Anatomy of a debut — Hunter Clark

Anatomy of a debut — Hunter Clark

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I was doing weights last Tuesday when Alan Richardson called me into his office around 4.30pm.

Everything is a new experience at this point in my career so I was unsure what was going to happen.

Luckily, it was good news and some of the best I’d received. He told me I’d be playing my first AFL game in Round 1. It was a special moment.

I called mum straight away and dad not long afterwards — they were over the moon.

Everything was progressing as normal but getting to sleep Friday night was a struggle initially.

You tend to go through different situations in your head and play the game in your mind so with the biggest game of my career coming up, how could I not think about it beforehand?

But once I got some shuteye, I actually slept pretty well. I woke up around 8.30am and that’s when the nerves hit me.

I was as nervous as I’d ever been.

I made some breakfast with Nick Coffield and Doulton Langlands, two first-year Saints I live with, but they had to duck off quickly to the VFL, which meant I was by myself for a while.

Considering the game wasn’t until 3.30pm, I went for a walk — despite the rain — to clear my head and stay active. Eventually, I got a lift with Jimmy Webster and Tim Membrey.

The advice form the coaches and teammates was simple — play my game because that was the reason I got picked. One of the first people I saw after I was told of my debut was Koby Stevens and he was pumped for me and followed me up during the week to ask how I was going.

Another player who was a big help during the week was Jack Steele. Our lockers are next to each other so he’d always stay for a chat to check in.

Before the game, Leigh Montagna, who obviously wore the number 11 for a long time before me, presented me with my jumper. He gave a speech about how much the Saints meant to him and his family.

It was a moving experience to be presented your jumper by a guy who played 287 games of AFL footy and is a champion of the club. I remember him telling me to take it all in, the banner, the crowd, all of it because you only get to play your first game once.

I started the match on the bench and spent the first six minutes there. After a goal was kicked Ben Long ran off the ground and that’s when I got my chance. There was a stoppage not long afterwards and I managed to bang the ball forward.

Nothing came of the kick but it was good to get it out of the way early. That’s when I felt comfortable out there.

Then came the goal. A brilliant Blake Acres smother, followed by a Jack Billings handball over the top and I knew I had to kick the ball straight away — a Lions opponent was charging towards me.

It was lucky the ball actually went through in the end but it was an awesome feeling. So much adrenaline and excitement was pumping through me and to have everyone get around me like that is a moment I’ll never forget.

I think I went okay overall and there’s always room for improvement. When the siren went, I felt relieved because the Lions were tough opponents.

But I was overcome with excitement when I saw Nathan Brown and he told me to be proud of what we achieved. Singing the song with your teammates while getting a Gatorade shower in front of your friends and family was the perfect end to a perfect day.

I gave them all a hug afterwards — this was just as much for my family as it was for me because they’ve been through it all also.

Footy moves on pretty quickly and I’m beginning to understand that now but last week was one of the best I’ve experienced.

I can’t wait to do it all again.

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