After being delisted by Collingwood at the conclusion of 2017, Lachie Keeffe now has to re-assess his future. Facing an uncertain period in his football life, the versatile big man sat down with AFLPlayers.com.au to discuss the end of his time at the Pies, life away from football, his two-year ban, and hopes for the future.
When did you receive the news?
It was the week before last. Our best and fairest award was the Friday and I got a message from Brent Macaffer on the Thursday just saying that Walshy and Bucks wanted to catch up with me on Tuesday. I thought that’s probably going to be the result, so I walked in there on the Tuesday morning and they gave me the news. I wasn’t too surprised and thought the writing was on the wall after not playing all year and a few of the chats I had during the year so that’s footy. I dare say Sam Gibson from North Melbourne was a bit more surprised than I was. That’s just the caper and you do your best with what you get. I just need to make the most of what’s next.
As the season progressed and you weren’t getting selected, did you reach the mid-point and think to yourself that it was inevitable?
I played in the forward line during the year which is pretty foreign to me, but my form got better and better so I thought I was half a chance. But when you’re my age and you don’t play all year and their picking guys in front of you, you know the caper and you can read the tea leaves and know the writing’s on the wall. You almost try to tell yourself otherwise and convince yourself that you’re a chance to stay on but if you’re my age — and I haven’t played AFL for three years — you know what’s coming.
And what have you been doing over the last couple of years to prepare yourself for post-footy?
I did my business management undergrad at uni and when my two-year ban came it was a good opportunity to start my MBA because I was at a bit of a crossroads. I was able to get stuck into that and do more subjects than you’d be able to do otherwise because of football. I was still training but it allowed me to get stuck into the MBA and I also did some part-time work at my old man’s company. I’m almost finished with the MBA now which holds me in good stead.
So there was no Uber driving like Josh Thomas?
Haha! No, none of that like Joshy. He did a bit of part-time PT work and then a bit of Uber driving but that wasn’t for me.
You must have been excited to see that he received a one-year extension?
Yeah, I was rapt for him. I’m probably biased, but he’s a good player and if he gets more of a run at it and the team starts doing well, you’ll see him play really well. He’s shown bits and pieces but has been injured and started to get some continuity before the two-year ban.
Away from all the training you guys did during the ban, what did you do to try and stay sane?
Well, we trained together four or five times a week, so once that was all done, we probably didn’t want to see too much more of each other. Nah, he is a cruisy fella and is fun to hang out with, but up in Brisbane there isn’t a whole lot to do so between working and training there wasn’t much spare time.
And with your work, what does your dad’s company do?
He works at a electrical design company and he has an engineering background. They do the design for street lighting and traffic lights etc. so I worked in the admin area and saw how the business ticked. I got to be a part of the management team for a while and got to go in the meetings and see how it all works. It was all a little bit over my head but with the MBA it was nice to get the practical side of things while I was doing the theory work. It was just good to get into the work force because I have never had a job outside of footy. I basically went from school to footy so I need to get used to being in the work place eventually.
If I said that you get to choose your next job that’s in your career path, what would you choose? Do you know exactly what you’re good at?
No, not entirely. I like the idea of challenging myself in a corporate environment, without knowing exactly what area. Hopefully I can land a basic job somewhere at a good company and then build myself up and learn on the fly. Maybe HR is for me, or business development, or even some sort of financial sector. I have made a few contacts who have gone down a similar path to me.
I assume being at Collingwood can open up doors for you considering the contacts you can make with corporates and coterie etc.
Yeah. Even before the writing was on the wall I thought that it was something I needed to look into because of the potential opportunities on offer. Collingwood is all I have really known, and you just think that it’s the norm but I got a grasp that it was a good opportunity to make some contacts while you’re in footy. I have built a nice base but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. It has to be the right fit and you have to get in there. Hopefully the MBA and the undergrad helps. If footy doesn’t come into fruition, then I’d back myself in to get into something that I really enjoy.
How hands-on are you during this period? Or is your agent handling everything?
I’ve been with Timmy Hazell for eight or nine years now and have built a good relationship with him and I know that he has my best interests at heart. I let the baker bake the bread and let him do his job and if he needs me then I’ll be there. Once the trade period brushes over and teams see where their list sits, hopefully there is a bit of interest through delisted free agency.
Have you spoken to any clubs yourself?
No, not me specifically. Timmy has had some initial conversations with certain teams, but I know how fickle the AFL business is. Until you sign on the dotted line, who really knows.
And you see yourself as a backman, even though you played predominantly forward last year? Was that frustrating at all?
I was happy to play forward. I’ve grown up as a person who when the coach tells you to do something, you respect that decision and you do it. I believe the best footy I have played in the AFL is in the backline, but I do feel like I have the ability to play a number of roles. The backline is the main niche, but if you can add strings to the bow, I’m sure that’s always a good thing.
I know that this is further down the track, but if things weren’t to pan out, would you go down the VFL path and try and get back on a list that way?
That hasn’t crossed my mind just yet. It would have to be an option and I would have to take in where I sat physically and emotionally. Do I want to go through that, or do I want to concentrate on other avenues? I haven’t thought too much about it, but hopefully it doesn’t come to that.
Speaking of the emotional and physical toll, how were you during the ban? Were there some people that you needed to lean on more than others?
I’m fortunate enough to have a good support network around me with friends and family. The AFLPA were really impressive throughout the situation. Management and my lawyer gave me a bit of hope and made me feel good about things. It was unfortunate for Josh obviously, but I felt fortunate to go through it with someone else. If you’re going through that daily grind by yourself it would have made it a little bit harder. We pushed each other along and that all helped. I stayed in Melbourne for the first year and moved back home to Queensland for the second year — I hadn’t lived at home since I was 15 so that was interesting. It was nice to see the family in a different light — I have four younger sisters and when I last lived at home they were running around like headless chooks but now they have all grown up. My younger sister is in Year 12 and has almost finished school and we get along really well. It was nice to connect closer with them than in previous times.
Have they got the same height genes as you do?
They do! My old man is my height and mum is quite tall, too. Two of my sisters are 6-1 which is pretty tall. One has started playing footy back in Queensland and the other is running around playing netball.
Any AFLW prospects?
Yeah, she’s pretty good. She’s still quite new to it all so I don’t know exactly how good, but she has been doing some stuff with the Lions so it’ll be interesting to see if she gets picked up this year. She has put herself in the draft. Even if that doesn’t eventuate, the Gold Coast come in in the next few years and that’d be a good time for her. She’s played a bit of ruck but is quite raw.
Have you provided plenty of tips and support?
Last year was her first year, and that was when I was back there. She started in the seconds and now she is in the firsts so she must be doing something right! I let the coaches do all the work, though.
What was it like going through everything you went through and then getting back on the list in 2017? Were you worried you wouldn’t get back on?
Early days after the ban, I thought there was no chance that I’d get back on the list. It really hits you that you’ll miss two years. It’s a lot to come back from. Once it all started to roll out, and there was a chance that I could get back on the list, one thing led to another and then they guaranteed us a spot which gave me piece of mind. That allowed me to set up my training programs and have some structure.
Given you had a few years taken away from you, do you look back with regret?
There’s always fleeting thoughts, but they’re ifs and buts and maybes. It was an interesting circumstance, but when you’re doing something you shouldn’t be doing, then you cop your whack. I can rest knowing that I brought it on myself, and have tried to make the most of a bad situation. Or tried to anyway. It would have been nice to have played more games and done things differently, but everyone makes mistakes.
How would you assess the last 12 months back in the system?
I came back really fit, probably as fit and as strong as I have ever been, but I underestimated how hard it would be to get the touch back. You can run all day, you can lift weights all day, but you’re not used to copping hits when you have the footy. The whole contested side of the game took a bit longer than I thought it would. Once I got the hang of it, I started to build and played some decent footy in the forward line, but it wasn’t to be with the Pies I guess.
And you’re happy to move anywhere if the chance presents itself?
Yeah. You’d have to weigh it all up and check in with where I’m at age-wise, but as it sits right now, emotionally and physically I feel like I still have more to give. I feel like I’m better than I have shown so far. I missed those two years, I had a year off with the knee, I was early to the game, so the first couple of years were about development. I’ve only had a crack at senior footy for three or four years. That’s why I want to give it a crack again. If it felt like I was wasting my own time or the club’s time, then I wouldn’t bother. That isn’t the case at the moment so I’d be silly to not try and move interstate if need be.
Is there any anger at being delisted?
Anger isn’t the word, but I’m a little bit aggrieved and you ask yourself whether it’s fair. Sometimes the emotion involved takes over more than the common sense. But I didn’t play all year, they’re heading in a different direction, maybe they didn’t rate me as high as I rate myself etc. that’s footy, mate. People have to move on all the time so you get on with life.
Aside from the study, what have you been doing away from footy to keep you occupied? What other sports are you interested in?
I love all sports. I really enjoying watching the baseball at this time of year, I like the NFL, and plenty of the boys are into the NBA. My study takes up a fair bit of time, though. I also like reading and enjoy building my knowledge.
What have you been reading?
Lots of health books, I bought some sports psychology books and sociology books. I like reading about finance and ways to make money and being smart with investments. Just little bits and pieces.
Thanks for sitting down and having a chat, and I hope it all goes well for you.
Thanks mate. Fingers crossed!