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Anatomy of a debut — Jarrod Lienert

Playing my first game yesterday was a chance to reflect on how far I’ve come.

To miss out on the draft as an 18-year-old, then waiting two and a half years to play in my first league game with Sturt — the club my dad played 134 games with — and then to finally cement my spot in their side in 2016 and win a flag, to playing against GWS at the Adelaide Oval. It has been a ride filled with ups and downs.

I was 21 in 2015, and my sole focus was to play seniors at Sturt. Playing AFL wasn’t even a thought in my mind, so to think that I would debut at AFL level in 2018 is pretty remarkable and beyond my wildest dreams.

On the day of the rookie draft in 2016, I was on a teaching placement at the Tyndale Christian College as part of my studies, and was planning lessons for the next day when my name popped up on the computer screen. I had been selected by Port Adelaide, and the overriding emotion was shock, mixed in with a heap of excitement.

At 8am the next day, I started at Port Adelaide and my life changed.

Fast-forward to Thursday, July 19, and I was having a line meeting with the other defenders when Ken Hinkley called Tom Jonas out of the room.

We were a little bit shocked by that and wondered what was going on. A few minutes later, he came back with the media team and I distinctly remember thinking to myself, ‘This might be happening!’

Sure enough, it was! ‘Jona’ told me that I had improved, deserved my chance, and was debuting on Sunday afternoon against the Giants. It was a humbling experience.

Of course, the first thing I did was call my parents. Mum was elated and started screaming and crying which was expected. Dad is normally calm and composed, but even he was excited and let me know how proud he was of me. Telling my girlfriend was special, too. She was absolutely pumped and completely overwhelmed when she heard the news.

From that moment on, I just wanted Friday and Saturday to come and go so Sunday would arrive. Being part of the captain’s run the day before was a unique experience because I was actually going to take part in the game, and then sitting through the Magpies game in the SANFL instead of playing was quite relaxing.


I woke up Sunday and felt calm, but as the day progressed, I became nervous. It wasn’t until I was sitting down having lunch with my girlfriend that a wave of emotion came over me.

Over the course of the days leading up to the game, I received plenty of sound advice, but the best came from former North Melbourne player, and a teammate of mine at Sturt, Scott McMahon.

It sounds simple, but he said, ‘You only play your first game once, so enjoy it and take it in because you’ll remember it for the rest of your life.’ He gave me the confidence to play my natural game, just like I’ve done previously in the SANFL.

When we ran out onto the ground, I felt silly because I was the only player smiling. I looked around at the rest of the group and they were locked in, while I tried to take in as much as possible.

However, once we got to the ground balls and handball drills, I narrowed my focus.

The noise from the crowd was immense when I ran out onto the ground from the bench for the first time, and the noise continued when I got my hands on the footy.

My role for the team was quite simplistic, but the sorts of players I was lining up on throughout the course of the game provided many challengers.

I rotated between a host of their small, dynamic forwards in Zac Langdon and Brent Daniels. They’re so fast they blew me up a little bit.

I also found myself on Toby Greene and Josh Kelly, which I wouldn’t say was daunting, but it was cool. They’re players I admire and look up to as stars of the game.

From what I’ve heard, the Giants are a chirpy bunch, but none of them got into me over the course of the game. In fact, as the siren sounded, seven or eight GWS players came up to me and congratulated me on my first game, which blew me away.

As for how I viewed my individual performance, I thought I performed my role and was composed with ball in hand. There were a few instances where I missed a spoil, but generally, I was pleased.

Funnily enough, I was praised for a kicked inside 50 in the third term that found Charlie Dixon on the lead, but truth be told, it was a bit of a miss-kick!

From a team perspective, it was a tough loss to take, but the Giants are a quality outfit and it wasn’t our day.

Playing my first game was something I’ll never forget, but now I need to go to the next level to maintain my place in this team.