Fans Players

Players’ Voice — Jack Madgen

It started with a family catch-up around Christmas 2016.

My uncle, Matt Rendell, a Collingwood recruiter, visited Cairns with his family for the holidays and we caught up for a chat one night.

We spoke about how my basketball was going. I was in the middle of an NBL season but, due to a few factors, my future in the sport was uncertain.

I mentioned that if basketball didn’t work out then I’d like to pursue footy. It was a brief conversation but he said that if got my skills and fitness to a decent level before making a final decision then he might be able to help me in regards to a Category B rookie spot.

I’d been thinking about it for a while, it actually crossed my mind a couple of years earlier but seeing guys like Hugh Greenwood and Corey Maynard make the switch opened my eyes to what might be possible.

A few months passed and I felt I’d gone as far as I could with basketball. The NBL season hadn’t panned out the way I wanted and I wasn’t performing that well in the SEABL — I wanted to play footy.

It was May and I texted Matty to set up a time to have a run with the VFL team as some form of a tryout — basically to see if I was any good at all.

I had a run with the side in September and two months later, I became an AFL player.

Don’t get me wrong, footy was a big part of my life growing up. Hailing from a small country town in South Australia, we played everything.

My parents were involved in the local basketball and football clubs so they were our main two sports of choice. One of my earliest memories was playing footy on Saturday mornings and, because my old man was the club president, running water for the senior side in the afternoon.

But back then, I had to make a choice.

I was invited down to train with the Central Districts Under-17s as a teenager but it clashed with basketball training.

Because my brother, Ben, was involved with an American college basketball team at the time, I was able to see the type of life he was living. All the stories he told and what he experienced over there had a big influence on my decision-making.

I saw a better future for myself if I pursued basketball so from that time forward it was all hoops for me.

I don’t regret the decision I made. Although my attributes probably suited footy better and I was probably a better Australian Rules player overall, the opportunity to go to college and receive an education while playing one of the sports I loved was the best option for me.

But I still had to work for it. When I finished high school, I sent around 300 emails to various colleges asking for a chance between December 2010 and August 2011 — none of them came to fruition.

I tried again the following year but it took the coach of my brother’s team to put me in contact with Jim Boone, who had just become the coach of the Delta State University basketball team, to get my chance.

Those four years are some I’ll never forget, even if injuries curtailed my output for the last two of them.

I was always going to have a crack at making it in the NBL when I returned to Australia following my college experience.

I signed with the Cairns Taipans and found a job working at the team manager’s furniture warehouse in 35-degree heat after training to pay rent and put food on the table.

My plan was to have a strong season with Cairns, play in the SEABL and, if everything went well, perhaps seek some opportunities in Europe.

It didn’t quite happen and I knew early on that it wasn’t looking too positive. I wasn’t training with the main group as often as I would’ve liked and the frustration was building before I hit up Matty about the AFL opportunity.

It’s funny how the body and mind work because immediately after the decision was made, the pressure was off and I started to play a lot better.

The opportunity at Collingwood happened very quickly. We were on a break from pre-season training with the VFL side and I was back home in SA when I got the call that I could get on the Collingwood list.

Being an AFL player is everything I thought it would be.

But sometimes I find myself in the routine of going to training lifting some weights and coming home with the thoughts that I’d have to go to work after training. The fact that I’m paid to do this is one of the best feelings — to play sport is one of the best jobs in the world.

I don’t want to be here for just one year, I want to make this a long term career. This is something I’ve worked my whole life for, whether I’ve known what sport it was going to be in or not.

I’ve been in a professional environment before so I know what it takes day-in, day-out to get the best out of myself. Things like eating habits, sleep, recovery and how hard it actually is to perform haven’t been a shock to me.

Being inexperienced from a game sense means I’m enthusiastic to learn and I think I’ve picked up a lot of the skills well. There’s still a long way to go but the strategies involved, especially with defending and reading the play, are things I’ve adapted well to due to my basketball background.

In terms of teammates, seeing guys like Scott Pendlebury deliver you the ball on a lead at training is unbelievable to watch. He obviously does it on TV but to share the same turf as him while he’s doing what he does best makes me appreciate him a lot more.

I was also on-hand as Jeremy Howe launched himself on someone’s shoulders. I was lucky enough that it wasn’t my shoulders he was on but it was a stunning piece of play.

While my skills might not be as good as theirs, I want to contribute to the Magpies’ return to finals and eventually play in a premiership.

But if it all goes pear-shaped, I’ll just follow my old man’s advice and “have a go at marbles next”.