Thanks for joining me, Mason. The club and yourself have really started to take off in the last few weeks, how have you seen things so far in 2018?
It’s been good. A lot of people talk about experience and I think it really does come down to that. The more games you play, the better you feel and you can’t really teach experience.
Obviously, the beginning of the year wasn’t the greatest for me. To play a horrible game against Hawthorn and the suspension on the back of it, it wasn’t ideal but things have turned around and I’m starting to play my role within the team, which is all you can really ask for.
You mentioned experience there and your output in the last three weeks seems to have increased, what do you put that down to? Is it as simple as getting more experience?
I think a bit of it is getting to as many contests as you can. At the end of the day, the more contests you get to the more contests you win, which is simple math, really. Knowing your teammates a bit better, how the ball’s going to move and how we want to play against different teams are things you start to pick up.
In the first quarter against the Tigers and the last quarter last week, your marking really stood out; can you explain how you’ve been able to develop that in recent years?
There are multiple things to it. Getting to many contests, timing, knowing the traits of those kicking you the ball. You get confidence when you take a few marks, which gives you the confidence to take a few more, it’s a weird thing. As long as there’s the want and ability to get to as many contests, that’s half the battle.
Your form is coinciding with the side turning the corner, what was the turning point for the club in the last few weeks?
I think we just have self belief more than anything. A lot of people were quick to judge Collingwood because we’re a media talking point but we just concentrate on ourselves. We’re not really worried about the people in the media around town because it doesn’t really matter to us.
We have our own journey and destination we want to reach and any outside noise is irrelevant to us. This year we have the self belief to go a fair way with the people we have and that we can accomplish what we want to accomplish.
You signed a three-year extension in September last year, can you explain the impact of having that secure future has on you heading into a pre-season?
For a guy who’s half a world away and trying to stay in the country, to have three more years on a contract is settling to say the least. I’ll have citizenship hopefully by the end of this contract and that’s a great feeling to have.
To have that would be somewhat of an accomplishment in my life. To move half a world away, settle down and create a life away from home and getting that passport would be physical evidence of the experience I’ve had, which is pretty cool. At the end of the day, I get a lot of confidence from the club saying, ‘We think you’re going places’ and put that many years into a contract means they’re happy to have me for that long.
Did that lead into the last pre-season and meant doing something different?
It’s somewhat of a famous quote but Brodie Grundy actually said it not too long ago and that’s, ‘Working smarter, not harder.’ Knowing your body a bit better, what the game is asking of you and what you need to focus on.
I don’t need to focus on hitting pinpoint passes because that’s rarely going to be required from someone in my situation but working on the things that I know because they’re going to be more relevant. I’m learning about my body every week to make judgements on whether or not I need a rest and when to push my body further and when to scale it back.
The new head of conditioning is a guy from Ireland so we click in that regard. I feel like I know what I’m doing a lot more now like any new job when you get that experience.
Speaking of knowing your body, you’re 27 now which is firmly in the middle in an athletic sense. Talk me through understanding the changes your body has undergone in the last three years.
Whenever it comes to backing up, and I think to the last week where we played three games in 11 days, knowing my body means I know the best way to recover. Every week is different, you have different injuries so you tryout different things.
I’m in my fourth year at the club now so I have an idea of the best practices to get me up for the following week. Especially in the last week, you get a bit of return for all the different trials. As far as the body goes, it’s invaluable to know what works and what doesn’t when it comes to recovery.
In terms of those three games in 11 days, how did you guys attack that? Did you spend more time recovering than actually training?
I don’t even think we trained. We might’ve had a light training session between the Anzac Day game and the match against Richmond. Everyone was still sore and recovering so we couldn’t do much. We had a lot more mental stuff than physical such as understanding the game plan and how to execute rather than going out and spending the time on the track to get it done.
We were trying to get more quality rather than quantity. It was full on but we just took it one game at a time and came away with two of the three. Losing to the premiers, while it’s not acceptable, if there’s any game you would lose, it’d be against the premiers.
You mentioned Brodie Grundy’s quote before but Brodie himself, being your partner in crime, has gone to a new level — he’s the best ruckman in the game at the moment. How have you seen his development since you’ve been at the Magpies?
We’ve trained against each other quite a bit and Brodes and I are good mates. I’ve played against other ruckman so this might seem a bit biased but I think Brodie has been the best ruckman and as long as he stays healthy, he should get the All-Australian title at the end of the year.
It’s been really enjoyable to have him there and play alongside him. He’s not only a great player but he’s also a great person. He’s a caring person and just wants to be successful and make the players around him better.
Changing topics a bit, I know you wrote a column for us last year about exploring Australia and the amazing things we have in our own backyard, are you still doing that at the moment?
I’ve moved beachside, so I’m living in a different area. I’m travelling a bit here and there. I’m going up to Fraser Island for the bye week and my brothers and parents will come out then. I try to go out and see as much as I can. I’m not one to stay at home and do nothing.
Some players come in on the Monday and say they just sat around on the couch and rested up whereas I say I went camping down the coast or something like that. I think I have a different mindset coming from a different place. You never know when this will all come to an end so I need to make the most of it while it’s around. When it all does come to an end, I can look back and say I made the most of the opportunity to experience a new country.
What was the reason behind moving?
I just wanted to try a different place. I’m looking to hopefully buy a place soon, which will be a major purchase in my life and would make it official that I’ll be here long term. So I’m trying to figure out where the best place to live would be and I need to live in an area to get an idea of it.
I’m enjoying it at the moment but buying a place obviously depends on what the market does because it’s getting quite expensive. It’ll be weird to have a house in a different country — it’s an interesting thing and is a pain tax wise but it’d be cool.
What’s the next step for you when the experience does end?
Hopefully it lasts a little bit longer but I have the engineering degree in my back pocket, I’m thinking of studying an MBA this year and I’d like to do a more media as well. I obviously have three years until it could end contractually. I think it’d be cool to be an ambassador for multicultural or international people so that’s something I’m passionate about.
How have you found the media here in general?
It’s funny, with AFL everyone has an opinion and are interested in everyone else’s opinion. I don’t really stress about because I think my story is pretty positive and no one really expected me to do well. At the end of the day, you can call me a terrible athlete or footy player but I didn’t know what it was three years ago.
The media is a bit different here. There’s still quite a lot of access to players but because there’s so many of them here in Melbourne.
Is it that different to what it’s like in America?
I don’t know. I think of the NBA where the media get access to the rooms afterwards and can interview whoever they want, which you obviously don’t get here. I remember in my first VFL game when it was quarter-time, all of a sudden there were people walking out of the stands to go with me to the huddle. I was like, ‘What the hell is going on?’ and it’s not scary or anything like that but it’s so different and there’s that community aspect to it.
But where do you draw the line for protecting the athletes and that means the community aspect probably goes south. It’s a fine line because you want to keep that community and historical aspect but at the same time it’s a professional sport. But I’m not here to tell anyone what’s right or wrong, I’m just here to play.
It’s interesting because we here so much that the access is much greater over there but is it really that different?
I think it’s similar but on such a bigger scale that you have to be someone for people to listen. Here, people will take the opinions of anyone, even the callers who ring up radio stations just to talk about footy, whereas back home no one would really care for that.
At home, they want opinions of people who have been in the industry for 20 years but here it is a community sport and it feels like it’s still in touch with the community.
Do you tune into the footy shows or any of the media?
I look into it here and there for gags more than anything. If you play a good game, you might have a look but, more often than not, it’s not going to be positive if someone is talking about you. I was horrible in the Round 1 loss to Hawthorn and got suspended so I jumped off social media for two or three weeks to let everyone settle down because we’re so quick to judge athletes.
I’m not really into it too much. Scott Pendlebury hurt his ankle on the weekend and I found out through the newspaper that he’s okay so that’s about as much as I get out of it. I wouldn’t say I’m a person who knows the ins and outs of every game. I just focus on what I can control — control the controllables as Craig McCrae used to tell me!
You’ve been involved with the AFLPA as a delegate and through the Multicultural Players’ Advisory Board over the journey. Why did you decide to get involved with us?
People are interested in your story as an athlete so if I can help spread a message or help donate money to a cause I think is worthy, why wouldn’t I get involved. It’s not going to cost me anything and spending 30 minutes of my time in the scheme of things isn’t much. Why wouldn’t I take the opportunity to help someone else out if given the chance?
Being an AFLPA delegate, I’m interested in doing what’s best by my teammates and myself and, given my background, I have a different viewpoint so I can provide that difference of opinion in the room. With the multicultural stuff, I’m proud of my journey and where I’ve come from. To be able to represent that in a way, I’m proud of that. Hopefully we can showcase the other multicultural players’ backgrounds and they show the world that they’re proud of their journeys.
In regards to the traveling, do you have a favourite place you’ve visited in Australia?
Oh man, that’s a tough one. It’d be down to Cradle Mountain, the Whitsundays and Karijini National Park, which you’ll probably have to google because it’s in the middle of WA. Those are the most scenic places. I went to Tennant Creek and that was a real cultural shock because it’s somewhat separated from the western world. Their lifestyle is completely different and the things they have to go through is crazy.
Lastly, you mentioned living out permanently if you get a house. Is the goal to live here long term or the rest of your life?
It probably comes down to if I can find a girl and settle down. But now I have more connections and opportunities here than the states so all the signs point towards living here long term. It’s still a bit of an unknown at this point but I think I’m leaning towards staying in Australia for the rest of my life and that won’t make my mum happy, but she’ll get over it.
Thanks for the chat, Mason.
No worries, thank you.