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AFLW Feature: Why Yorston chose the SUNS

  - Gold Coast Suns,AFLW

Family.

That’s why Jacqui Yorston chose the SUNS.

Family is the cornerstone of Yorston’s life, the key factor in every decision she makes.

It’s the reason she first started playing football, discontent with sitting on the sidelines and watching her brothers play.

They were there for her first game when she was 12, and her first AFLW match at 18.

They’ve been there for the whole journey.

But there’s more to the story.

 

The beginning:

Yorston was one of six children, with five brothers; Joel, Ryan, Zac, John and Josh.

They were a footy mad family. 

Her brothers played it, her dad coached it.

But Jacqui wasn’t allowed.

Instead, she took up netball when she was eight.

She was pretty good at it, too.

Her coach at the time was only four or five years older than her and a gun netballer with representative experience.

Within five years Yorston was playing alongside her in one of the club’s senior teams, but it wasn’t enough to curb her love for footy.

All those years on the sidelines watching her brothers play and train, now Jacqui wanted to give it a crack. 

She joined her local club the Kedron Lions at 13 and hasn’t looked back.

“I’m lucky in the way that both sides of my family are genetically blessed, they’re just fit,” Yorston said.

“I love netball but I just don’t enjoy it enough to want to pursue it for the rest of my life.

“I had to choose and footy was the one for me.”

There’s more freedom in footy, Yorston explains.

Netball was “boring to watch, let alone play”, but footy just seemed natural.

After nine months of playing Yorston was named in her first club representative team.

She’d only played a handful of games, maybe 10.

She was also named captain of that team.

Yorston was a born leader.

 

The incident:

Yorston switched clubs a couple of times in the ensuing years, from Kedron to Zillmere, then Wilston Grange to play in the QAFLW.

At this stage, she was good enough to be selected in the Queensland U18 team playing for three years from when she was 15 until 17.

But it was in 2016, her first year of Under 18 football, when her whole world fell apart.

She lost her older brother Josh to suicide.

Yorston was in Melbourne for the National Championships with the Queensland team when one night out of nowhere a wave of sickness washed over her. 

Her first thought was it must have been something she ate, so the then 15-year-old Yorston went to the team doctor to get checked out before heading to bed early. 

She was awoken by the team manager in the early hours of the next morning. 

Groggy and half-asleep, Yorston could still sense something was amiss.

It was there, in a Melbourne hotel room with her father beside her, when she heard the news her brother had taken his own life.

“My family’s massive, it’s the biggest part of my life,” Yorston said.

“I felt sick, I was in shock.”

The Queensland team had a psychologist there who advised Yorston to go home to be with her family.

But Yorston was conflicted; she wanted to play.

“Deciding to stay or go was hard,” she says reflecting on that moment.

“I knew I wanted to stay but the psychologist said to wait and sleep on it.

“There’s no way Josh would have wanted me to give up.”

She took time to process the news.

The next morning she spoke with her family and made the decision.

“When I did talk to my little brother on the Thursday morning, he said good luck, go out there and play for Josh,” she said.

“I texted Zac and asked if he was ok and he said yep just go out there and play hard.

“Ryan sent me a text and said, you know what’s right for you and we all know that Josh wouldn’t want you going home, so go out there and rip in.

“That’s exactly what I did.

“I don’t regret it, I’m so glad I stayed.

“Now I look back on it, I grew after that as a person.” 

She was consoled by her coach and teammates the next day.

Everyone wore black armbands that match in memory of Josh.

  

Hardened:

That experience changed Yorston.

She became hardened, steeled.

And she got better.

Yorston joined the Brisbane Lions Academy in 2017 after four years of playing footy and her first year of State Under 18 football.

That’s when she started to fast-track her development.

She wanted to give herself the best chance to exceed at Under 18 level and get drafted into the AFLW.

For Josh.

“Josh always told me: you’ll make AFLW, you’re good enough, you’ve just got to work hard.

“I bring myself back to that because that’s exactly what he’d say to me right now; bring yourself back to what works for you and that’s when you’ll go forward.”

As an inside midfielder, Yorston wanted to build her endurance.

“If I want to develop my skills my fitness has to develop at the same rate,” she said.

“I’m not really built to be a runner and I’ve got to train my mind and my body to do that. 

“I can have the best skills but they’re only going to last a quarter because I’m not fit enough to do that.”

That was when she entered her second year of Under 18 football under a new coach, Michael Gugliotta.

“Googs” was a hard coach with a focus on running, exactly what Yorston needed.

“I like that, I need someone to say ‘I don’t care if you fall over, finish this set’,” Yorston said.

“That’s what I need.”

The pieces were falling into place and Yorston was getting noticed.

In 2018, her final year of Under 18s, she was a carnival standout and received All Australian honours for her performances.

Three months later she was drafted to the Brisbane Lions.

 

Relationships:

As you’ve probably guessed by now, family is everything to Yorston.

Her dad, Robert, is a big part of her life.

He’s Jacqui’s biggest fan and her worst critic when he needs to be.

“He comes out to me at quarter time, half time and three-quarter time to give me tips,” Jacqui said.

“We’ve got a codeword, and whenever he says that word it just means give it everything and go hard.

“He says it plenty, too many times!”

Yorston’s boyfriend Tanah has also been a key pillar in her life.

He’s also a professional athlete, signed to the Brisbane Broncos NRL squad as a halfback.

Yorston says Tanah has helped her with the mental side of her game when it comes to preparation.

“He’s so professional in the way he goes about things,” she said.

Then there’s Gold Coast SUNS AFLW Senior Coach David Lake.

“Lakey” is one of the key reasons Yorston turned her back on the Lions to join the SUNS ahead of the 2020 AFLW season.

She recalls an experience when the pair were both at the Lions and she just knew he was a coach she could trust.

“Lakey challenged me in pre-season,” Yorston said.

“We’d be doing full-field drills and he would say to the opponent I’m on ‘you run mate, she won’t catch you, she won’t even try’.

“The reverse psychology got me, I wanted to prove him wrong.

“That was the best part about Lakey and that’s why I think he’s probably the best coach I’ve ever had.

“He knows his players, he knows that’s going to make me run, he knows I hate running.

“But if he challenges me in a way that I’m going to compete, that’s how I’ll get my running in. 

“I genuinely am so grateful for Lakey, it’s unbelievable.”

  

The learnings:

Yorston has learnt so much in the last few years.

Patience, empathy and leadership are some of those traits she’s developed since the incident in 2016.

“I understand what it’s like and can talk to people who are in similar situations,” Yorston said.

“That’s one of the biggest things I’ve got out of it is learning new things in the way I’ve dealt with it and how potentially I can help someone else.”

She’s got perspective now.

It used to be all about football, Yorston admits she had tunnel vision.

But now if she misses a game with injury or form, it’s not the end of the world.

Joining the SUNS a couple of months ago, Yorston says she is finally comfortable in her environment and able to flourish.

She sees parallels between her own journey and the club’s, a family-first mentality which she wants to be a part of.

“I feel the same here in the way that if I need something I will go to someone,” she said.

“Family is everything whether you lose someone or not.

“Everyone’s got to be there to pick up the pieces.

“With how footy has gone lately, everyone’s trying to build together what was lost.

“And that’s exactly what my family had to do was pick ourselves up from the bottom and build together.”

Last month Yorston moved to the Gold Coast, living in the coastal suburb of Mermaid Beach.

Everything is coming together for her off the field.

She’s working part-time at the SUNS in the partnerships team and training with the QW Winter Series squad.

“Settled, motivated and confident” is the way she puts it.

She’s starting again, but this time she’s in an enjoyable environment, mentally prepared and ready to keep learning.

Bring on 2020.

 

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