My earliest memories of playing football were at Auskick in my hometown of Richmond, Tasmania where I grew up.
I recall the pure enjoyment I received out of putting on my boots every Saturday morning with my school mates and dad. It’s something I still look back on with great memories. Playing at the highest level is special and something you never take for granted, but it’s the moments of pure joy from playing as a junior that are the fondest.
I was always one of the better players in my age group, but I started to believe I could make it around the age of 12 or 13, when my coach at the time, Steve Gillbee — who is a great friend to this day and mentor — told me that I could play AFL if I wanted to put in the hard work.
From that moment on, I trained so hard and worked harder than most kids so I could give myself a shot at it.
When I was drafted by Brisbane, there was a mix of emotions from my end. From happiness and relief, to sadness that I would be leaving my family which at the time was very hard.
But I was so excited for the journey ahead up in Brisbane, and they will always hold a special place in my heart for giving me the chance to play AFL.
The experience up there was amazing, I met some of the greatest people, who I’ll have friendships with for the rest of my life. But it was seriously hard, too. I learnt a lot about myself and how to deal with pressure and anxiety.
The decision to leave the Lions was difficult because I spent so much time there and built some strong relationships, but I wanted to be closer to my family due to my mental health and family reasons.
Not many people know this, but at the time, I was diagnosed with severe anxiety and was put on medication and was seeing someone to help deal with it.
I can confidently say that if it wasn’t for the support of both footy clubs, my family and my girlfriend, I don’t know where I would be.
The constant pressure to perform and constant social media bullying were the main things I struggled with, and this will be something I have to deal with for the rest of my life.
But I’m in a very good place and the biggest thing I needed to understand was that it’s actually OK to not be OK, and to admit it to someone was the best thing I ever did.
As an industry we are slowly getting there but the more current and past players speak about it, and empower people to get help, the better it will be for everyone.
Moving from Queensland to Victoria, I absolutely loved my two years at Essendon. It was such a privilege to ‘Don the Sash’ and something I’m very proud of.
To play On Anzac Day twice, I feel very lucky. I honestly can’t wait to cheer on the boys next year and hope nothing but success for that group.
And while I depart with positive feelings, the last few weeks have still been difficult. It was hard when I went up to John Worsfold’s office and asked what the go was. Thankfully for me, he was open and I respect that because he is such an honest man that I hold in the highest regard.
I don’t think it matters how long you have been in the game, whether it’s from two years to 16 years, it still hurts.
But it shows we’re are all human, and it’s a natural reaction to losing something you love.
I don’t want to look too far forward into the future, I’m just going to finish up with the Essendon VFL and have some holidays, and then sit down with my family and my girlfriend and work out the next stage.
But I am so excited to enter the real world and experience things I have never done before.
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