Playing my first game on Sunday was a surreal experience, and is something that I’m still coming to grips with.
Like all kids who grow up playing AFL and idolising their heroes, it’s something that was always a dream and something that I worked incredibly hard for. To do it, however, is another thing altogether!
Despite being so young and turning 18 just 11 days before the end of 2016, I had my heart set on being selected in the 2016 draft, knowing that 2017 could be a fall-back option if I was to be unsuccessful.
My tender age meant that a lot of clubs looked at me as a developing player who could be good in a few years so snapping me up in 2016 would provide another year of development in the AFL system, so I don’t think it was a negative.
But it wasn’t until a week before the draft that the possibility started to become a reality. Prior to that I was just hopeful.
Looking back at everything, I couldn’t be happier to have landed with the Western Bulldogs, even if my parents were upset to see me leave home at such a young age.
Since moving to the Whitten Oval, I’ve learnt so much and have really bonded with the other young boys at the club. We all talk about relocation and what we’re getting up to on our days off and how we’re coping. It’s just nice to be able to have that release because we’re all going through the same thing.
As the season has progressed, I wasn’t sure if I’d debut or not, but my focus was just on playing strongly with the reserves.
My VFL form had been pretty good. I’ve moved around a little bit, starting up forward and then moving into defence. I did a lot of work with Rohan Smith and Jordan Russell to assist with my positioning in defence and that really helped me to get some form.
Then, the news I had been waiting for came last Thursday morning.
The match committee chose the team at 8:30am, and Rohan Smith came into the physio room and took me into his office.
There, Luke Beveridge, Rohan and Jordan Russell told me that I was playing. Then, Bevo announced it to the group later in the afternoon and everyone got around me.
I rang dad straight away. Rohan Smith told me that I needed to ring him immediately which I appreciated, so I ran over to my phone and gave him a call.
The next couple of days were a bit of a blur. Obviously, a lot of things changed with the build-up given I was playing for a new team — it was a lot more intense in terms of the scheduling of the day, but overall the morning of the game and in the week leading up I did all of the same things.
I didn’t want to change anything, I wanted to act as if I was just going into a normal VFL or under 18s game.
So I continued with my slightly weird pre-game ritual. I always get up and make myself an omelette, eat that, and then have a warm bath with some radox in it. That relaxes me and gets me in a good mindset before the game.
About 25-30 of my friends and family came over from South Australia, and the club set up all of the tickets for them which was a huge help. I even had some mates pile into cars on the Sunday morning as they commenced the drive over!
Despite having everyone in town, I did my own thing when it came to driving into the ground. I told mum and dad that I’d see them afterwards, so I left pretty early to ensure that I wouldn’t mess anything up when it came to carparks and getting into the MCG properly. I got there very early before the game because I didn’t know how to get in and was fearful of going in the wrong entrance. It was the first time I drove under the G’ so I gave myself plenty of time to acclimatise.
When I got to the ground I saw all of my teammates, they all came to me and wished me luck which was a nice moment.
Bob Murphy and Dale Morris pulled me aside at certain times to make sure I was fine and to provide some advice.
They kept telling me that it was my first game, and I would only get one shot at it, so when I ran out I should have a look around and smile and take it all in.
Earlier on, I spoke about how I’ve jelled off-field with the younger guys, but on the field it’s people like Dale, Bob, Zaine Cordy, Matthew Boyd and Easton Wood who have assisted me when it comes to my development as part of the defensive unit.
They’ve helped with my game plan work and getting my mental state right to ensure that I’m staying in the game at all times and to stop me from switching off and daydreaming.
If you watch closely yesterday, you would have seen the great leadership in the backline. There were a lot of times where I was out of position and Dale Morris and Zaine Cordy were in my ear telling me to move left or right which was needed.
Without that support, I would have really struggled out there.
Losing focus and daydreaming comes down to inexperience because I’m still learning the game and it’s also about focusing properly.
It’s such a long game and a lot of different things happen so you have to be thinking on your feet when it comes to defence, attack, when you’re going to the bench and all of those different aspects.
It can be overwhelming and it’s easy to lose focus. Having the right mindset at certain times is really important.
The game moves so fast so it’s difficult to remember a lot of what happened, but I guess I should talk about the mark I took.
The ball was just there and I ran at it and I happened to sit on Matty Suckling’s head which was exciting but also very lucky.
He put a photo on Instagram and joked that I posterised him which was funny, and nice of him to do.
After the game, all of my family and friends were in the rooms so I went over and had a good chat with them before I did my recovery.
We all then went out for dinner to a local pub on Spencer Street and we had a nice meal. I then stayed in the city with mum and dad and my sisters in an apartment and chatted and reminisced. I then had breakfast with my friends and family this morning which was nice.
Spending that quality time with everyone close to me is something I’ll never forget. You really can’t look too far ahead in this caper, you should take time to reflect and look back at where you came from. Those close to me will always keep me grounded.
For the moment, I’m just enjoying what happened yesterday and I’m going to lap it up while I can.
I’ll think about selection later in the week. I understand I’m still young and nothing comes easily in this game.
Decisions need to made and I understand that hard calls occur.
For now, I want to build on that first stepping stone.