This article was originally published in April, 2015.
While most kids were in bed and waiting for the new school day to arrive, Robbie Gray was working full-time at Filla Freeza, a meat-packing company in the Dandenong region.
Before he was drafted, the then 18-year-old had to balance work commitments along with a TAC Cup career at the Oakleigh Chargers to ensure his last year in the competition led to landing on an AFL list.
Featured as part of Channel Seven’s #Discovered series, the 27-year-old said, looking back, he was grateful for the busy schedule.
“I’d get up at about quarter past four in the morning and get out to Dandenong. We’d start at five, knock off at about 3:30 then head down the freeway to Oakleigh and get my training done,” Gray said.
“It was probably my first opportunity out in the work-force, and I hadn’t done much part time work or anything, so it was good to get into that.”
Gray went on to be selected by Port with pick 55 in the 2006 draft and progressed well in his first season, playing five AFL matches and claiming a Rising Star nomination in his third game.
Excluding injuries, Gray eventually secured a spot in the side by 2009, leading the club’s goal-kicking in 2011.
But his 2012 campaign came to halt when he hyper extended his knee in Round 4 against Collingwood, requiring a full knee reconstruction and missing the rest of the season.
“I probably wish I had worked as hard earlier in my career as I do now” – Robbie Gray
Looking back, Gray said he needed to lift his professionalism if he was to have full faith in his body once again.
“I definitely learnt a lot when I went through the knee injury. I had a year out of the game and you wonder if you’re going to get back and do the things you could do before.
“So I just wanted to do everything right and give myself the best opportunity to come back and play some good footy. I probably wish I had worked as hard earlier in my career as I do now.”
Not only did Gray return to form in 2013 but he elevated his game to new level last season, taking out the Power’s best and fairest award, winning an All-Australian selection, and the AFL Coaches’ Association’s Champion Player of the Year award.
And he’s not finished yet. After falling short of a Grand Final berth by just five points last year, Gray identifies the need to improve both as a team and an individual.
He believes there will be time for reflection when his career finishes, but he’s enjoyed the journey along the way.
“I’ve been here nine years now so I’ll probably look back at it all at the end of my career. I suppose when you’re involved in the day-to-day, you just try to work on getting better and living in the moment.
“I’ve definitely enjoyed and loved every minute so far and hopefully there is a bit to come yet.”