The AFL system is a business and for the majority of players it can be one that is short lived. I grew up as a kid loving the game and always dreamed of becoming an AFL footballer.
In 2013 my dream of playing in the AFL became a reality and I honestly thought my life could not get any better. I was a first-round draft pick and a highly-touted junior.
I was a pretty naïve 18-year-old, thinking that things would be all smooth sailing and that if I worked hard enough I would be a regular in a team that was on the up and on the verge of success. This unfortunately wasn’t the case.
The constant roller-coaster of professional sport not only affected my mindset within the four walls of the football club but it also transferred into my day-to-day life. The confidence gained from being a talented junior soon wore thin as I discovered that there was so much more to being an AFL footballer than just the two hours spent playing over the weekend.
The hard work and discipline required in order to be a professional footballer is quite astounding and something I struggled with in hindsight. Injuries played a major role in my career — these injuries included operations on my knee, both shoulders, both hips, and an unfortunate bout of glandular fever.
These injuries often resulted in surgeries either during the season which either affected my continuity or postponed until off-season meaning my pre-seasons were delayed.
As a result, this created doubt. Doubt within my own ability to play at the highest level. As my form slumped, so did my emotions. My emotions were dictated purely around how many kicks I had on a Saturday.
This effectively caused me to change as a person, from the bubbly, happy kid I was when I entered the system to a dull, paranoid 22-year-old stuck in the VFL believing I was only as good as my last game. This was something I battled with and eventually it led to my loss of passion towards the game I grew up loving.
In my first season at the Tigers I had to wait until Round 9 to get a call up, and back then I was used predominately as a substitute player who came on either if someone got injured or late in the game.
I found this role extremely tough because if a sub didn’t have an impact they were generally the first one dropped. I went on to play just seven games that year.
My second year was probably my best in terms of continuity and form. This saw me rewarded with a Rising Star nomination in Round 22, however, the following week I was subsequently dropped for the elimination final against North Melbourne.
That came as a shock and really made me wonder if I was a valued player at the Richmond Football Club. After meetings with various clubs that off-season, I decided to stay and be loyal to the club that gave me my first opportunity. In hindsight this was probably the wrong decision as the following season was a disaster and effectively saw me lose my passion for the game.
I played three senior games in 2016 and was at the crossroads. Knowing that the coach probably didn’t see me in his best 22 after signing a contract the previous year was definitely a hard pill to swallow and motivated me to try and explore my options at season’s end.
This subsequently fell through leading to me returning to Punt Road for the 2017 season with my tail between my legs. My final season at Richmond started well thanks to a strong pre-season and a reasonable chip on my shoulder.
I was picked to play in Rounds 2 and 3, however my form saw me omitted resulting in the remainder of the year being played at VFL level.
It was at the midway point of the season when I knew the writing was on the wall and my time at the Tigers was coming to an end. I knew deep down that I wanted a fresh start and I had a fair idea that I didn’t want it to be AFL related. I was somewhat excited by the fact that I could regain control of my life after countless setbacks during my time at Richmond.
After a bit of soul searching and numerous conversations with loved ones, I decided to reach out to the founder of Prokick, Nathan Chapman.
Chappy was someone I got along with straight away. He himself had been through similar circumstances during his eight-year career with both the Brisbane Bears and Hawthorn. The constant anxiety of football was beginning to subside as I was starting to realise that there was life outside of playing AFL.
I decided that I would continue to play out the remainder of the year knowing that I wasn’t going to look for a new club or put myself into the draft.
This came as a shock to many people but I wasn’t fussed as I was more concerned on my overall wellbeing and knew I could achieve this by pursuing another path.
Fast forward 12 months, and here I am reflecting upon my AFL career, and it couldn’t have been any different from how I imagined it being.
I have now finally come to terms with all that has happened. I am enjoying studying full-time and am super excited to be on the verge of becoming a punter at the University of Utah thanks to the help and guidance of Nathan Chapman and John Smith at Prokick Australia.
Being offered a second chance is something I am very appreciative of. It hasn’t been easy as this program demands professionalism with five sessions a week including sessions scheduled very early on Saturday mornings, designed to test the athlete’s commitment levels. I am also fortunate enough to be undertaking this life changing experience with one of my closest mates in Ben Griffiths.
Ben is also someone who has had to overcome large amounts of adversity in relation to his AFL career having endured countless concussions that eventually saw him retire. Both Ben and I will be playing against each other for the next four years as both our teams (Utah and USC) feature in the same conference.
My time at Richmond is something I will reflect upon continually. The values and lessons I have learnt throughout my time there will no doubt have me prepared for my next challenge over in Utah. I am scheduled to head off and embark on this new journey in just under two months from now.
I can’t thank Richmond enough for the opportunity itself and the lifelong friendships I have formed throughout the four years I spent there, it is something I will always be eternally grateful for.
For all players who may be at the crossroads, I highly recommend you speak up as there are people out there who are willing to help and can change your life for the better.