Paul Pupoplo remembers two things clearly from the first time he walked through the halls of the Hawthorn Football Club.
One, he couldn’t stop smiling. He was 22, thought his AFL dream had passed him by, and was proud the hard work had paid off.
The other memory that stuck with Puopolo was meeting his new teammates who had played 100 games for the Hawks.
“I was very nervous when I walked in the door at Hawthorn,” Puopolo said.
“When you walk in the door you just take everything in and I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face. I was pretty excited.
“I couldn’t wait to actually get going and have a kick with the boys.
“I saw a few guys with 100 games next to their name and I thought ‘Gee, how exciting would that be to get there and achieve that?'”
On Sunday, when Hawthorn tackle Fremantle, Puopolo will join that list. He’s already picked up two premierships, but isn’t satisfied.
“Now that I’m there I just want to keep going, get to 200 games.
“I would love to be a 200-game player for the club. That is something I would be very excited about and very proud of.”
Puopolo’s journey to the AFL was different to most.
“That’s what keeps driving me because I know what it’s like to go back to the working world.” – Paul Puopolo
Even as early as primary school he was faced with obstacles to reaching the elite level.
“I went to a school where soccer was a pretty dominant sport.
“I had to go play for another school because my school didn’t have a football team.
“I had to join in with another school and pretend I went there and I made friends through there.”
A fractured back as a teenager and working full-time when not drafted at 18 were another couple of reasons why Puopolo had all but given up until Hawthorn came calling with pick No.66 in the 2010 National Draft.
“There was a lot of hard work to get there and a lot of sacrifices I had to make,” he said.
“To be drafted after all that, I was really happy. That’s what keeps driving me because I know what it’s like to go back to the working world.
“Working hard and trying to play footy was a really tough thing to do.
“I would be at work at 7am and finish 4pm and then I would go straight to training. If I was lucky enough I would have a little nap in the car if I finished work a little bit early.
“Training would be 5-7.30pm and on the way home I would stop off at my parents’ place for dinner because it was too late to cook.
“It was tough and obviously I thank my parents for helping me succeed, too.
“On this journey family is pretty important and those people all played a role in getting me where I needed to get.”