Sitting at Fremantle’s best and fairest at the end of the 2012 season, Jack Anthony felt like a fraud.
What is normally a night of celebration was a point of grave reflection. Anthony was honest with himself – he’d had enough. He decided to walk away from the final year of his three-year contract and return home to Victoria.
“I was embarrassed because I just felt ashamed of myself as a footballer and a person because I hadn’t lived up to expectations, which for whatever reason, unfairly or fairly, was bestowed on me when I moved there,” he says.
Life under the glare of the West Australian media in a two-team town can be a harsh existence for a footballer when things aren’t going their way.
“When I’m around the supporters and you know how they feel it’s pretty hard. They’ll never say it to your face, but you know what they are thinking,” Anthony says.
“I gave up the dream a lot of people would die for, but someone in a similar position to me would have made the same decision and I have no regrets.”
Anthony reflects on his seven years in the AFL system with mixed emotions. He started his career in the sidelines with a serious neck injury and then rose to become Collingwood’s leading goal kicker in 2009, before playing just seven games the following season, a premiership year.
At the end of 2010 he walked out on Collingwood and landed at Fremantle with a three-year deal. But if the attention that comes with playing at Collingwood was like living in a frying pan, life at Fremantle was a furnace.
“It had more downs than ups. Dealing with injury and expectation and the media is tough, one thing I learnt, and it’s unfortunate that it took five or six years to work this out, is not to worry about what other people think,” he says.
“You just need to do what you believe in and believe in yourself.”
“Don’t try and please everybody because you never will.”
It didn’t work out at Fremantle, Anthony played eight games in two seasons but it wasn’t from a lack of trying. His move to Fremantle coincided with the realisation of what it takes to make it at AFL level, but as each week passed and his magnet remained in the Subiaco whiteboard it sharpened his realisation that you don’t always get out, what you put in.
“A lot of people say your destiny is in your own hands…in an individual sport maybe but in a team sport it’s far different. The reason being is that there are so many factors out of your control.”
“When I got to Fremantle I had two really good preseasons, but the people getting a game in front of me had finally decided to give things a crack and were playing some really good footy.
“It was no fault of my own or the club’s, once you get an opportunity you’ve go to take it and I probably didn’t do that. The beast the AFL is, it’s constantly evolving and you need to be at your best to keep your spot.”
Anthony left the Dockers on good terms and spent 2013 rediscovering himself and his passion for the game. He played local football for Maribyrnong Park, under the guidance of former teammate Brodie Holland and enjoyed getting back to basics and making new friends away from the pressures of elite sport.
He was a guest of Fremantle through its charge towards the grand final this year and watching his old teammates duke it out against the Hawks, served to re-light his passion for AFL.
The 25-year-old has recently signed with the Northern Blues, where he will re-join some of his Under 18 teammates and return to a key defensive position, in the hope of another chance at AFL level.
“I feel as thought I don’t want to get to the age of 30 and feel that I’ve missed the boat, if there is a glimmer of hope I could get back into the system, I’ll pursue it.”
The first thing people say about Jack Anthony is that he is different, almost like it’s a slight.
Sitting and chatting with Jack Anthony you don’t get the sense he is overly ‘different’. He is well spoken and generous with his insights and his attention. He speaks with conviction and you get the sense he does things his way.
In an environment where we complain about footballers that constantly tread the company line, it’s strange that we would condemn a player who is brave enough to be themselves.
Things haven’t turned out the way the former second round draft pick might have hoped, but there is no doubt he has grown through his seven years in the system. He insists that with his time over again, he would do things differently.
“I would like to think I’m not like everyone else. But there are certainly things I did when I was young that I look back and think, how did I get away with that?”
“When I was in my fifth year at Collingwood, I would look at some of the things the young guys would do, it would make me sit back in my chair and think, ‘wow if I ever did that’, I can see why I was branded.”
There is only one Jack Anthony, but if there were another like him – swaggering his way around an AFL football club right now – what would his advice be?
“My advice is to put your head down and work hard, keep your mouth shut and do everything you possibly can outside of football to improve yourself as a footballer.”
“You will be a product of who you are outside of football, on the field.”
There is no doubt Anthony is far better prepared should he get another chance at AFL level.
He is still proud to be himself and he is still different, but it’s a different, different.
He’s same, same but different.