“By 2012, I was really down and out. I was struggling to go to footy in the mornings. I hated being there.”
Dan Jackson was 27 when he won his first Richmond Best and Fairest award in 2013.
It was a season that surprised many, including Jackson himself.
In previous years, the hard-nosed midfielder had been hampered by suspensions, injuries, form slumps and a general lack of continuity. Fed up with it all, Jackson was almost ready to pull the pin on his career.
But one honest conversation and a subsequent change in attitude made more difference than Jackson could have imagined, and saw him finish his AFL career with an extra 33 games (including one final) and a Jack Dyer Medal.
Now almost 18 months out of the game, and residing in Canada, Jackson has opened up about the philosophy that led to a change in fortune.
Below is a transcript of part of Jackson’s chat with Evan Lewis, from the Hunter & Craft Radio podcast.
“By 2012, I was really down and out. I was struggling to go to footy in the mornings. I hated being there. I’d always do the hard work because I knew I had to do that, but I really wasn’t enjoying myself.
“I had a mentor, and had learnt in the early days that you need to have a good team around you. So I had people who’d help me with football, with life… This guy was a business mentor and he asked me to have lunch with him in the city. I was sitting in this café at lunchtime with suits everywhere and this mentor of mine could see that I was really struggling, halfway or three quarters through the  season.
“He goes, Dan, what’s wrong? Are you alright? And I said, yeah, I’m fine. And then he asked again, and I sat there for a while and I couldn’t speak, and then I burst into tears in front of this guy and all these suits. And I looked up at him and said, ‘I can’t do this anymore. I’ve got nothing more to give. My body’s stuffed, my mind’s wrecked, emotionally I’m just drained – I don’t think I can play anymore.’
“He settled me down and we chatted for a bit more and eventually he said, ‘you know what? If that’s the case, that’s fine, but you get to go out on your terms. Don’t go out when you’re on the bottom. You’ve got to fight back and then you walk away.’
“So I was like, right – I’m going back to what I do best. I started working harder. I’d be doing extra gym sessions at night time and extra recovery in the mornings, more running sessions, more boxing – anything to get me fitter and stronger because that was what made me a decent player.
“Slowly, I gradually started to regain some form. But after the off-season in 2012, I was like, fine; If I’m going to continue to do this, I’m going to enjoy it. My mindset became: everything I want to do, I’m going to do. If that means I want to have more beers on the weekend, I’ll do that. If I want to do more training, I’ll do that. If I want to see my friends, I’ll do that. But everything’s going to be about fun. Footy, to me, was no longer a job. I was just going to have a good attitude to it.
“So I started this season, and didn’t really care less about what happened. If I wasn’t enjoying it, I was going to retire. Funnily enough, every week, I kept playing better and better. Still working hard, but I was having fun. I just couldn’t believe it. I was thinking, how – now that I care so much less than I used to – am I succeeding so much more than I used to?
“That pattern played on until the end of the year. No injuries, no suspensions, consistent good footy. And I won my first [Best and Fairest] – I think I was the equal oldest player to have ever done it… Funnily, 12 months later, I was retired.”
The podcast can be heard below in full.