Lachie Whitfield has found himself playing a new role in 2018, and it’s not one he’s accustomed to. The 23-year-old has swapped midfield minutes for the half-back line, and has begun to flourish in his new surroundings. He sat down with AFLPlayers.com.au on his day off to discuss this and more.
What have you got planned for your day off?
I’ve just done a quick grocery shop and now I’m going to head down to the beach to chill out. I’m actually going to get fitted out for some golf clubs as well. I’ve been talking about getting clubs for ages but I keep putting it on the back-burner, but now I should do it.
Have you played much at all?
Every time I go back to Melbourne I have a hit with my old man, but not so much up in Sydney. I tend to spend my time at the beach.
You must be happy with your individual form this season, and the team’s?
Yeah, it has been a good start to the year. You can’t really complain when you’re on top of the ladder, can you? Internally, we’ve been speaking about putting together four-quarter performances, and if we play the kind of footy we know we can play and stick to our systems, we’re pretty sure it will stack up against most sides.
Individually, it’s been a different start to the year going to half-back. I’m just learning as much as I can right now. It’s exciting playing a new role — I’ve been stuck on a wing for my whole career — so five years straight playing in the one position. So far, it’s been a really good change up for me and I’m enjoying it.
I wanted to ask you how that role change came about? I assume it was a personnel thing due to the Zac Williams’ injury and Nathan Wilson departing?
Yeah, it was definitely a personnel thing. I trained for most of the pre-season on the wing, then Zac Williams went down with his Achilles and Nath Wilson had already gone back home to Perth, so there was a spot up for grabs there. A few of the younger blokes put their hands up for that initially, so I didn’t think I’d be going back there. The likes of Isaac Cummings and Harry Perryman were both doing really good things on the half-back line in the pre-season but they both had minor injuries throughout the JLT Series, so I was basically the last option! But it’s worked out so far, even though it was a little bumpy initially.
Are you finding that in games when you need to go to the middle of the ground, you’re making the call to go in there yourself, or is it the instruction from the coaching staff?
I haven’t really gone up that high on the ball yet, it’s more just being able to cover the ground alright has allowed me to push up and back and play as the highest half-back. I did get moved to the wing for a little bit against the Swans, but I’m predominantly across half-back at the moment.
Perhaps I thought I saw something I didn’t, but I thought late in the Collingwood game you pushed up the ground?
Yeah, well actually that quarter I was moved forward, so I just go where I’m told. At the certain stages of games, I’m just happy to play where I’m needed.
And you said it was a bit bumpy early in the new position. Was that in reference to getting use to the position? How hard is it to adjust to a position you’ve never played before?
It’s tough! Even through junior footy, I always played midfield and forward, so playing in the backline is not natural for me. Defensively, I guard the grass more than a man, so it’s been a learning curve getting accustomed to play on a back shoulder. I try to read the footy, but I also have to react to my opponent first, and the ball second. That’s been the hardest part, and I’m still very far off being good at it.
Losing the 2017 preliminary final to go along with 2016 would have been a difficult thing to stomach. What was the off-season like for you guys as a club?
Grand Final day the last two years has been very hard to watch. Especially with both teams that we lost to in the prelims going on to win the Grand Final. The off-season was a good time to wind down, put it all behind us, and make sure that when we did get back for pre-season, we were looking forward to this year and not dwelling on the past. I feel that we’ve come even closer together, we’re a tight-knit group, we’re close in age, and we share the same interests. The off-field closeness will show on field this year. I hope that it will take us one step further.
You said the Grand Finals were tough to watch, have you endured the whole game in the last two years, or just snippets?
I watched the whole Bulldogs Grand Final, even when they went up and got their medals with big smiles on their faces, which was so hard to watch because we were so close to beating them in what was such a good game in the prelim. The Richmond one I probably watched the first half but it was getting a bit much for me as well.
Did you get away over the off-season?
Yeah, I went to America for about three weeks with a couple of mates. I had a lot of fun, watched plenty of sport, and relaxed. It was great.
Which sports did you watch?
We watched it all! We went to the NHL in New York, we went to the NBA and the NFL. It was cool.
Last year you decided to stick around and re-sign, what was the catalyst for staying in Sydney and turning your back on Melbourne?
It was two things that weighed heavily on my mind that factored into my decision. The first one was success, and I felt that I was in the best possible spot to achieve a Grand Final win. We’ve come close the last two years and I feel like we’re on the right path and success is in front of us. The second one is the lifestyle we get to live in Sydney, it’s just so under the radar. It’s sunny, the beaches are great, there’s lots to do and it’s a completely different vibe to Melbourne. In saying that, I do miss back home and the people down there, but Sydney is home for me.
Playing back home in Melbourne this weekend, does your family usually head along?
Yeah, they do. My family comes out in numbers, and not just for the Melbourne games. I pretty much get to see my parents every weekend because they travel interstate, and dad gets to most games in Sydney.
Many players have stayed loyal to the club, but has it been frustrating to lose a lot of teammates over the last few years?
Yeah, well that’s what happens when you get an influx of top draftees, I guess. Some people will be frustrated that they’re not playing each week, or there’ll be big money offers to lure people back home. I think the tightness of the group and the loyalty we’ve shown to the club — we’ve signed a lot of boys in the past two years that could have made more money elsewhere — so there’s a good feeling around the club. It was a pretty easy decision for me last year, I didn’t draw it out at all. It’s a little bit interesting that when you face most opposition, there’s usually a Giants player in there. It’s part of the game, footy is a business these days.
You spoke about Sydney being a good city to escape the madness of the footy world in Melbourne. What have the last two years been like for you having to push through the off-field dramas? Was it easier escaping it all in Sydney?
Definitely. When all of the stuff with me happened, I was over in Spain when it was all about to come down, so I had to rush back home and sign some papers and all of that. Nevertheless, being in Sydney has been a huge help — the club and my teammates were great for me during that period — and the anonymity up here makes life easier. It’s not as hectic, it’s very carefree.
Was there a sense that you owed the club?
Yeah, there probably is a little bit. I feel like everyone owes the club something for drafting them, but many people did help me individually through that 8-9-month process. It’s more individuals that I owe a lot to, like people in the club. Especially the board the way they backed me, and how happy everyone was when I came back and started playing again which made me feel wanted at the footy club. I can’t thank them enough for that.
How difficult was it being away for that length of time?
It was a different feeling. When I did get banned, I went up to Noosa for a month by myself and trained up there, and then I spent the next two months in Melbourne and lived back with my family. Being away from the boys for a full pre-season was weird. The time went quickly, and I was doing what I could by myself to ensure that I could come back into the team when I was ready to be selected, but I was back at the club for eight weeks before being allowed to play, so watching the guys play each week from the sidelines was tough. It’s just something that happened, but it’s in the past now and I can move on from it.
Moving away from footy, what are you doing outside of the AFL environment?
I am studying business, I have a lovely girlfriend in Sydney, and I live a few minutes from the beach so I get down there a lot. Right now, I’m into my snorkelling which is pretty cool!
How did you get into that? Just a by-product of living near the beach and wanting to try it out?
Yeah, a few of the boys took goggles down to the beach one day and we saw what was under us. Now a few of us have started to spend a bit of money on some fancy goggles. I do it on most of days off, and why wouldn’t you when it’s 23 degrees and sunny on a Thursday morning? We get ample opportunity to get out in the water.
Do you have any business aspirations for your post-football life, or are you just dipping your toes in the water?
Definitely just dipping my toe in the water. I’m very unsure of what I want to do post-footy. I also have an interest in living abroad for a year or two, my dad was born in England and I have a lot of family over there so I hope to be able to get over there at some stage in my life. Not sure what I’ll do over there, though.
Do you see yourself as a bit of a world traveller? Where have you been so far?
Perhaps. I’ve done most of Europe a couple of times, I was lucky enough when I was younger to go over there for a family holiday, and the AIS Academy took us over to Europe in back-to-back years. Last off-season I did most of the States, and I’m looking at Japan in the next off-season. I really enjoy the different cultures and I’m looking forward to being thrown in the deep end in Japan and seeing what I can make of it.
Will it be ski season over there? Or not quite?
Mate, I wouldn’t know! I haven’t even seen snow in my life. If I’m allowed to do it, I’ll definitely give it a crack. However, I’m not sure if the club would be that happy.
You’re on top of the ladder now, what do you need to do to stay there?
With our footy club, it’s about giving consistent effort, and if we play four quarters most weeks, we should be right. We have great leaders in Callan and Phil, we have intensity in our training, so if we can put it all together I think the sky’s the limit.
What do you think is the reason why you haven’t always played four quarters and have had noticeable lapses, week-to-week?
In previous years gone by, our concentration levels haven’t been the best, and perhaps we haven’t been in the moment. That is something we’ve practiced a lot on this off-season. We have trained a lot for certain situations so that we know what to do when we get into them. We’ve probably been able to put four-quarter efforts in this season, bar the Sydney game and maybe the first quarter against Fremantle. But we’re pretty happy with where things are at.
And what sort of feedback are you receiving from the coaches about your role?
Mark McVeigh is our defensive coach, and he is making me a very confident man! He’s telling me to play with flare, but defend first and attack second. I’m encouraged to run and carry the footy, kick the ball well and take the game on. The back six or seven that we have in the team have been there for quite a while, so I’m the newbie in that group. It’s just about learning the ways they play as a team within a team.
Thanks for taking the time to chat on your day off, and good luck against the Saints this weekend.
No worries mate, thank you.