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Players’ Voice – Lachie Neale

Among the many changes I’ve experienced since moving from Perth to Brisbane one of the biggest differences I’ve found is the football coverage. In Queensland, the media landscape is rugby league dominated in comparison to being in WA or any other football-centric state.

I’d often find myself in Perth being consumed by football. Whether I’d chat with someone on the street or the person sitting next to me at breakfast was reading the paper and chatting about football with their mates, it was all encompassing.

It’s been different here in Queensland but when I first made the move it wasn’t without its challenges.

Last year as I was weighing up my future the media surrounding my decision became relentless – even comments from the general public.

People would message me on social media calling me a ‘dog’ or a ‘snake’ and various other explicit words. I handled that the best way I could have but it can often be challenging.

One of the more challenging moments was after I won the best and fairest at Fremantle last year. The questions the media asked me were about my future and not what I had achieved that season or how the club had fared.

There came a point where I began feeling like every time I spoke, whatever I was going to say would be put in a bad light. I started to feel the need to call out these factually incorrect comments on social media so I could set the record straight.

The first time was after a Fox Footy article was published following an interview with them in the pre-season. I was asked the same question three times but each with slightly different wording about who I thought was a better team – Brisbane or Fremantle.

I told them that I probably wouldn’t have come to Brisbane if I didn’t think they were going to be successful – it was never intended to be spiteful towards Fremantle.

Once that article went live the social media storm started. It felt like every time I made a comment about Brisbane, the general public thought I was insinuating negative things about Fremantle when that wasn’t the case.

There were worse comments than what that young supporter had tweeted to me, but I made a decision not to publicise the nasty and hurtful words that people had said to me. Sharing that particular tweet allowed me to call it out and make my point rather than give the limelight to a troll.

Another moment came from an article in pre-season after our first JLT Community Series game and the first time I’d had the opportunity to pull on the Brisbane jumper.

As part of Brisbane’s pre-season, we focused on using language that reflected how we wanted our season to be – selfless and about more than the individual.

After the first game I was asked how I thought the Lions midfield was functioning and I used those words. When I saw my comments being thrown back at me and suggesting that I was throwing shade at ‘Fyfey,’ saying that Fremantle are a one-man midfield, it was strange and a little bit disappointing.

I’d just come off the ground from my first game for my new club so the furthest thing from my mind was Fremantle.

Reading that really disappointed me because I have a great relationship with Nat and we’re good mates – he even attended my wedding!

It wasn’t just about how it affected me but also how it affected my family who are not used to that kind of exposure and limelight. And, of course Brisbane. It made a swirl about me and it mentioned things that didn’t need to be spoken about after a really good game.

In saying all of this, the media are really important in growing the game, especially in the non-football states. It’s also crucial for players to voice their opinions on issues and have the ability to be heard in the right way.

It’s something the public want too – the opportunity to have better access to the playing group.

The more the media promote those opportunities, the better it is.

If players don’t have positive experiences then they start pulling out the clichés, which I know is something reporters and supporters will be sick of hearing.

It all works hand-in-hand – if the media encourage players to open up and speak their mind, the public and the playing group will be receptive. Why wouldn’t they encourage that?

Although I wasn’t at the Lions when AFL Media’s Michael Whiting came down and experienced a gruelling pre-season session with us, I know it was something that the playing group appreciated.

Those opportunities allow the players to develop strong relationships with the media and also feel comfortable opening up and sharing personal stories. It was great by Michael to take initiative and immerse himself in our day-to-day.

He’s been fantastic in promoting some really positive stories of our game and at the same time, doesn’t shy away from calling out mistakes or poor performance. As players you’re able to manage that because you know it is part of the job.

It can be challenging if you’re a young guy who is coming in and being berated about your performance but for more senior players if you’re having a lean month and underperforming it’s fair enough to be criticised.

One thing I know I’d appreciate and I’m sure my fellow players would appreciate is a text message when a journalist is seeking clarification on a comment that we’ve made. I’ve often had journalists text me so I know that getting access to our phone numbers isn’t asking too much.

If the journalist has a query, especially if it is a controversial article and they’re taking a grab from the interview without referencing the context in which it was said or the question that they asked, I’m sure the player would appreciate a text message seeking clarification instead of making assumptions.

I love doing media and I’m in a fortunate position where I can share my thoughts. Often when I’m asked, I’m more than happy to partake but I want to make these experiences positive.

Most of the time, mine have been but there have been a couple of times where it hasn’t gone the way I’ve wanted it to.