Fans Players

Players’ Voice — Tom Bell

Looking back, it’s been a frustrating three years. I left Carlton in 2015 after having come fourth in the best and fairest behind Patrick Cripps, Marc Murphy and Zach Touhy. It was a breakout year for me.

While my first year at Brisbane went well, the 2016 season was interrupted by two meniscus injuries. The first happened early during the season, and was operated on several weeks later. Shortly after returning to pre-season, I felt pain after a running session and was modified, four weeks later it was scanned and it revealed another tear to the meniscus.

That was a tough year, but injuries are a part of this sport and I was really motivated going into 2017 to hit the ground running.

That was Fages’ first year as senior coach. I played six senior games and was dropped due to a slow start to the home and away season, I then spent some time in the NEAFL to earn my spot back in the senior side for three more games, but then again fell victim to the dreaded Tuesday afternoon phone call from the senior coach.

During my second stint in the NEAFL for the year, I broke my left leg and dislocated my ankle, and this drew a line through my name for the remainder of the season.

This kind of injury was debilitating and mentally challenging, coming off a year where I hadn’t been able to play much and now another serious injury, it was tough to say the least.

Once rehabbed and recovered, I was very determined to hit the ground running in 2018. It was the last year of my contract and I had a point to prove. I came back in excellent condition and performed well in the 3km time trials, I was proud of this achievement after having a broken leg and ankle just five months beforehand.

I then played every JLT series game and was very pleased with how I bounced back to playing. Needless to say, my body was feeling right, and I was in form and feeling very optimistic about the season ahead.

This soon changed, while I was picked in the senior team for Round 1 against St Kilda, a game where I had 20 disposals and a goal, I was dropped by Fages.

Admittedly, it was not my best game, but it was also my first game back in almost two years and I felt I deserved the benefit of the doubt and more backing before being dropped.

I hold no animosity towards the club or Fages for the decision to drop me and they know this, but truth be told they are heading in a direction where their priority is to blood the youth, and this comes at the expense of the middle-aged players like myself.

In the NEAFL I was playing consistent football, and felt I was covering everything I had been told to work on and more. But unfortunately, I could not get a look in for a senior game.

It became very obvious that younger players would always take precedent before myself. Whether they were deserving ahead of others is another matter, but again, it’s the direction the club is heading.

During Round 10 of the NEAFL in Canberra, a player tackled me from behind and I tore my syndesmosis in my right ankle which is the opposite side to the previous year.

How’s that for luck! While I tried to finish the game, the pain was incredibly significant. I was told by my club doctors to rest and not operate. I did so, rehabbed the ankle and played another four games with a completely torn syndesmosis, in a lot of pain but out of contract and with a point to prove I did not have the luxury of time to sit on the sidelines.

Once scanned, it was apparent that the syndesmosis was completely torn and not able to heal itself. I then spoke to David Noble and the medical staff at the Lions and we opted to operate.

Getting told at my exit meeting that it is less likely than likely that I will be receiving a contract for season 2019 was something I was prepared for. For myself, the writing was on the wall mid-year when I was stuck in the NEAFL.

Not long after being told my contract wouldn’t be renewed for season 2019, I quickly booked a trip to Northern Sumatra on a solo surf expedition to clear my head as anyone who has been through this knows it can be quite draining and a bit confronting.

I was able to not only score some great surf over there, but it also gave me time to clear my head and put the past few weeks in perspective.

Since arriving back from overseas, I have taken the time to catch up with David Noble to sit down and discuss where my football abilities can take me in 2019. We covered absolutely everything from my strengths, things I need to work on and which clubs would be best suited for me to continue my professional AFL career at.

I was a little bit blown away by it as he genuinely would love to see me continue my playing career at another AFL club. I wasn’t too sure how these conversations would go and found them a little bit odd considering a week earlier I was being told to pack up my locker as my services are no longer required at the Brisbane Lions. But they were incredibly beneficial at the same time!

Both Chris Fagan and David Noble have been great with their honesty. You begin to realise that they are not getting rid of you for the person you are, I just didn’t fit the direction the club was heading in.

It has been a disappointing campaign this year. I am absolutely determined to get another opportunity on an AFL list and continue my career wherever that may be.