tick off each box as it comes and those injuries are things I'd definitely like to put behind me and focus on what's ahead. But they do come up still and things remind you of them all the time so you do have to take precautions in certain areas," Haynes said.

"People have obviously had it worse than me, though, and that's something I make sure I never forget. I've been on this journey for a reason and I am now where I am because of the work I've put in after suffering those setbacks."

She did expect to feel rusty back out there for her first game and that was the case for sure in the win over Claremont, but ultimately she always feels her natural football instincts will hold her in good stead.

"I did feel a bit rusty out there for that first game and I might feel like that for a couple more games, but I'm focusing on getting back to being consistent and that was always going to take some time," she said. 

"But I know that if I'm confident enough in myself to do what I'm supposed to be doing, eventually I'll get back to being the player I want to be. 

"There are some different aspects to the way I play now compared to before and I have learned a bit more about how to use my body so in that sense I won't throw myself around as much and hope for the best. 

"You learn as you get older how to protect your body and others around you so that's one thing that I like to think I'm better at now.

"It also helps having the knowledge now having been brought up around footy so I'm not a fresh player to the sport trying to understand and learn it. 

"That is a bonus for me and it helps me get as far as I possibly can because I can read the play and put myself in the right spots, and those sort of things. That's still on my side but I'll wait until the end of the season to see if I want to play AFLW again as early as next year."

Subiaco remains undefeated after the opening two games of the 2020 WAFLW season as well having finished 2019 as minor premiership but missing out on a Grand Final appearance.

Haynes has high hopes of how the Lions can perform in this shortened season and is also impressed with how far the WAFLW has improved the game in WA in comparison to AFLW from when she last played.

"Obviously we've got a whole pile of new girls coming in as well, but we've been training for a while together now and we are starting to gel. Getting games under our belt is now another thing we're starting to do," Haynes said.

"We do have a fair few young girls and we still have the AFLW girls who will eventually get to play some of the games so that's definitely exciting to look forward to. With how we've gone the last few years, it would be really nice to get a Grand Final berth again and see how we go.

"I definitely think the standard of our competition has grown. To have the WAFL clubs behind us that little bit more is huge and that's not to say they weren’t supportive before, but they've now taken us on with both hands now and it pushes us on to strive to do things as well as the men do. 

"That also gives the opportunities to the new girls coming through to have that competitiveness all the way through and then it's not such a big gap up to the AFLW or such a shock to the system when you finally get there."

At 27 years of age, Haynes has plenty of football left in her and there's no reason she shouldn’t be hoping that the AFLW remains a realistic goal for her to still aim to get back to.

"I definitely have set my sights on giving it another crack. I guess it comes down to how my body pulls up at the end of this season to see if I completely put myself in that situation and nominate to be part of AFLW," Haynes said.

"But it's definitely where I want to be and I want to give it another go. It's the level I know I can play and I have played before so it's not something I want to let go of, but I'm just taking it one game at a time now and in my situation that's what I have to do to make sure I continue to progress in the right way. But I definitely want to play at that level again."