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Anatomy of a debut — Matt Guelfi

It took two years of playing senior football in the WAFL with Claremont for Matt Guelfi to stand out. The former apprentice electrician was taken with selection 76 in the 2017 National Draft by Essendon, and shares his debut story in an exclusive column.

November 24, 2017 is a day that will forever stick in my memory, although at first, I didn’t want to acknowledge it.

It was the night of the national draft, an event that has normally brought about negative feelings for me, having missed out on being selected two years running.

On this particular night, I didn’t talk to any close friends about it because I truly didn’t believe I would be drafted. If it was going to happen, it was going to be in the rookie draft on the Monday.

In fact, my dad wasn’t even at home tuning in, he was at work while I watched on with my mum and my brother. We just did not want to make a big deal of it after the previous disappointment. I just wanted to see if some of my friends like Bailey Banfield and Zac Langdon were selected.

When my name was called at pick 76 by the Essendon Football Club, I was looking down at my phone and didn’t realise at the time. I heard mum scream, which surprised me, I thought she’d burnt herself in the kitchen. Sure enough, I looked up and my head was on the TV screen.

It was a strange feeling, because shortly after it all transpired, my mum had to pick my dad up from work, and I found myself just sitting alone freaking out for half an hour about what the future was going to hold.

Fast forward to Sunday, April 15, and it’s another day that sticks out.

While I have always had confidence in my ability, I was unaware when or if I’d debut this season. Without sounding too cliché, I just wanted to improve each week and at every training session.

That was until Woosha called me into his office last Thursday to tell me I was debuting against Port Adelaide on the Sunday!

Upon hearing it, I was so excited that I literally ran downstairs to tell my parents. Dad answered first and he was so pumped he might have said a couple of choice swear words! By the time I called mum, she had already found out because dad had already run downstairs and told her.

Leading into my first game, I had no plans to change up my routine. The only aspect that altered slightly was that my roommates were playing in the VFL, so all of my meal prep was for me alone.

On the day of the game, I tried to sleep in for as long as possible. It was a relief to play at 1:10pm instead of at night, because I wouldn’t have been able to take my mind off what was at stake.

My playing focus revolved around executing pressure acts, and playing with desperation. I didn’t have plans to get my hands on the ball too much.

Mum and Dad came over all the way from Western Australia which meant the world to me, although they would have travelled from anywhere just to watch me play.

After the final siren went, it was a dream come true. To play my role for the team, and to record such an important win and sing the song with the boys after such a tough week on the track.

It was like nothing I’ve ever been part of, especially considering I didn’t know every word to the song!

Looking back at how insane the last six months have been, I’d be lying if I said there weren’t stages where I didn’t think I’d make it.

As an apprentice electrician, I went from crawling inside roofs all day in the family business, and then going off to training with Claremont, which at times I couldn’t be bothered doing. Then I’d get home at 9pm after starting my day at the crack of dawn. To focus on my football full-time is something I never thought was possible.

And that’s why I want to take this opportunity to give credit to all of the WAFL, SANFL and VFL guys who work every day and train almost every second day. People don’t realise how hard it is play in those leagues.

But if you continue to work hard and accept the early starts and the late finishes, it can all pay off.