Mel Kuys leading the Box Hill Hawks out to their first VFLW game. Source: https://www.hawthornfc.com.au/

In the second part of this four-part interview series, Mel Kuys talks about her journey to becoming captain of the inaugural Box Hill Hawks.

Read Part 1 of this interview series here.

After five years of service at the Eastern Lions, Kuys was unceremoniously told to look elsewhere.

The club had decided it no longer wanted a women’s team.

This crushing process was one that Kuys would have to experience multiple times on her journey towards playing in the AFLW.

“Back then, it was more about how long a club would want women playing at their club for,” she told The Inner Sanctum.

“It wasn’t about wanting to move because friends were elsewhere.

“The club would basically kick you out the door and tell you to find a new home. This was to the whole team.

“They’d be interested in having a women’s team for a year or two, and then they’d just start treating the team like they didn’t exist, or they weren’t important.

“The coaching staff and the people that were in charge would move us to a different team, and that’s what happened at the Eastern Lions.”

While moving without any say in the matter hurt, Kuys had already become all too familiar with the feeling.

“It was strange, but I just got so used to moving. It was disappointing at the time, but there was always an opportunity elsewhere,” she said.

“You just followed your mates and followed the crowd.

“At the time, it was upsetting to see guys teams running out and getting the most opportunity, best training times, and getting to pick when they want to use the facilities, while the women’s got shafted off to the side. In that regard it was pretty average.

“Training was basically whenever the boys weren’t there.

“Cricket was more important as well, everything took priority over the women’s teams.”

Luckily for Kuys, that next opportunity came at the Scoresby Magpies, a club which now competes in the Eastern Football Netball League (EFNL).

“I was 20 when I went to Scoresby. The whole team pretty much moved,” she said.

“At Scoresby, I’d started to feel like I’d found a home, and I was sick and tired of moving. I was there for four years, and we won three flags there.”

Kuys and her Scoresby teammates after winning the 2009 Grand Final. Source: Emma Phillips

Despite her individual and team success at Scoresby, Kuys’ worst nightmare would soon come to fruition. She was forced to move clubs once again.

“It happened again… the Scoresby to Knox [move] hurt the most,” she said.

It was at this point Kuys began to seriously consider what was best for her footy career, having been forced out of three clubs already.

“I felt like Knox was the right opportunity for me going forward,” she said.

“It was a footy club that hadn’t really had much use, and could be ran by the women’s team. We wouldn’t have to keep moving on.

“I started looking at prospects at Darebin and Diamond Creek, the big clubs who were doing well. I was starting to wonder if Knox was the right opportunity for me, but back then I was pretty loyal to my mates.

“I stuck around for a few years at Knox, and did finally make the move to Box Hill. I prolonged it a little bit longer than I should have.

“I do regret it. I think I would have had a bit more success in the VFLW [had I moved], before the AFLW started. My face and my footy development would have moved a lot quicker.

“I would have gone into my first AFL season ready to go. I wasn’t fully prepared because I was playing for a club that wasn’t quite up to scratch.”

Honing her craft as a leader

Moving to Knox had both positives and negatives for Kuys. She was given her first opportunity to lead a side, being appointed captain at 23.

“I was a leader at Scoresby, but I never got a captain role there. I was vice-captain, and in the leadership group, but my first captaincy was at Knox,” she said.

“I wasn’t really an outspoken person, I was quiet.

“It took me a few years to get that confidence to talk to the group and be passionate about the team, putting others before myself. It took me a little bit longer to really get those attributes. I felt like I was ready when I got given the captaincy.

“I felt like I had to lead by example on and off the field, and show professional behaviours. Recovery was a big one, in a lower league even as competitive as the VWFL, it was about the mindset.

“It was so different when you’re not getting paid, or being shown in the media. There were different behaviours back then when it came to being professional, or training hard and training on time and doing extra skills.

“I learned a lot from being the captain at Knox, how to bring a team together and get the most out of each other.”

Coming into 2017, alongside the formation of the AFLW competition was a shift in the lower leagues. The VWFL became the VFLW, and many of the historic teams of the competition lost their licenses.

Knox was one of those teams, a hard transition for the ever-resilient Kuys.

“It was a bit sad to see some clubs lose their licenses, and it was hard to accept at the time,” she said.

“You’re so used to what was, and what clubs had been around and how hard they had worked. To just get pushed aside, there was a little bit of feeling ‘that’s a bit rough’.

“It was hard to leave Knox, and there was a lot of feeling there, and a lot of mates I had to say goodbye to. It was the best thing for my career moving forward.”

Kuys quickly found her footing at the newly formed Box Hill Hawks women’s side, which took over Knox’s license.

“I felt like I’d been there and done that, but it was a completely different club, the way Box Hill ran compared to Knox,” she said.

“At Knox, we were a standalone club with one women’s team and the youth girls side. Playing for Box Hill, they’ve been around for so many years and the men’s club have been so successful.

“It was an exciting year, and I loved the experience there. Leading the first ever Box Hill team out, and watching us develop over that year as players and as people, it was pretty satisfying.

“It’s a really good group of people, and the coach Paddy Hill, we got along really well so it was a fun experience.”

For the first time since her move to the Roo Girls, Kuys had to move without the teammates she was so familiar with.

“When I first went into Box Hill I knew a couple of girls who came from Knox, Julia Crockett-Grills, she plays for Geelong now, Dana Swan, she’s playing in Perth,” she said.

“It wasn’t fresh fresh, but it was a completely different vibe and I had to learn multiple names! Just the way the club ran, it was really professional and a really good experience.”

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