Playing local Auskick with my brother, I was always the youngest player out there, which saved dad having to drive us both down at separate times.
My earliest memories of those days are a little sketchy, but I distinctly remember kicking a torpedo from the boundary line one day. Mind you, I was only about 25 metres from goal, but I celebrated it with plenty of gusto.
Growing up in a small country town, everyone believed they would make it to the big time. I had the skill but lacked the work ethic as a junior, but it didn’t stop me from always telling my primary school teacher I would one day be an AFL player, even if it took me longer than expected.
My upbringing in Maryborough was rough and tough, but there was plenty of sport and activities to keep myself busy. Being the youngest I would always be competing against the larger kids, which in some way prepared me for adult life.
Dad owned the local rural farm supplies store, so we would help out where we could. It was an early entrance into working life and the real world.
I took the longer route to the AFL system due to being immature and having a poor work ethic. I spent three years in the VFL (one of those in the reserves) before getting a rookie contract at Essendon. Tough times come with the game, and I had a few set backs before being drafted. I did pre-season training with Essendon in 2008 and it was the best experience of my life, even though I missed out on that draft.
Following on from that disappointment, I nearly gave up on the dream and moved back home. However, I was determined to give it another go a few months later and it paid off when I was selected in the rookie draft.
There were plenty of fond memories at the Bombers, despite the obvious dramas. I was lucky enough to win the club’s most improved in 2011, along with the goal-kicking award. The coaches that year were a huge inspiration for me and taught me how to train professionally, how to play consistently and simply, how to be a great person.
Essendon were a great club, but we had some serious off-field issues in 2013 and my time wasn’t enjoyable. The media were continually at training every day and we couldn’t get away from the scrutiny.
The opportunity to join the Western Bulldogs came up, and it wasn’t until the last hour that I agreed to move over. It was a very difficult decision to make as I was close to all the coaches and the players.
We were going well in 2015 at the Whitten Oval, making the finals for the first time since 2010 and developing under Luke Beveridge, but nothing was going to prepare me for the 2016 season.
Being part of the 34 banned players was a terribly tough time in my life. Support from friends and family was pivotal, and training with the Essendon players in the year off no doubt saved me and helped me to find the hunger to continue my football career.
I re-joined the Bulldogs at the start of the 2016 finals series once my ban ended, and I joked to the players and said that I felt like I’d won something just training with them in September.
Their energy was great and I just fitted in where I could. It was an amazing experience to soak it all up. The Thursday before the Grand Final we were training in front of 10,000 people, which was better than training in front of no one in Keilor for most of the year.
Seeing the boys win the flag was a proud moment, but also one of sadness because I wasn’t directly involved. Having said that, many others missed out such as Bob Murphy, Mitch Wallis and Jack Redpath. I was just fortunate to be back at the club again.
I managed to return in good condition in 2017, but after three months my hip had given way and I was in some trouble to even play. After two AFL games and four in the VFL, I had no choice but to get surgery on my left hip. I thought it was the end, and I was stuck on 99 games.
I worked as hard as I could in rehab but it took around seven months before I could kick a football pain free. Geelong took a punt on me and told me I could be fixed, and said it was going to take a huge amount of rehab to even get on the park, but I persisted.
Thankfully, I got through and returned Round 1 of the VFL and played five games leading up to my debut game with the Cats in Round 7 against GWS.
It was a big journey and one I struggled to reflect on in the moment, but now I can see what an effort it was.
Geelong were a huge support to me and my family, and I can’t thank them enough for assisting me to live out my childhood dream of playing 100 games.
Since the season ended, I’ve been grappling with the decision on my future, and I think my time is up and I’m ready to move on. There’s no regrets because I tried my best for over 10 years, I’m really happy with what I achieved when no one gave me a chance early on.
You never know exactly what the next chapter can look like, but as a player I was a big investor in property and pubs, and was always putting my money to good use. It was important to have smart-minded people around me for support and guidance. For now, I want to focus on that, and also help my dad and brother in their respective business ventures.
And of course, I can’t wait to enjoy family life with my lovely daughter, Remi and with my wife Jesse. To unwind and relax will be on the cards for the short term.