Jacqui Yorston remembers the moment well.
“Physically, I didn’t go well with the surgery. I was in a lot of pain… so I don’t remember too much of last year,” Yorston told The Inner Sanctum after she played her first game back for the Gold Coast Suns against Richmond last Sunday.
It was early January, during an intraclub match.
The then 20-year-old young gun, coming off a breakout season in the midfield, ruptured her anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) just weeks out of the 2021 AFLW season.
It resulted in the first major injury of her professional footballing career, and a comeback journey she’ll never.
“I’ve had a couple of AC joints in the shoulders, but never anything that require[d] such extensive surgery and such a long rehab,” Yorston explained.
“I had surgery week two of the season and it hit me quite hard.”
381 days later and the now 21-year-old made her highly anticipated return back the AFLW competition, and made waves accordingly.
She got right back to her in and under best, finishing the win with 16 disposals (10 of those contested), laid two tackles, and nearly had an opportunity to kick her first goal in almost two years.
It’s little wonder that the talented midfielder is back in red hot form and impressing on the field.
The Suns’ Head of Women’s Football, Fiona McLarty applauded Yorston’s resilience following her season-ending injury.
It’s the kind of toughness that has been ingrained in Yorston since her teenage years, when a tragic loss in the family helped shaped her aspirations to play at the elite level of football.
“My older brother Ryan always wore number five when he was younger so that’s why I wear number five,” she said.
“Losing my oldest brother when I was probably 15 or so was definitely a driver. He always told me to make the top level in whatever I chose to do and that’s still why I push to do what I do.”
For Yorston however, amidst a burst of elation for her return to the field, the build-up to the game had also bought out an internal battle of the mind.
The prolonged stint on the sidelines left her wary in multiple ways.
“I wasn’t too nervous [at first], and then once we got to the club and we got all strapped up, then it hit me,” Yorston said.
“I was like, ‘it’s really been two years since I’ve played AFLW. Am I gonna be up to it? Am I gonna be able to run with the patient girls that haven’t had two years out of the game?’
“It felt like the slowest build up ever and then all of a sudden it was over.”
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The toll on the midfielder was more than just physical.
Yet even through all the trials and tribulations that she has endured, the courageous young gun still is optimistic about the passion she has for the game, and the “united” culture of the Gold Coast Suns, which she cites as a key factor in her rehabilitation.
Amongst that lies the close bond she has with teammate and best friend Lauren Bella, with their friendship continuing to flourish since the pair were teenagers.Embed from Getty Images
Her tight-knit bond with Bella was further underscored following the end of the game after they were seen in a heart-warming embrace – which no doubt made for emotional viewing.
When asked about the moment, Yorston admitted that her absence from the game was just as impactful on her teammate.
“Lauren and I have been best mates since we were 14, 15,” she said.
“It hit [Bella] a bit harder than it hit me because I think for me, I didn’t have to play any footy without her.
“She really was just happy to have me back and the way she embraced me [showed] just how much we do mean to each other, how much footy means to both of us, and how much it brought us together as mates.
“It was a beautiful moment, I’m glad someone got it on camera.”
The tenacious midfielder is gracious to be back playing the game she loves, confessing that the opportunity of being back on the field was exciting.
“It was exciting and I won’t take it for granted ever again after the long stint on the sidelines,” she said.
With the Gold Coast Suns attracting attention for their back-to-back wins, Yorston said that the girls were excited to make it two in a row.
However, although she shares the optimism whilst her side prepares to take on Melbourne on Saturday, the celebrations were over quickly as the team looks to their next opportunity.
“There’s nothing more we can do physically, but mentally, you just got to know that it’s another battle this week, and that can be contested and a hard fought one.”
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