Playing in an AFL premiership is the dream of every kid in the country. Fortunately for me I had the opportunity to do that in just my fourth game.
It was incredible the way everything played out. I played one game in my first year in 2001 and had to wait two-and-a-half years before I got my next opportunity in a semi-final against Adelaide.
During that period of waiting, the team barely lost a game so there weren’t many changes along the way. I had a few injuries but there were also a long list of guys ahead of me who were biding their time in the reserves.
When that Adelaide game came around, we had quite a few injuries including the Scott brothers, while Tim Notting was suspended and a few doors opened for me. I thought I was playing some pretty solid footy in the twos and the opportunity arose.
I had been an emergency for the Qualifying Final against Collingwood — which we lost — the week prior and with those injuries and suspensions, the coaches held me from my AFL Queensland game the next day. At that moment, I knew there was going to be an opportunity coming up the next weekend and I was determined to grab it with both hands.
Heading into the Grand Final, I didn’t think I was going to play. There were several senior guys who were a bit touch and go in the lead up. Leigh Matthews told me on the Tuesday that I would play to put me at ease, but even then I still didn’t believe him due to the enormity of what was happening.
Over the course of the three weeks, I thought I handled the situation well despite the excitement that comes with being involved in finals footy. I was lucky enough to come into a super team full of experienced guys who guided me through it all. Coming into a group with that sort of calibre and experience made it lot easier for me as an individual.
To this day, it still hasn’t probably sunk in a way that I was involved in a team which has been labelled as one of the greatest ever. I was just in the right place at the right time. To play alongside those superstars was a real honour and doing it so early in my career was surreal and sometimes hard to take it in.
But I was lucky enough to have great support from friends and family to ensure that I enjoyed every moment of the rollercoaster ride. It probably took a couple of weeks for me to realise what I had been part of because I was so heavily focused on cementing my spot in the team in coming years.
I had just four games to my name and I still was trying to prove myself to have a career at the top level.
Despite playing on the last day of the season, it probably wasn’t until the following year when I was playing week-in, week-out where I felt I truly belonged. Although, being selected in that side did give me the confidence the coaches and players believed I could have an impact in the AFL.
It’s a similar position Richmond youngster Jack Graham currently finds himself in. He’s playing in a Grand Final in just his fifth AFL game and, just like at Brisbane, I’m sure that Richmond’s senior guys will be there to help Jack throughout the week.
Heading into the game, he should remember that he is in the team for a reason and that’s because of his performances in the last month of footy. As Leigh Matthews always used to tell us at Brisbane, just focus on playing your role and that will go a long way to helping the team lift the trophy at the end of the day.
But, most importantly, while everything may be happening so quickly make sure to soak it all up and embrace every moment of the week.
It’s the time of your life. I wish Jack all the best.