First off, I’d like to wish everyone the best of luck as they embark on the most exciting journey of their young lives. For those who are not successful, don’t fret. If you work hard, another chance could be right around the corner.
The purpose of this piece is to explain my experiences in 2014. I hope that I can help out a few of you as you grow from AFL aspirant to full-time athlete.
I remember heading up to the draft in the Gold Coast with family a week earlier in order to escape the footy life and the noise and speculation that you receive from the media.
The reason for doing that was to focus on being a family again because the pressure of the months leading up to the draft was intense. Was I going to play interstate and leave my family behind? What was going to happen? I needed to avoid all of that.
Everyone has their own unique take of what’s required during this period, but sometimes it’s good to just clear your head.
Draft day was truly an amazing feeling. Being selected by a club is a huge honour because you’re achieving a lifelong dream. I was lucky enough to be taken by Melbourne and to stay at home.
It’s a unique experience and you really do get mixed emotions — excitement, nerves — it’s incredibly daunting.
See below for my tips for the 2016 draftees!
- Don’t get caught up in the hype: I had a really bad habit during my 18s year where I kept looking up articles and analysing phantom drafts and was stressing about it all. At the end of the day, they’re people who are just sitting on the couch and analysing with little information. I got my head around the fact that I was going to go No. 1, and when I didn’t it was a weird feeling. I’m a competitive kid and I really want to be the best player, so going No.2 made me look at things differently. There were so many guys who would have still liked to be in my position who weren’t even drafted and here I am feeling disappointed that I wasn’t the first pick. That feeling went away pretty quickly and an overall sense of joy just took over. It’s made me humble and helped me to realise not to take things for granted.
- You can never be fully prepared for draft night: I honestly thought I was going to go to St Kilda and had my sights set on that until three or four hours before the draft when I found out that I’d be headed to Melbourne — which I’m absolutely stoked about. It really is a unique experience that is impossible to prepare for. Your player managers know a lot but they don’t know exactly where you’re going to go.
- It doesn’t matter whether you’re the first pick or the 100th: At the end of the day, you’re still in the same boat, you’re still at an AFL club. Caleb Daniel (from my draft year) is a great example of someone who was picked late, but he has busted his arse to get to where he is now and has a premiership medallion. He’s proven everyone wrong.
- The best thing that I did when my name was called out was remain patient: I took my time when I got to each member of the family and gave them a big hug and a kiss. That’s a moment that stays with me and I still reflect on. I didn’t want to have that fly by, but looking back at it now, it really does go quickly. Just remember to get to everyone that is there with you and let them know how much their support has meant to you. After your name gets called out, you’re in the hands of the AFL and you have to pose for photos, attend press conferences and all of that. I recall not seeing my family again for about an hour!
- I regret not spending enough time celebrating with family on the night: Myself and Angus Brayshaw had an interview with Sunrise on Channel 7 at 4:30am, so I went to bed at about 10pm. I really wish I stayed out a couple more hours and spent time with the family and really celebrated it. It’s not just about me, it’s an achievement for everyone close to me.
- You’ve got to be yourself when you get to the AFL: There’s no point being at a club and not acting like you did when you were interviewed and then the club thinks, ‘where’s that lad we drafted?’ The best advice that I received from Simon Goodwin is that you earn respect by working hard on the track, you don’t try and earn it off the field. Show your teammates and the coaches that you’re committed and be yourself.
- When you get to a club, grab someone who is more experienced and annoy them as much as possible: Ask them questions, follow them around, do it all. The first part of my pre-season — just after I got drafted — was spent shadowing Jack Viney. I went straight up to him and said that I wanted to be around him and do what he’s doing. Even now as I enter my third one, I still love hanging around him and acting as a sponge to just soak up information.
- It’s really important to adopt early in your career that you have to be an elite athlete 24/7: Whether you’re on the track or off it, what are you doing behind the four walls, and outside the four walls? Are you preparing well? Is your diet up to standard? Are you just going out and drinking with your mates?
- Don’t take anything for granted and work your bum off: Todd Viney told me to that everyone in their career will have some sort of adversity, whether it’s minor or major, you have to overcome it. Doing my ACL taught me that I need to work my butt off to make sure that it remains as the only negative I have in my career. I thought I was bulletproof when I came into the AFL and would play straight away. It’s not always the case and you need to be prepared for that.
- Enjoy the experience of playing your first game: It’s the most amazing feeling that I’ve ever had. You need to celebrate it all and soak it up with friends and family. In the game, make sure you let it all sink in because you only get one debut game. Walk out to the ground and look at the crowd, look at the grandstand, see what your teammates are doing and play your role.