Fans Players

Anatomy of a debut — Ben Ronke

Last Thursday, the playing group walked into a meeting room — it was just another day in the life of a second-year AFL footballer.

But this meeting would change everything forever.

As John Longmire began talking, some images of myself popped up on the screen. That’s when I knew this was no ordinary meeting.

He was talking about me but I don’t think I was processing everything he was saying because there were so many thoughts swirling around my head.

I was going to play my first AFL game. I didn’t even know I was in the conversation to play. Sure enough, I told my parents, who were over the moon, and all that driving to training and games had paid off.

I’d be achieving my dream of playing AFL and, despite playing for an interstate club, I’d be doing it close to home.

We flew to Melbourne on Friday morning and had a walk on the Kardinia Park ground. At that point, it hadn’t really sunk in that I’d be running on this exact grass the following day.

I didn’t sleep too badly that night. We actually had a room to ourselves, which was actually good for a bit of space.

It wasn’t until I was having breakfast the following day when the nerves started to kick in.

I’d never been in this position before so it was hard not to play everything over in my head beforehand.

But, in the end, the most important thing for me was using my teammates’ experiences to settle me down and treat the game just like any other.

I received some good advice. My locker is in the same area as Luke Parker, Dane Rampe and Lance Franklin and they were all keen to help when needed.

I think the entire leadership group and even the emerging leaders all got around to me at some point to check in. All the support made me feel comfortable I could do the job.

For me, the best piece of advice was to stick to playing my style of footy and stress less about the structures because, being my first game, my teammates will be out there to direct and help me with that.

Keeping everything clear, simple and not overthinking was the advice I found the most helpful.

By the time we ran onto the ground, all the nerves were gone — it was just like another game of footy.

Coming out of the race with the Swans supporters who did make it down was a great experience and made things easier. I was pretty comfortable and confident of performing at that point.

I started on the bench but didn’t take long to get onto the ground and in the action. I think Tom Papley came off for me and I got a kick not long after. I was just happy the ball hit my foot and go in the right direction.

That first goal is something I’ll never forget.

I started the centre bounce as a high forward before Paps found himself with the ball on the half-forward flank.

Looking like he was going to snap the ball around his body towards goal, I darted in the direction of the goal-square.

I managed to find some separation, the ball bounced nicely into my hands and I kicked the goal — everything came together perfectly.

It was an awesome feeling. To have all the boys getting around me was incredible and it gave me a huge confidence boost. There aren’t many things more uplifting than your teammates getting around you.

From a team perspective, things weren’t going overly great until three-quarter time but we managed to get back to that Swans brand of footy in the last term where guys like Josh Kennedy and Callum Sinclair led from the front.

That last quarter was something to savour. I was also lucky enough to gather a quick handball from Harry Cunningham near the goal-square and kick a second goal — I still don’t know how it went in!

The feeling when the siren went was unbelievable — I can’t really explain it. To achieve my dream and get the job done in the same day was something truly special. Sharing that feeling with family and friends in the rooms afterwards capped off a day we’ll never forget.

But the best part of it all is getting the chance to develop, improve and do it all again this week.