50/50 — they were my chances of staying at Port Adelaide in 2018 before the trade period began. Unfortunately, for me, my 50 didn’t go the way I’d hoped.
I didn’t really see it coming and thought I’d get another year. While I was somewhat prepared for the end, at the same time, I wasn’t.
It’s been a few weeks since the season, and my career at Port Adelaide, has officially ended, and I’ve been working as a landscaper with my mate, which I’d already planned on doing this off-season.
And while thinking about it all, when I’m not getting my hands dirty from dawn to late, I feel like my AFL career has been much like a landscaping job — building something from scratch and becoming something other people can enjoy, too.
I was lucky to be drafted and was taken by the Tigers, the club I grew up supporting, in the pre-season draft at the end of 2005.
You go from being one of the talented kids in the junior ranks to the bottom end of the food chain at an AFL club playing alongside your heroes.
It’s similar to the way my mate and I constructed a rebuild of a playground in Mulgrave the other day. First, we dig the foundation up, revealing only the dust and dirt that lies beneath.
Suddenly, the foundation that stood before had been filed down to start the next phase of its existence.
I was no different when I first walked through the doors at Punt Road. I worked my way from the bottom to become a 100-game player in the eight years I spent at Richmond.
It didn’t end there and at the end of 2013, I believed the best thing for my footy was to accept an offer to move interstate and play with Port Adelaide.
It paid dividends to begin with. I played some of my best footy, won a Goal of the Year Award and played in my first finals series in 2014.
We beat my old mob in my first ever AFL finals match. It was a weird feeling but it led to the high point of my time in the AFL — the win against Fremantle coming in the following week’s Semi-Final.
The emotions after that game were unreal. It was difficult to celebrate the week before but this was a special moment. We ended up coming within three points of advancing to a Grand Final — you can’t help but wonder if only.
But it wasn’t long until the lowest moment would surface and spell the beginning of the end of my time at Port Adelaide.
It took only 15 minutes of the Round 1 clash in 2016 for things to unravel. I tore a pec muscle and missed the following 15 weeks. I returned to play in the SANFL side but a fractured cheekbone late in the season, capping off a terrible year for me and for the club.
The only consolation was that I wasn’t alone in rehab throughout the year. I had guys like Jay Schulz, Robbie Gray at times and Tommy Jonas to keep me company, which meant I wasn’t as isolated — although we all would’ve preferred not to be there.
The club struggled in 2016 and knowing you can’t physically do anything to help is as frustrating as it gets. Special mention to my wife Tara who has been along for the entire 12-year journey with me and has had to deal with a lot of crap.
Mentally, I’m not ready for this to end and I’d jump at another opportunity anywhere around the country. But I don’t think I’m set to say goodbye to my teammates and to think I might not run out onto the MCG or Adelaide Oval again is heartbreaking. At least I have a few good yarns to spin around a campfire.
A career as an elite Australian Rules player isn’t as easy as it looks and it’s not always as fun as it looks but the feeling you get when you run onto the ground and ‘Never Tear Us Apart’ is echoing across the stadium makes all the pain and stress you’ve put your body through worth it.
For now, I need to figure out what to do with the rest of my life if I don’t get a lifeline elsewhere. Maybe building something from a pile of dust into something other people will enjoy is the path I’m destined to continue after all.