Matt Eagles’ pathway to football was far from conventional. The winner of Foxtel’s reality TV program, The Recruit, Eagles landed a spot on the Brisbane Lions’ list as a Category B rookie in late 2016. He made his debut as a 28-year-old last season, but, what’s next for the defender?
Your football story is quite different to others — you won a reality show (The Recruit) and got a spot on the Lions’ list as a rookie in late 2016. How do you reflect on that time and how much did the show prepare you for what was to come?
I would say that The Recruit gave me a good foot in the door and an insight into what to expect. Obviously they could only do so much with the time that we were on there, but it was really good to see how AFL players eat, how they train, the role of the media — everything. It was an unreal experience that I’m really grateful for. I guess it’s (being on an AFL list) is everything I expected and more. I knew it was going to be hard, but it’s been good fun as well, I’ve loved every moment of it. It’s the best job in the world.
Do you think that your particular pathway to AFL makes your experience different from the other guys? Do you feel like you have something to prove?
Johann (Wagner), the guy that won The Recruit before me, struggled a lot. I can see how it gets perceived as a bit of a novelty — you’re only there because you won a TV show. I tried my best to prove myself through the NEAFL. I hated that persona, I hated that people thought I was only there because of a show. I was constantly trying to prove people wrong. It made it enjoyable for me because I liked the challenge — I loved it.
You spent the first year of your AFL career playing in the Lions’ premiership-winning NEAFL side. How was that, and was it frustrating having to wait to for senior selection?
Not at all. That was the first premiership I’d ever played in, and it’s something that I will be able to look back on. The team we had that year, all the boys were great, we built a real connection. Footy was just fun — I felt like it wasn’t our work or job. It made football enjoyable. Early on (in my time at the Lions) I felt I may have been ready for a debut, but Fages (Chris Fagan) was really good and didn’t make me look stupid by going out there before I was ready. He kept me grounded and when I was ready, I was ready.
You eventually made your AFL debut last season, at the age of 28. What do you remember about your first game?
I just remember having mum and nanna up in the locker room pre-game. I remember the first quarter running around, nervous as hell, thinking, ‘I don’t know if I can do this.’ I was so puffed out because I was nervous, running around with my head cut off. After the first quarter, I settled into it. It felt natural. Getting over that first quarter and those first nerves, worrying about everything else when I should have been just playing footy.
You managed to string a sequence of games together last year until injury ended your season. You signed a contract extension in September. How’s the body holding up?
I signed a contract last year after I tore my abductor. The club were really good while I was going through rehab for the injury, but I was always second guessing myself. I was worried because I’d just started playing footy and it could have been over because of an injury. The club did a really good job of reassuring me that I had a lot more footy to play ahead of me. The strength and conditioning team and the physios have helped me get my body back to 100 percent, though I have had a few little hiccups along the way — but that’s expected when you’re an old bloke like me.
Where do you think your best playing position is? What areas are you looking to work on in 2019?
I love playing in the backline. I’ve really enjoyed my time back there. I love being a lock down defender and making forwards drop hard, but I love kicking goals as well and being around the footy in the ruck. I want to be a versatile footballer, I’ll try to play anywhere I can but I love playing down back. Being out for so long with the injury, working on my confidence again (will be important), and in a way I feel like I’m starting from scratch again. It’s strange, having an injury that sets you back, it’s kind of draining mentally as well. I’ll be putting in the hours in the craft room and getting back to where I was, developing from there and getting better. I want to work on my contested stuff in the air as well — like Jeremy McGovern and Harris Andrews.
What were you doing before football? Have your pre-AFL experiences impacted on the decisions that you make now?
I’ve had a different pathway and I’ve been lucky enough to work a few jobs before playing AFL. Whether that was my own business or working in the mines, I’ve done all sorts of stuff. But I’m really grateful because now I know what it’s like working in the real world. Playing footy, I know everyone says it’s the best job in the world, but I actually know what an amazing opportunity it is to do something that you love and get paid for it.
There are plenty of mature-age guys all around the country who have been overlooked by AFL recruiters but are still determined to make it to the most senior level. Do you have any advice for them?
Work your butt off, I guess. I always get asked that and I never know what to say. I probably got told a bit when I was younger that I would make it. But, if I could go back in time, I would pull my finger out and actually do the hard work back then, instead of waiting for it to happen.
Thanks for your time.