Nick Dal Santo stood in the corner of the change room, dodging footballs, as a group of Kangaroos led by Ben Cunnington gleefully lobbed them in his direction.
The team was preparing to take on St Kilda in Round 17 last year when the Roos caught a glimpse of Dal Santo’s superstitious side.
Dal believes touching footballs on game day before the team’s first on-ground warm-up will result in him getting less of the footy during the match — essentially, he’s trying to ‘save up’ touches for when he needs them.
“I have to run through the banner last and only touch it with my hand.” – Nick Dal Santo
Of course, once Cunners caught on, he and the Roos delighted in watching Dal try and avoid the onslaught of footballs tossed, rolled and bounced towards him in the Blundstone Arena change rooms.
But the idiosyncrasies don’t stop there for the 287-game star.
“I have the same meal before every game, a Japanese chicken teriyaki with sushi,” Dal Santo says.
“I use the same towel.
“I wear the same bike shorts, or undergarments, for games.
“I have to run through the banner last and only touch it with my hand.
“And the last one is that when we do our run-throughs I have to be the first to get to the goal square.”
And it appears Dal Santo’s superstitions are justified after star midfielder ripped his hamstring the afternoon he forgot his bike shorts at home.
“Hence, I did my hammy!” he says.
Dal Santo was playing in his league-high 104th consecutive game when the hamstring tendon gave way late in the Round 2 win over Brisbane.
It’s no secret, however, that Dal Santo is not the only superstitious AFL player.
Athletes are widely recognised as one of the most superstitious groups of people in the world.
In a profession where preparation is considered essential to ensuring individual and team success, athletes walk a fine line between routine and superstition on a regular basis.
Even the best and most experienced players sometimes feel the compulsion to express their own eccentricities.
Veteran Kangaroo Brent Harvey has had various superstitions over his career.
“I’ve had a couple of weird ones,” Harvey says.
“I used to scratch my toes before I put my socks on. They used to have to feel really good and smooth for me to put my socks on.
“Spud (Michael Firrito) used to watch me do it and say ‘what are you doing?’,” he laughs.
“I used to scratch my toes before I put my socks on. They used to have to feel really good and smooth for me to put my socks on.” – Brent Harvey
Another superstition was one he picked up from a former teammate.
“Anthony Stevens never used to run through the banner,” Harvey says.
“I idolised Stevo and thought he was fantastic, so when I played a couple of poor games in a row back in the early 2000s, I thought ‘stuff this, I’m changing something’.
“So I stopped running through the banner, and just ran around the side of it with Stevo. I happened to play well that week, so I stuck with it for ages.
“Then a couple of years later, the same thing happened.
“I wasn’t getting a kick, so I thought ‘I’m changing something else’, so I started running through the banner again,” he says.
Dal Santo recalls a particular superstition of ex-St Kilda teammate Max Hudghton, although he’s never felt the need to copy it.
“Ross Lyon used to speak to us a minute or two before we ran out on to the ground, and Max Hudghton would always wipe off some of the texta markings on the whiteboard,” Dal Santo said.
“I don’t know what the superstition was, but it became a bit of a running joke that you’d wait for Max to wipe off certain lines or certain letters out of words, and that was his thing.”
So, do they work? What is true of the players mentioned above is that they have all had successful careers.
It is clear their superstitions didn’t make them stars, but they may have assisted them by boosting their confidence.
While running around the banner instead of through it didn’t directly influence Brent Harvey’s on-field performance, it could have helped to calm his nerves, allowing him to put trust in his natural ability.
Dal Santo says the key to superstitions is to make sure they are not too rigid to have an opposite effect — draining confidence — if they’re not followed to the letter.
Superstitions have become just another part of his routine.
“I was very superstitious when I started, (but) it has become my preparation,” Dal Santo says.
“They are not necessarily weird to me.
“I know it doesn’t really make sense, but I just like to do it for my own consistency.”
Ben Brown is a North Melbourne forward currently studying journalism at Deakin University.
This article was originally published on SuperFooty and can be accessed here.