Tiah Haynes is currently on top of the world, locking down a spot in a Fremantle side that is riding an 11-0 winning streak.
But her journey to get to this point has been far from easy, facing numerous challenges and setbacks along the way.
During her career, Haynes has had to overcome three knee reconstructions, a serious shoulder injury and previously being delisted by the Dockers.
Speaking on Fremantle’s AFLW podcast “Kickin’ Back”, Haynes talked about her battles with injury and how she made it back onto the club’s list.
After playing Auskick as a junior and returning to football in Year 10, Haynes was one of WA’s top prospects in 2014.
For that year’s Hampson-Hardeman Cup exhibition matches between Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs, she was selected with the number one pick over the likes of Darcy Vescio and Dana Hooker.
But just six days later while playing for the Coastal Titans (now Subiaco) in the WAWFL, Haynes did her first ACL on her 21st Birthday.
The injury meant she missed the Hampson-Hardeman Cup, but she worked her way back to play in the Victoria vs WA representative game the following year.
It was during that match that she inadvertently injured the same ACL in her left leg, but she managed to play out the game despite it.
“(I) Played the whole game out, so that was something that was never going to stop me. I pretty much had to play on my left foot though because I couldn’t plant my left leg,” Haynes said.
Unfortunately, her second ACL injury mirrored her first in more ways than one.
“Funnily enough, I went back to get my surgery and it was literally the same day the following year,” she said.
“So that’s one date I don’t really enjoy.”
After not playing a game for two years, Haynes was drafted by Fremantle for the inaugural AFLW season.
She played the first two games of 2017 with no issues, but in the third match against GWS she suffered a painful shoulder injury after she was slammed in a sling tackle.
She required surgery and her arm was in a sling for seven weeks, with Haynes saying it was an “eye-opening” experience in comparison to her previous knee injuries.
She now needed her parents’ help with simple tasks like tying her hair and washing herself.
Haynes recovered and played another three games the following year, before being delisted by the Dockers at the end of the season.
She was allowed to train with Fremantle’s academy to try to get a spot back on the list, but it was while doing this that she injured her left ACL for a third time.
When approaching the rehab for another knee reconstruction, Haynes credited Fremantle for finding her a new surgeon and said she was in no rush this time because she was not playing a winter sport or on an AFLW list.
But when considering her footballing future, she was determined as ever.
“I was like, I either come back from this just to prove that I can do it or accept the fact that I’m injury-prone, and I definitely wasn’t going to accept that,” she said.
She returned to football for the first time in two years, when she played for Subiaco in the WAFLW in 2020.
Haynes was a key driver behind Subiaco’s runner-up campaign, improving her fitness and skills and being best-on-ground in the Grand Final.
She was in contact with the Dockers throughout the year, but found it hard to gauge their interest and had no idea whether she was going to be drafted.
Haynes watched the draft at home, while her partner Jackie put together a bed in the other room.
As the draft went on it became clear to her that Fremantle was her last chance of being picked up by either WA club.
“Then all of a sudden my name gets called out (by Fremantle) and I see this clothes hanger come flying past the couch and I hear ‘BABE’. I was still in shock that I’d actually heard my name and soon as Jackie started running out of the room I just lost it, I started crying. She’s trying to talk to me and I had no words,” Haynes said.
“Funnily enough it was probably that little more exciting being drafted a second time, I had absolutely no idea.”
When she visited the club, she was welcomed back with open arms.
“I was just happy to be back, walking into the club rooms and the overwhelming feeling that everyone was like ‘welcome back’ straight away, it was just so exciting.”
Despite joining an undefeated side, Haynes has not looked out of place.
She has played in every game so far this year, as Fremantle has extended its winning streak to 11 in a row.
She is averaging career-highs across all key stats and her best game came against Adelaide in Round 3, when she amassed 13 disposals, five tackles, four marks and kicked one goal.
For all the hardship and adversity she’s had to endure, Haynes has not only overcome it, but used it to become a better player.
Her journey is the best comeback story in the AFLW, and there are no signs of it ending anytime soon.
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