After 274 games and 15 seasons at the elite level, retiring midfielder Brett Deledio reflects on his career with Richmond and the GWS Giants, presented by Pickstar.
Making the decision to retire from AFL football after 15 seasons is confronting and nerve-wracking in the same breath.
When you’re drafted as a fresh-faced 17-year-old, football is all you know.
I’m incredibly blessed to have lived the life I have thus far through football and the past couple of weeks have presented me an opportunity to reflect on my career and everything I’ve been able to achieve.
I’ve spent countless times thinking back to where my career started from, to my decision to leave Richmond and start afresh at the Giants.
In those moments of reflection you feel proud of what you’ve been able to achieve and everything you’ve experienced over the journey.
There are the friendships you make, the life experiences you have and of course, the accolades you receive.
The individual honours show a little bit of reward for the effort you’ve put in over the years.
I feel proud to know that I can leave the game knowing I’ve left no stone unturned in terms of my preparation and trying to get the best out of the ability I was given.
I’m most proud to know that I didn’t rest on my laurels of being a talented player – I’m no Chris Judd or Gary Ablett by any stretch of the imagination – but I worked incredibly hard to try to be the best I could be.
But, like with anything in life, football presented significant challenges and none more so than the soft tissue injuries I experienced in the latter parts of my career.
If I could go back in time and do something differently it would be associated with my calves!
Knowing what I know now, in terms of training loads and the importance of rest and recovery, I would have taken a more vigilant approach.
I trained religiously throughout the off-season with limited breaks because I thought it would give me an advantage the next season.
If I could learn something from my career, it would be about finding the balance between working hard and enjoying my breaks. I was a dedicated, one-eyed footballer!
It’s funny though, in saying that, I think my dedication to football is what made me the player I am today.
It’s a double-edged sword. If I had have taken that rest, would I have become the player I did?
From when I first injured my calf in 2014/15 through to my most recent injury only a couple of weeks ago, I’d estimate I have had close to 30 soft-tissue injuries.
The hardest thing about the issues that I’ve had is that you can’t predict when they’re going to come.
No matter what training load or whatever else you put into rehab, they creep up on you and set you back further. You’re constantly having to build back up!
Just as you see the light at the end of the tunnel, and returning to the field doesn’t feel that far out of reach, it happens again. Those setbacks are constantly just kicking you in the ‘knackers’!
When you leave a club, that you’ve been at for 12 years to start afresh, but you’re physically unable to show your new teammates what you’re capable of is extremely frustrating.
I always had the attitude that if I showed the boys I was willing to work and do whatever it takes to get back to full fitness then I would hopefully be able to play my role in our fight for a flag.
If I know I’ve given it my all then I’m not left to question a lack of effort in terms of my rehab or preparation.
As a player you don’t ever want to be questioned on why you’re part of the squad and that was one of the hardest things to deal with mentally.
In those challenging times, I would always turn to my wife Katie and my two daughters, Milla and Charlotte.
My daughters don’t understand the nature of being injured and what comes with it. They’re just here for the cuddles and time with their Dad, which is a refreshing change when you’re going through a long-term injury.
As isolating as rehab can be it’s never worried me too much.
It’ll come as no surprise to those that know me that I love my training.
When I sustained my most recent injury, I knew questions marks would be raised over my ability to play another season.
You just feel like you’ve been smacked in the face.
Mentally, I still feel like I could play another two or three seasons because I love the game.
Part of me feels like I’m not quite ready to give it up but my body is telling me that, unfortunately, my calf just can’t commit to another season.
Working out what you’re going to be doing in the next phase of your life can present its own challenges but, in saying that, it’s also exciting.
I’ve been getting on the front foot and seeing what lies ahead in a life post-football.
Being part of the Giants and with the support of my manager, Anthony McConville, I’ve been able to lean on those around me to gain knowledge and experience.
It’s nerve-wracking not knowing what the future holds but I can take confidence out of the work that I’ve done prior to retirement to give myself the best opportunity possible to be ready for a new career path.
As I said, I love the game too much to let it go and I think that’s why a career in coaching appeals to me.
Being able to impart my own wisdom on those around me is a big part of the reason coaching is something I want to pursue.
That passion developed after I spent some time working with the Giants’ AFLW team earlier this year – there’s a special feeling in seeing people use the skills you’ve taught them along the way.
I remember vividly a piece of advice I received after my first year and heading into my second pre-season from (former Richmond teammate) Kane Johnson.
I turned up to pre-season after playing in the International Rules series for Australia and thinking that would be enough for me.
I’d done a bit of training but I wasn’t at the level Richmond thought I should have been.
I ran a poor time trial, starting off a bit slower, thinking I could make it up but I couldn’t.
Kane pulled me aside and said, ‘Mate, if I can give you one piece of advice it would be to go out hard and hold on’.
It’s something I’ve used throughout my career: To go out hard and hold on for as long as you can.
I often read articles about retirement and legacies and find that everyone says something profound but, to be honest, my legacy would be simple.
I was an incredibly hard trainer and the ultimate professional in terms of preparation to give myself the ultimate opportunity to be the best.
When I hang up the boots I’ll remember the friendships I made.
Your career doesn’t last forever but friendships do and I’ve got people now that I call my best mates because of football.
I’m incredibly blessed and grateful to have been given the opportunity by the Richmond Football Club to live out my boyhood dream for 12 years and to continue that with the GWS Giants for a further three seasons.
They took a chance on a skinny, young kid from Kyabram and turned him into the person he is today.