Grant Birchall might seem like a typical Tasmanian. He’s unassuming, softly spoken and doesn’t command the attention of his other star teammates.
But that’s not the way Birchall behaved while playing in the backyard as a kid, according to his mother Kathy.
It was revealed recently on Channel Seven that a young Birchall spent a bit of time in isolation due to his frustration with poor form of others.
“He used to play a lot by himself in the backyard. Not a lot of kids would come and play because Grant would get frustrated with them when they couldn’t kick the ball the right way or handball it perfectly, whereas dad could,” Kathy said.
Birchall spent a lot of his time playing sport due to there not being much else to do in the small town of Devonport.
He quickly became obsessed with the game with Ian suggesting his own Aussie Rules infatuation may have rubbed off on his son during those early years.
That obsession eventually manufactured into a successful career at the highest level with fellow Tasmanian product and former North Melbourne defender Nathan Grima saying on radio this week the 27-year-old is building one of the best CV’s from a Tasmanian native.
Sad to see @nathangrima17 career cut short through injury. All the best post footy! Congrats!
But moving interstate as a teenager isn’t as easy as it seems, even if it’s only an hour-long plane trip away. Birchall’s parents say it was hard to let their only son go but knew it was for the best.
“It was difficult probably from the aspect he was a 17-year-old Tassie boy who had never been away from home and out of Tassie very often but going to the big smoke in Melbourne and how he was going to fit in and find that lifestyle. But for him to go away – not many people get that opportunity he had – so there was a lot of comfort in that,” Ian said.
“It was hard to say goodbye to him but at the same time I was just happy that he was going off to do what he always wanted to do,” Kathy added.
Now a three-time premiership player, Birchall didn’t take long to settle in at the Hawks. He debuted immediately in Round 1, 2006, in his home state against Fremantle, collecting 14 disposals and four rebounds in a 22-point win.
Birchall went on to play 16 games in his first AFL season, cementing his spot in the club’s line-up in the second-half of the year. Two years later, Birchall was a premiership player at age 20. He had 23 disposals and five rebounds against an almost unbeatable Geelong outfit.
“not a lot of kids would come and play because Grant would get frustrated with them when they couldn’t kick the ball the right” – Kathy Birchall
He took his game to a new level in 2011, finishing third in the Hawks best and fairest award and repeating those efforts in 2012 where he received his first All-Australian selection at half-back after arguably a career-best season.
Birchall finished runner-up to Jordan Lewis in the Hawthorn’s best and fairest in another premiership-winning season in 2014, showing once again how highly the club regards the long-kicking left-footer.
But success isn’t the only thing the speedy, half-back has had the chance to achieve at Hawthorn. With the club’s relationship with the Tasmanian government, Birchall has the opportunity to play in front of a home crowd during the season.
He’s played at Aurora Stadium (in Launceston) 33 times during his 204-game career – the second-most venue he’s frequented behind the MCG – and takes full advantage of the trip home.
“I’ve been very lucky with the relationship Hawthorn’s got with Tassie that I get to come down quite a bit and play four home games a year which is fantastic and on top of that we do a lot of community camps as well,” Birchall says.
“It’s great coming home and seeing mum and dad and getting some home cooked meals.”