Players' Voice — Matt Buntine

Players' Voice — Matt Buntine

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I wouldn’t change anything in the last seven years.

Fifty games is on the horizon for me and I finally played my first AFL final last weekend but I’ve spent the majority of my career on the fringes while battling through some concerning injuries.

There were concussions, which is scary how it could’ve affected the future of my health, and last year I missed most of the season with a strange ACL rupture.

Early last year, I had a lingering knee issue. During a few training sessions after our Round 1 game against Adelaide, my knee would buckle when completing simple changes of direction.

Frustrated, we decided to go for a scan and were expecting a meniscus problem, which would’ve meant two-to-three months of rehab before getting back out there.

But they found a degenerative ACL in there, which had been hanging on for dear life for a long time.

We thought we might be able to leave the ACL because it had survived for so long but the overriding consensus was to go in there and fix it so it can be as strong as ever.

While it meant missing the rest of the season, as weird as it sounds, going through the whole process was a valuable experience and one I don’t regret.

In terms of self-growth, I learnt to appreciate just how much I love playing football and doing simple things as a healthy, strong person.

However, I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t challenging. It gets repetitive when you’re doing the same exercises over and over again with limited progression.

I was fortunate to have Adam Kennedy alongside me and we essentially shared the journey together. He was someone I could vent to and he would cheer me up when things weren’t going well — and vice versa.

It’s an enduring period but I came out the other side a better, more grateful and rounded person than I was before.

The hardest thing to deal with was game day and not quite feeling a part of it all.

I felt elation when they won and was flat when the boys lost but couldn’t help feeling somewhat removed from it and that was the hardest part to deal with for me.

It’s a strange situation. I was obviously stoked for the club and wanted everyone to achieve the dream of getting into and winning a Grand Final but equally, as a competitor, I wanted to be the one out there having a crack with my mates.

There’s certainly a feeling of jealousy because I wasn’t technically a part of it. I basically became a Giants fan in September.

That’s not to say I wasn’t supported. The great thing about the Giants is the support from your teammates. They certainly got around the injured guys as much as they could and that’s happening now with the Heath Shaw’s and Aidan Corr’s of the world.

They aren’t out there at the moment but still have an important role to play with morale and support. They make the place great to be around.

I always understood that footy’s a small part of the entirety of life. Injuries put into perspective how much I enjoy playing the game every weekend. Win, lose or draw, it’s still great fun being out there with 21 other blokes.

I’m always looking to find joy out of everything we do as footballers.

Relaxing away from the game and finding other avenues to focus your energy is important. Footy doesn’t define us.

Adam and I actually jumped into a Certificate IV in fitness last year so we’re now qualified personal trainers and I’m studying to be a maths teacher — although I recently realised that I might not be as good as I originally thought.

I picked up a few more subjects at university in 2017 so I could achieve something during the season and test myself in a different format.

As athletes, we’re so performance and goal-driven so finding that elsewhere when I couldn’t play was beneficial.

I’ve been on the fringe for most of my career so I’ve always been desperate to play but my approach to training, understanding my role and wanting to be back playing has made me clearer and more focused.

Coming off a long-term injury, I knew I wouldn’t be playing my best footy straight away. I knew I had to keep continually working on deficiencies and strengths.

Going through that rehabilitation period has taught me the value of persistence because fortunes can turn if you do the right things and that’s something I’ve tried to carry into my footy career and life.

There were certainly doubts. As soon as I did my ACL, thoughts emerge of ‘will I ever be able to get to where I was before? Can I reach my potential? Can I get better?’

But through the rehab process, I learnt to trust my body again. I haven’t thought about my knee since playing my first NEAFL game at the start of the year — full credit to the club’s medical and strength and conditioning staff.

I feel like I’m in a good place and I’ve played injury free since my first game back. Growing up in the Dandenong area, my family will be there on Saturday at the MCG and my partner is also making the trip down.

They ride the highs and lows with me so it’ll be great to see them chuck on some orange and try to put a bit of colour into the black and white crowd.

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