Jamie Macmillan remembers exactly where he was standing in the middle of the MCG when the siren sounded to confirm North Melbourne’s elimination final win over Essendon last September.
He remembers the jubilation. The excitement when he got to his housemate and teammate Shaun Atley and they embraced. The countless high fives he dished out to the crowd as the Kangaroos celebrated a famous two-goal win.
“I didn’t want to leave the ground. It was the best feeling. That’s exactly why you play footy,” Macmillan told AFLPlayers.com.au this week.
But Macmillan also remembers the frustration and pain of 2014. The injury battle. The mental challenges. The uncertainty.
“People can call me a nerd, they can call me anything, but sometimes I go open the books or sit in a lecture and you’re a uni student for a while. You’re not a footballer.” – Jamie macmillan
He started the year well, among North Melbourne’s best players in the opening two rounds. Against Port Adelaide in round three, his 49th AFL game, he fractured his fibula.
“The surgeon told me, two days after it happened, that if we were playing in a grand final I could have got through the next week,” Macmillan said.
“They said six weeks to get it right and I was thinking four weeks and I would be playing again, no worries. Eight weeks later and I still hadn’t been able to run.
“It was one thing after another. It wasn’t through bad management or anything that went wrong, it was just the way my body was healing – or wasn’t healing.
“I hated it. I hated going to do the training program I was on. I am not a good swimmer at all and they would give me a 1.5km swim to do, and I couldn’t use my legs, so I was there for ages. It was really mentally challenging as much as it was physically.”
Macmillan had unwanted spare time. But rather than laze around and feel sorry for himself, he did what comes naturally to him – buried his head in the books.
It’s an escape he’s always had.
“When I was in year 11 and 12 at school I wasn’t thinking I would be doing this for a living. AFL footy wasn’t on my radar at all,” Macmillan said.
“I had in my mind that I wanted to get the ENTER score that would get me into commerce at Melbourne Uni.
“Even when it got to the stage where I was invited to draft camp, I didn’t have my mind on a footy career.
“I have always been the kind of guy that, no matter what anyone tells me, I feel like the end of my footy career could be just around the corner.
“Even when I started playing some consistent games I would think, ‘I am out of contract at the end of the year, this could be me done as an AFL player’.
“I have always had a focus away from footy. I am two thirds of the way through my commerce degree now and that gives me a break away from footy.
“Sometimes I need it. Sometimes footy isn’t great. It’s shit. You don’t want to think about it all the time.
“And people can call me a nerd, they can call me anything, but sometimes I go open the books or sit in a lecture and you’re a uni student for a while. You’re not a footballer.”
He has already put his brains to good use. Macmillan and Atley have got a business off the ground – Jack In A Booth, a photo booth hire company which caters for parties all over the state.
“There’s a lot to learn when you are starting up a business,” Macmillan said.
“Registration, company names, business names, finding, paying and managing employees – the real basics. These are life skills that you need and it’s been a massive learning curve for myself and ‘Ats’.”
This balanced approach to football is clearly working for Macmillan. He was upgraded to North’s leadership group this month.
Macmillan joins captain Andrew Swallow, Jack Ziebell, Drew Petrie, Nick Dal Santo, Sam Gibson and Scott Thompson in the group.
Coach Brad Scott said the player vote reflected Macmillan’s standing at Arden Street.
“He’s a terrific off-field leader in terms of the way he prepares himself to play footy,” Scott said.
“He’s really got his life sorted off-field. He sets a great example in off-field engagement.”
“It’s pretty nice to know that’s how your teammates think of you,” Macmillan said.
“When Brad announced it and explained that it was the guys you train with and play with who had voted for the leadership group, it sort of hit me.”
Macmillan’s past 12 months has had its ups and downs. Right now, he’s fit, mentally refreshed, and confident the Kangaroos can improve again after reaching a preliminary final last campaign.
“We certainly have expectations within the footy club. We don’t shy away from that. It’s a good thing,” he said.
“We genuinely believe we can challenge. Last year we didn’t have a great year in terms of consistency but we still had enough wins to get a home final and made a prelim final.
“It wasn’t all smooth sailing. This year we are aiming to go a couple better.”
And he wants that feeling of winning a final in front of a packed MCG again. Desperately.
“If someone said would you do all of last year to play that one game and win that one final like we did, absolutely.”