Fans Players

Players’ Voice — Alex Neal-Bullen

Like many people, it took me a while to adapt to my new life.

The routines and the lifestyle took some adjusting, let alone trying to make a name for myself as a footballer at the same time.

It probably showed with my inconsistent first couple of years in the system. I didn’t realise it would take that long to adapt. In my first and second year, I thought I was going along well but you always need those little learnings and reality checks along the way.

Every recruiter from an interstate club asks if you’re willing to move and every kid says yes because they want to get drafted but it’s not until it actually happens when the reality of the situation sinks in.

It’s a quick process. My draft was on a Thursday night and Shannon Byrnes, Melbourne’s Player Development Manager, was there to pick me up on Sunday morning.

So you really have 48 hours to process everything, pack your bags and move your young life elsewhere. I was given a host family, who did wonders for me in opening their doors but you’re getting up and going to work each morning without your family around you.

I realised I probably took them for granted when they were there.

I’m close with my family and empathise with the kids going through that now. That transition from a teenager to a young adult is a massive age bracket for developing as a human being.

Many kids come in and just can’t dedicate their whole young life to being a professional footballer and that’s completely fine, that’s their choice, but you’ve got to want it to be a part of this game and make it successful.

I’m living in Hawthorn now with my partner Georgina, who’s recently moved to Melbourne from Adelaide. She is about to finish up her studies and is looking forward to exploring the opportunities Melbourne has to offer.

Since her move, we are more settled than we previously were. A steady and settled life goes a long way to performance in the workforce, which I can relate to.

One of the many keys for me, and it’s something I’d suggest to any young footballer, is to say yes to any opportunity with your teammates. If they’re doing something like going out for lunch or down the coast for surf, say yes because the more times you hang around with the blokes you’re spending most of your time with, the better your relationships will be.

But make sure you have that balance. Enjoy being around the footy club but when you go home, make sure you can switch off. If you’re catching up with family or friends outside of footy, make sure to enjoy that because you grow up really quickly and footy becomes your number one priority before you know it.

2018 has been a big year for us at the Melbourne Football Club. The first month had some challenges and some good learnings but we’re starting to see the reward in the last couple of months — understanding we still haven’t achieved anything yet.

Critics were circling after our loss to Richmond and we addressed what we needed to. It’s been about ensuring our consistency and habits are always elite. I think that’s coming out in how we’re playing at the moment.

You’re not seeing a side that plays one good quarter and struggles the next, we’re becoming consistent. I think that starts with our daily habits.

As a group, we know you have to continually seek improvement and that’s what we’re doing, which has been the biggest shift at the footy club.

Personally, this year has been a year to build on my 2017. I finally found some consistency in my performance last year this year is about consolidating my role.

A lot of my improvement has been about confidence. I was inconsistent with my habits on and off the field in my first two years and that led to inconsistent performances. At the end of 2016, Simon Goodwin took over for Paul Roos and Goody sat me down and said he had a huge amount of confidence in me if I was willing to put in the work.

He told me I was good enough to make it and he wanted to see it consistently. You hear a lot about those ‘penny drop’ moments and that was mine. Ever since that conversation, I had the belief that Goody would always back me in.

That was the push I needed. That’s not saying I wasn’t heading the right direction but it instilled that confidence in me while I was going from a teenager into a young man.

Hearing such a simple comment from a bloke I respect and admire so much has made the biggest difference.

We all have such huge faith into what Goody’s doing for us as a club. This year everything is coming together well.

I’ve been studying since my first year out of high school. I’ve been doing special education and disability studies at university, which is based around helping out students living with a physical or learning disability.

I’ve done some stuff with Scotch College since moving to Melbourne, where I was helping students with learning difficulties and that was really enjoyable — I got a lot out of it.

The work is challenging but the rewards are huge — it’s like footy in that regard. To see someone come out of that schooling experience and have an input in the classroom and society is as rewarding as anything.

As much as I enjoy it, hopefully I’m still a long way from having to do it for a job but I’ll focus on getting through the season first, especially as we enter the cold, winter months.

But I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t excited for the next couple of months, though.

Go Dees!