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Anatomy of a debut — Jacob Dawson

I started in the Gold Coast Suns academy when I was about 13, but all the way through I was a crazy Geelong supporter.

As things started to ramp up with the academy when I was 15 or 16, though, my views started to change a bit. Geelong was my team, but I always wanted to play for the Suns at AFL level.

I’ve got a real connection with the club — I’ve been there for years and I want to see the club succeed. That connection made my debut game last weekend so much more special, finally getting the chance to run out for the club I dreamed of playing for.

I found out the news on Wednesday in a team meeting. We were going through a few things as usual, and then Stewy Dew said, ‘We’ve got someone debuting.’ It came up on the screen and the boys went nuts, which was one of the best things that’s ever happened to me.

I called my girlfriend Zali straight away, and she started crying as soon as I told her — I’ve been with her for four or five years, so she’s been on the journey the whole way with me.

The media team wanted me to keep it from my parents, and later that night they told mum and dad that I would be doing a normal interview with them. I asked them about family life and that sort of thing, then finished it up by asking them, ‘are you looking forward to coming to watch me play in Tassie this weekend?’

They were over the moon for me, and it was pretty good to get that on camera and save that memory.

I was pretty sore during the week, so it was only light work for me on the training track. The coaches didn’t want me doing too much, but I obviously felt good after getting the news — I just wanted to be out there with the footy as much as possible!

Friday night we were at the hotel in Tassie, and I was a little bit nervy — I woke up in the morning and asked all the boys if their beds were super hard or if it was just mine. Really, I was just a bit nervous and didn’t sleep that well! The nerves weren’t too bad, but it definitely wasn’t the best sleep I’ve ever had.

My game-day routine is pretty consistent now after traveling for years with the NEAFL team. I don’t like to do much before the game, I’m pretty chilled and just hang around the hotel.

The game was at 1pm, so before I knew it I’d gotten strapped up and hopped on the bus to the stadium. That was probably a bit better than a later game to debut — it meant I didn’t have too much time to think about it.

Even though it was an away game, I had mum and dad, Zali, my three siblings, Nan, Baba and Gido from my mum’s side, and my older brother’s partner there to be a part of it. They were pumped and they’ve all been involved over the journey, so for them to all be there just made it that much better.

Being presented with my jumper before the game was another special moment. I had Jesse Joyce present my jersey, who I grew up playing footy with, and he spoke really well about family, our relationship and my journey to get there. Joycey’s a special player and a special person, so to have him speak the way he did was unreal.

The nerves increased in the warm-ups out on the ground, but once the game started it was just footy as usual. I had a bit of a job to run around with Tom Mitchell, so that made it easier having a clear focus going in. It kind of settled me down a bit, once I whacked into him a few times!

I think my first touch was a handball, but my first kick wasn’t too flash — it was a bit of a floater, so I remember that one. I’ve copped a bit of flak for it already, so hopefully that’s the worst kick of my career!

It was disappointing not to get the win, which would have capped the day off. We played some good footy, but then we played some really poor footy and we got punished.

The biggest moment that stood out from the game actually happened just after the final siren. I was walking through shaking hands, and Jarryd Roughead came flying over from about 20 metres away and tapped me on the shoulder.

He just said, ‘Congrats on the game, keep doing what you’re doing up north and keep driving the group forward,’ among a few other things. He wouldn’t know me from a bar of soap, and he didn’t have to do it, so it was pretty special.

You gain a lot of respect from stuff like that — he had no reason to do it, he didn’t get anything out of it, but it made me feel pretty good after a tough result.

Now, I want to do my best to try and play out the rest of the year. If I play good footy I’ll get the opportunity and that’s a real goal I’ve got. As a team, hopefully we can put together some consistent performances, and win a few games for ourselves and for the fans.