Anyone who sees the way she plays knows that Katie Loynes gives it 110 per cent . . . which is probably only fair and reasonable for the 110th-named player of the inaugural AFLW draft.
It’s four years this month – Wednesday, October 12, 2016 to be precise - that Carlton finally called Katie’s name in the 14th round . . . and for the Mordialloc College school teacher who took a break in corrections to chat for this interview, draft day lasted an eternity.
“I’d taken the day off and sat on the couch with my Mum at her house in Mentone,” Loynes, the Carlton co-captain and Best & Fairest winner recalled.
“I reckon the draft started late morning and I didn’t hear my name until mid-afternoon. That was a long day . . .
“Going into that draft I was seven months post my second ACL op on the same knee, the left. I did a lot of medicals with clubs and many club people were a bit unsure of whether my body was going to be right to withstand another season, as before it I’d had a shocking run.
“I did my knee the first time in 2013, but I never felt right with that ACL. I had a lot of issues with it and I had two arthroscopes on it before doing the next one.”
By her own admission, Loynes ran the gauntlet, having played on regardless at Diamond Creek. But by the time draft day came around the then Senior Coach Damien Keeping and List Manager Graham Burgen (who participated in a few kicking sessions with Katie) had made their minds up that the player’s injury problems were not insurmountable.
“They both knew where my knee was at, and I knew that Carlton would select me, albeit late,” she said.
“Collingwood had indicated it would take me in free agency after the draft, while the Bulldogs were keen on taking Aasta O’Connor, which they did (in the second round at overall selection 12) - and they didn’t want another player with an ACL injury on their list, which was pretty straight forward.
“I’d also done medicals with Melbourne, but . . . yeah.”
Loynes was 11 months into her recovery from surgery to rectify her ACL injury Mark II when she took to the field for the fledgling Carlton AFLW team in that historic inaugural encounter with Collingwood on the evening of Friday, February 3, 2017 at Ikon Park.
Was that a risk in retrospect?
“Yeah, it was. I definitely rushed it to be there for that first game,” came the reply.
“I went into that season thinking every game is a bonus and when ‘Burgs’ drafted me the feeling was that I’d play one, maybe two seasons.
“But having gone into an environment where there was such professionalism and the medical team at Carlton was and is so fantastic, it allowed me not only to take to the field for the first season, but to now be preparing for my fifth . . . so I was incredibly lucky to have been selected by the club in the first place.”
Loynes rates that inaugural AFLW appearance before an audience of 24,500 on a par with the 2019 AFLW Grand Final at Adelaide Oval before a staggering 53,034 patrons – at the time a record for a stand-alone women’s sporting event in Australia
“In that first game (2017) we didn’t know what to expect in terms of a crowd. At one point we heard 10,000, which was then revised to 16,000 as it got closer, but to then see Gil (AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan) out the front locking the gates was unbelievable . . . and to see young girls, boys and families after the game . . . it was just such a different environment compared to the men’s,” she said.
“Although we got absolutely smashed in the Grand Final, the support we got for women’s footy was huge. That was the moment where we all felt AFLW was on the map.”
At 34 and a half, Loynes has, by her own admission, truly endured as a footballer (although she jokingly reminds that “Al Downie, at 36 , is older by the way”). Question is, how many seasons does she believe she had left, in building on the 29 AFLW games to her name?
“I’m in good shape, but it’s year to year for me,” she assured. “If I don’t feel like I’m contributing to the team I’m not going to take up a place on the list. I’ll know when that time comes and I’m comfortable with that.
“I’m trying pilates for the first time, which is definitely helping - and during in-season it’s about monitoring your body and listening to it to determine whether to modify a training session to keep up with those younger girls - because when the season starts it obviously takes longer to recover.
“That said, because AFLW is played in the warmer months and conditions are perfect, recovery doesn’t tend to take as long as it did beforehand . . . so I’m actually finding it better for my body.”
Not surprisingly, Loynes’ ferocity at the contest has never needed any tweaking. As she said: “That physicality has always been the starting point for every game I’ve ever gone into – to be physical at the contest to help my teammates out or to win the ball myself”.
As joint captain with Kerryn Harrington, Loynes has found that added responsibility to her liking, primarily because of the inherent respect she and her teammates have for eachother. It is heartening to hear her say that at this point of her football life she’s actually enjoying the game more than when she first donned the dark Navy “because I don’t feel as much pressure with my body”.
“And I really love our group. We really gel well together and there’s a lot of love and care for eachother,” she said.
In terms of Carlton’s prospects for the impending season, Loynes is bullish in her forecast.
The inclusion of players of the calibre of Elise O’Dea, the bona fide Melbourne midfielder, is profound according to her - for O’Dea’s presence will only enhance the collective contributions of Madison Prespakis, Grace Egan and Lucy McEvoy to the cause.
“Elise is such a quality midfielder, one of the best in the competition, who will help our young girls in midfield . . . they will learn so much form her,” Loynes said.
“The standard has been set high and based on the form we showed at the end of last season I’ve got no doubt we’re going to be really strong going into the start of next season as well.”