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How the footy family helped Phil through

Phil Davis and Tom Lonergan crossed paths on a footy ground in July last year at Spotless Stadium.

Geelong ran out seven-point winners against Greater Western Sydney on the night. Steve Johnson kicked three goals in an entertaining display. Will Hoskin-Elliott showed flashes of brilliance. But the mere fact Davis and Lonergan were out there was the most noteworthy point of the contest.

In 2006, against Melbourne, Lonergan bravely backed into a charging Brad Miller. The collision resulted in a serious internal injury to his kidney. Lonergan was in the Geelong Hospital the night after the game – his seventh in the AFL – when he had to undergo six hours of trauma surgery to remove his right kidney.

“AFL footballers are a pretty tight-knit group. I think when you strip away the team colours you end up realising pretty quickly that we are all taking the same risks in the workplace.” – Phil Davis

Lonergan revealed to Sam Newman in a television interview just weeks after the incident that he nearly died. Newman, the former Cats champion, also lost part of a kidney early in his football career.

Giants captain Davis was manning Lance Franklin in round one of 2014 when he copped a knee in the stomach from Sydney’s Craig Bird.

At the time, he thought nothing of it. There was no mark, no bruise, no great pain. He played the match out, helped GWS to their most famous victory yet, and belted the team song out with passion.

It wasn’t until that evening back at the club’s base at Tom Wills Oval that the severity of the injury struck.

Davis’ blood pressure was low and an ambulance was called. Two bouts of surgery, eight days in intensive care, as well as delirium and hallucinations due to a lack of sleep followed.

Incredibly, after much deliberation from world-leading specialists, Davis didn’t lose a kidney.

Lonergan was one of the first to get in touch with Davis – an indication that the unity among AFL footballers stretches beyond the four walls of a footy club.

“I spoke to Tom Lonergan and he was brilliant. I was pretty fortunate to have such a good and generous guy helping me through a bit,” Davis told this week.

“Nick Maxwell also gave me a call and I really appreciated that.

“AFL footballers are a pretty tight-knit group. I think when you strip away the team colours you end up realising pretty quickly that we are all taking the same risks in the workplace.

“There is a deep respect for what we all do and the support I got when I was injured was something that meant quite a bit to me.”

Davis knew that his AFL career hung in the balance.

The 24-year-old remained hopeful – even confident – of playing again. He had to.

However, it validated his view that football is an occupation that won’t go on forever. The next contest could be your last.

“The immediate time after (the injury) was fairly stressful, there was a lot of uncertainty about what was going to happen, about what my future was. My footy career was in jeopardy.

“I would have been shattered if footy was taken away from me. I love it. But I am not completely dependent on it. I think having that life and focus away from the game might have helped me cope.

“In the footy world it’s pretty easy to lose perspective at times. There are so many bigger issues away from the game.

“The pressures and scrutiny associated with playing footy is intense. I think having an escape, whether it be study, or a trade, or community work, away from the game leaves players in a better position to cope with that.”

Davis’ escape for much of his career to date has been study.

He is in his sixth year at Sydney Uni doing a Bachelor of Commerce majoring in Accounting and Finance, one of 15 GWS players currently enrolled in university.

“I was quite fortunate that I enjoyed maths and science at school, I was always quite interested in the academic side of things, so it has been something I have enjoyed,” Davis said.

“I’ve always know that footy is only going to be part of my life, it’s finite, so I have had interests and endeavours outside the game because you’re a long time retired.”

Davis did manage to return in round 13 last season and went on to play in 10 of the final 11 matches for the year to take his career tally to 64.

He has had a strong pre-season, enjoyed a hitout against Gold Coast on the weekend, and recently re-signed with the Giants, tying him to the club until the end of 2018.

Davis, who spent his first two AFL seasons with Adelaide, said it was an easy decision to put pen to paper on the deal.

Sydney, he said, feels like home. A hustling and bustling city with more freedom for elite footballers.

“I can count on one hand the number of times I have been recognised in the streets of Sydney.

“I wasn’t a big name in Adelaide by any stretch of the imagination but I was getting recognised a fair bit even then.

“Adelaide is such a great footy city, they’re immersed in the game. That’s something I really appreciate in Sydney, though, we can go about our lives without getting too much attention at all.

“That has been a big attraction over the years for a number of players who have moved to Sydney or the Giants.

“Cities like Adelaide, Melbourne, Perth … live and breathe footy. Up here I’ve hardly looked at a Herald Sun or Advertiser. You can choose how much or how little you read about the game.

“That’s something I know Ryan (Griffen) weighed up. The game can really take over your life.”