Women’s Footy – VFL: Cecilia McIntosh

Early in Melbourne’s clash against the Western Bulldogs on May 24 last season, half-back flanker Cecilia McIntosh changed direction and felt her right knee give way so badly that before she even hit the ground she knew something was very wrong. She was carried off, taken straight down into the rooms and given the bad news by a Melbourne doctor.

“You’ve done your ACL.”

McIntosh was 35 at the time, making her nearly the oldest player on either Women’s AFL list. She was given a nine to eleven-month diagnosis, ending both her AFL season and her Premier Division season at Melbourne University. As a former javelin thrower, she had tangled with surgeons previously but a knee reconstruction was likely to be more challenging.

Outside of McIntosh’s personal circumstances, the Victorian Women’s Football League was preparing to expand to ten teams in response to the AFL’s support of a 2017 National Women’s competition. No one would have blamed McIntosh if she had a feeling she had played her last game at Victoria’s highest level.

“A little bit crept into my head that I might not be able to come back,” says McIntosh. “But I’ve been through injuries and come back better, so I thought, I’ve just got to keep positive.”

McIntosh, now in her tenth season at Melbourne University, began her recovery before she even underwent surgery on her knee. A risk, yes, but time was not on her side. She concedes that the reconstruction “scared me more than any other injury”.

Weeks passed. McIntosh didn’t waste any of them. With the help of Strength and Conditioning coach Slav Tortevski from ESS Performance, she returned to gym a month after her injury.

Then again, even if McIntosh could return, was there room for a 36-year old player on the Mugars’ list? Especially one recovering from a knee reconstruction?

Melbourne University coach Andrew Jago never had a one-on-one with his veteran defender about her recovery or any role change. Jago knew she had previously recovered from surgeries and left it to her recovery team as much as her determination.

“Andrew just said, ‘I know you’ll do everything to get yourself back’. There were a lot of nerves in the week before my first game, but Slav just kept saying, ‘You’re ready’.”

342 days after her injury, Cecilia McIntosh was selected in the Mugars’ Round 4 side to play the Eastern Devils on a muddy day at Melbourne University.
It was her comeback match in every sense – no VFL, no practice matches, not so much as an intra-club hit-out. And the Devils weren’t a team she could stroll her way back into form against: tough, hungry and with a dangerous forward line including young Bulldog Pepa Randall.
Jago sent McIntosh straight into defence to play on Randall. He had shown faith in her to get back into the VFL side and wasn’t about to hide her on the field. In for a penny, in for a pound.

For three quarters, McIntosh held Randall goalless but Melbourne University went into the final break ten points down with the wind. Eventually, the Mugars got on top of the Devils with their quick ball movement and snatched the lead with nine minutes to play. Then, something unexpected happened.

“I got moved up to the wing,” recalls McIntosh. “I saw we had a bit of space on the fat side so I ran off my opponent, we got a good switch across and hit me on the chest.”

Cecilia McIntosh marked the ball twenty metres out with her side three points ahead with four minutes to go. She went back, walked in and kicked the goal that finally shut the door on the relentless Devils.

“It was great for my confidence to do that. Couldn’t have asked for a more perfect way to come back,” she says.
Match won, high-profile opponent defeated, no injury hicks and a fairytale finish. McIntosh couldn’t have asked for more…. but she got it.

“Last week, I got a call from [Melbourne coach] Michelle Cowan,” grins McIntosh. “She said they’re putting me back into the team so I’m playing next week on the MCG. Pretty much twelve months to the day.”

Checkmate McIntosh.

Melbourne University play St Kilda at North Port Oval from 11 on Saturday.

About Callum O'Connor

Here's to feelin' good all the time.


  1. Rick Kane says

    Hi Callum

    Thanks for enlightening me to Cecilia’s journey over the last year. She sounds like the real deal and I’ll keep an eye on her progress this year. I wish her and the Mugar’s well. That’s is until they come up against the falcons!


Leave a Comment