It feels like a lifetime ago now, but pulling on the ‘Big V’ jumper to play in the 2008 AFL Hall of Fame tribute match was an incredibly special experience.
I can still remember feeling like a kid at the time – after all, I was only in my second season of AFL.
(Collingwood captain) Scott Pendlebury and I were the two youngest people in the team and were in awe of the calibre of players and talent surrounding us.
As a young football fan who had grown up watching State of Origin, playing in that game felt like I was living out a childhood dream.
State of Origin became the event to watch the game’s best line up together. Seeing stars such as Tony Lockett and Gary Ablett snr. in the same forward line is something I won’t forget.
Their willingness to go at the contest and the competitive nature of every player that took the field showed what it meant to them to be playing for their state.
You have to go back to under-18 level to have the chance to represent your state and, even in that time, you’re split into Country and Metro squads.
I can recall (former Brisbane captain) Jonathan Brown, who was leading the Victorian side, saying how special it was to have the opportunity to play in a marquee game like this.
As a bright-eyed 19-year-old I was lining up in the same side as some of the game’s best including (former North Melbourne captain) Brent Harvey, (four-time Premiership Hawk) Sam Mitchell and (dual West Coast and Carlton Brownlow medalist) Chris Judd.
Automatically, you’re surrounding yourself with an incredibly high standard of football.
(Former Carlton and Brisbane forward) Brendan Fevola had a night out, kicking six goals to lead us to a 17-point victory.
To be on the same team as him, and to see the way he operated in the forward-line was eye-opening.
In those moments and witnessing those top-end players, you’re able to take a lot away for your own game.
Despite being on and off the ground and not playing a huge part in the game myself, I’m so glad I embraced the chance.
For those players who will have the opportunity to represent Victoria or the All Stars in next month’s Bushfire Appeal Game, enjoy it. It’s an incredible learning experience to be surrounded by the game’s best and a wonderful opportunity to do your bit for such an important cause.
As an industry and country, we do an admirable job rallying around and supporting those who are going through significant periods of adversity. We have the position to make a difference beyond the field and hopefully that is what this game will allow us to do.
To those players who will take to the field, remember to keep in the back of your mind why we are playing. There are a lot of people who are doing it tough at the moment and they will continue to do it tough for not only months but years to come.
From here it’s up to the fans to come along, enjoy the spectacle and show their support for what will undoubtedly be a great game the players put on.