In Round 12 of the 2018 VFL season, Werribee’s Josh Corbett leapt from the ground into a routine marking contest, something he has done many times before.
This time, however, an errant poke in the eye from a Frankston opponent would lead to the most debilitating and frustrating injury the then 21-year-old has endured.
Falling to the ground, Corbett’s vision was obstructed, and he tried to blink away whatever was clouding his sight.
The result was a blood clot that had formed in the iris and pupil in the front of his left eye, which meant that he couldn’t see through the eye for three weeks.
“I was bed-ridden and just staring at the ceiling,” Corbett told AFLPlayers.com.au, just 24 hours after joining the Gold Coast Suns.
“I wasn’t allowed to watch television because I wasn’t allowed to focus on things. I was told to hide myself away in my bedroom and lie down on a 45-degree angle so that no blood flowed through to the back of my eye.”
Corbett was forced to use eye drops 3-4 times a day to reduce the swelling, and was told not to leave the room until it was night time due to the brightness associated with the day time.
Recovery was a slow process. He was unable to play again in 2018, and wasn’t cleared to get back into running for two and a half months. He spent the latter part of the year working with the forwards coach.
Prior to the marking contest, he had strung nine games together for Werribee, kicking 22 goals and proving to be a valuable contributor to their forward line.
Despite going under the radar as a junior with no TAC Cup experience, Corbett’s form in the first half of the 2018 VFL season warranted AFL attention, but the mature-age forward’s optimism turned to despair when he learned the severity of the injury.
“I thought the chance might have been slipping away,” Corbett explained.
“I was hopeful that the nine games I played earlier in the season was going to be enough, and I’m so thankful to the Suns for giving me the opportunity. I’ll be forever grateful for that.”
That opportunity came about due to a unique set of circumstances, with the Suns granted special assistance to sign the best state league talent in the country. In what was a busy day for the club, they signed Corbett and West Adelaide SANFL player Chris Burgess yesterday, along with orchestrating a trade with Richmond to net Corey Ellis and Anthony Miles.
And while it might have been frantic for Gold Coast, for Corbett it was a day he’ll never forget.
Sitting at home with his girlfriend and housemates, the 22-year-old journeyman received a phone call from Kall Burns that changed his life.
“I was jumping around and felt like a little kid again,” he explained.
“It’s a perfect fit. The Suns presented really well for me and made me feel at home, and I have already received messages from players and staff.”
But it wasn’t just current-listed players who have reached out to Corbett. Through his management company, i50, he was granted access earlier this year to another former Werribee product who treaded a similar path in Michael Barlow.
Over the course of the last few months, the former Fremantle and Gold Coast midfielder who is playing the waiting game with his own career, has been instructing the key forward on what to expect with the AFL pre-season and how to the transition to the elite level.
“I can’t thank Mick enough for what he has done for me. It is a stressful time for him not knowing [about his future], but he is always available to chat,” Corbett said.
“He even called me out of the blue for 40 minutes to just talk about life and to make sure I was going well.”
The transition to the elite level will provide a stark contrast to what he has experienced in the past.
Corbett was playing local football for the North Warrnambool Eagles until the end of 2015, and was then invited to participate in Werribee’s pre-season training.
From there he gradually improved his fitness and debuted in the senior team in 2016, while managing different jobs to make ends meet.
This year, he was stacking bags of fertiliser from 6am to 3pm so he could fit in training at the club, before having to take a few months off following the blood clot in his eye.
“If I re-aggravated it, it would have bled and you’re looking at permanent sight damage. I didn’t want to take the risk and flirt with danger.”
In 2017, he was forced to overcome more adversity following the onset of glandular fever and an ankle injury that limited him to just nine senior games.
Remarkably in 2018, Corbett joined the likes of Bayley Fritsch, Kane Lambert, Nic Newman and Robin Nahas in recent years by winning the Fothergill-Round-Mitchell Medal as the most promising young player in the VFL, despite missing half the season.
“I was honoured and humbled to receive the Fothergill, and to have Bayley Fritsch present it to me was amazing. It showed how far it can take you.”
Considering the unique set of circumstances, Corbett’s next few weeks are yet to be determined.
Since the VFL season ended, Werribee’s high performance manager Simon Anning has developed a training program for him to follow to get back to full fitness following the eye injury, so for now the goal is just to get back to peak condition before Day 1 of pre-season.
“I want to make a good impression when I get there.”