KATE McCarthy hid her first game of competitive footy from her family.
"When [a friend] asked me to play that first game I made sure my mum didn’t find out because as far as everyone was concerned, I wasn’t allowed to play contact sport," she told womens.afl.
St Kilda’s AFLW recruit had a pacemaker surgically implanted at age 12 to treat a blockage causing her heart to stop intermittently.
"I played that game and thought, 'Oh my God I need to go and see my cardiologist and see if he’ll allow me to play' because I really loved it," McCarthy said.
The cardiologist gave her the green light, and McCarthy hasn’t looked back.
"Being so close to the surface of the skin it’s a little bit painful if it gets a direct knock, but beyond that it doesn’t stop me doing anything," she said.
An accomplished touch footballer, McCarthy moved quickly from local footy on the Gold Coast to the then-QWAFL and was drafted by Brisbane ahead of the inaugural NAB AFLW season in 2017.
After three years, which included two losing Grand Final appearances (2017, 2018) and an All Australian guernsey (2017), the speedy midfielder signed with expansion club St Kilda following the 2019 season.
McCarthy is aware the move to Melbourne won’t be without its challenges, anticipating an increase in media attention compared to her experiences in Queensland.
"I think any publicity you get in Brisbane is probably good publicity, compared to Victoria where there’s a lot of scrutiny on your behaviour and how you’re going," she said.
"Up in Brisbane as well or as poor as you do there’s only going to be a certain amount of noise made about you ... the pressure’s off a little bit."
The move to St Kilda was driven by a few factors, from contributing to the building of a new team from the ground up to the opportunity to mentor younger players.
"I see it as a really exciting opportunity and something that’s completely unique," McCarthy said.
"In those three years at Brisbane, we were working out what was good, what wasn’t, what worked, what didn’t, and now at the Saints we’re starting from scratch again.
"It also gives us the chance to play a mentoring role with some of the younger girls that are at VFLW level and looking to get drafted."
With a background in teaching, the shift to St Kilda will enable the 26-year-old to continue to guide the development of young people in her work.
"I’m interested in the off-field, transitioning from school to being a football player, making sure they have other things going on in their lives so they’re not just consumed with football," she said.
"That role is something that I really enjoy, and with the young girls that we have at St Kilda, it’s going to be really important to make sure that they have longevity in their careers."
McCarthy has taken up a part-time role with the club’s media department to build her own skills outside football, keen to pursue a media career after taking on a boundary line commentary role for Triple M’s Brisbane AFL coverage.
"I’m learning a lot of things that I want to be able to do either while I’m still playing or at the end of the season," she said.
"I’m trying to add a few more strings to my bow so that I’m not just in front of the camera – I can edit, I can produce, and be able to push out content."