Fans Players

Players’ Voice — Ricky Henderson

It seems like only yesterday I was playing basketball as a 20-year-old in Ballarat.

My Australian Rules journey is one of learning and maturity. My path didn’t come about the usual way. I loved playing sport, any sport, as a kid. All I wanted to do was make it in one of those sports — it didn’t matter which one.

I decided that basketball was the best one to pursue and I stopped playing footy at 14.

Six years later, while working at a basketball stadium in Ballarat, I took part in an NBL talent scouting camp in Melbourne.

It just so happened that Adelaide recruiter Hamish Ogilvie was in the stands. He gave me his card afterwards with the message that if I wanted to have a kick of the footy sometime to give him a call.

I thought it was a joke — why would an AFL recruiter be watching a bunch of wannabe basketballers.

I mulled over it for a week. I was working in administration at the stadium, behind the bar and doing night shifts here and there and my boss actually said I’d be crazy not to give Hamish a call back.

He convinced me to do it, which, in hindsight, could be the best piece of advice I’ve ever received!

I rang Hamish, flew to Adelaide for three or four days and trained with the Crows. Somehow, I was selected in the rookie draft a few months later. In-between all that, I played a couple of footy games with my mates for Trentham — one shocking and one okay.

I was at work watching the computer screen update when my name came up on the day of the rookie draft. I had to quit on the spot because Adelaide wanted me over there swiftly.

What a whirlwind. From living life as a wannabe basketballer and working in sports admin to an AFL footballer in a matter of weeks — and there was no way I thought I’d be doing the same thing 10 years later.

When I got to Adelaide, I’d never lived out of home and had rarely left Ballarat so it took me a while to find my feet, probably around three years, but the club looked after me really well.

Then came learning what was basically a new sport to me. I remember my first training session was at Norwood, where we were told to set up in a zone defence from a kick-in and I had absolutely no idea what I was doing.

Towards the end of 2016, things were changing. My partner, Jenny, and I were expecting our first child, we’d just gotten married and my contract was up at the Crows.

I fell just short of triggering a contract extension, which meant my future in the sport was uncertain and I was keen to get back to Victoria to be near family.

In the morning of the day we were jetting off for our honeymoon, I had a meeting with Alastair Clarkson who gave me some assurances that the Hawks would take me as a delisted free agent but nothing is certain in this game.

We were on our honeymoon when I was delisted so it was a relatively stressful time. It was hard to switch off when I didn’t know what I’d doing with my life in a couple of months’ time.

The phone was always on. I was constantly talking to my manager, my parents and my wife’s parents. Everyone wanted to know what was going on but we didn’t have a whole lot of information for them.

I think we still enjoyed the honeymoon nonetheless and, luckily, the Hawks were true to their word. To have one of my good mates in Jack Gunston there made the transition easier, too.

I think my performances have been more consistent at Hawthorn than they were at Adelaide — the gap between my best and worst is narrowing.

I’m enjoying my footy a lot more. That probably has something to do with having a clear role week-to-week, managing my body better, stringing more games together than I have previously and maturing as a person and as a player given my inexperience playing the sport growing up.

Our little one, Rylee, is 16 months old now as well and she’s put everything into perspective for me. I’ve come to realise what everyone talks about — that footy isn’t the be all and end all. That’s helped free up my mindset and I think my performances have reflected that.

I’m not totally consumed by wondering if footy works out in the long term or not and that’s a good feeling to have. The family’s happy and the little one is happy, which makes my life and my job a lot easier.

Plus, I think chasing a small child going 100kmph around the house has helped my ability to run up and down the wing each weekend, too!