Playing in all 14 games this season, and 24 last year, Rory Atkins has steadily become a mainstay in the Crows’ best 22. The 22-year-old took time out during a car service to talk to Aflplayers.com.au about his rise…
What have you got on for your day off?
I’m currently 30 minutes out of Adelaide getting my car serviced so I’m at a café with the laptop doing a bit of work for the business course I’m studying.
How far into your course are you?
I’m currently doing an advanced diploma in business with the Management Edge. A lecturer comes over to go through PowerPoints, questionnaires and assessments. There’s five of us at the club who are doing it and it’s been great so far. They run seven classes over seven months and in between classes we go away and do the work and report back for the next one. I’m learning a bit which is always good, and I can see myself doing something along the lines of this down the track.
So you’d like to run your own business after footy concludes?
I don’t know what I want to do specifically, but doing this takes two years off a three-year business degree so if I want to look further into it I’ll consider completing the last year of the degree part-time at university. Something like this does set you up so you don’t have to do three years of study post football.
What else are you into off the field? How do you take your mind off the game?
In 2015, when I injured my knee and sat out for four or five months, I was driving past the Morphetville Stables with Emma Bahr who is our PDM. Funnily enough, she had a contact down at the stables who was a horse trainer named Travis Doudle so I went down twice a week in the mornings at about 5:30am and helped him with his track work because I’ve always had a passion for horses. I still have the passion for it but it’s too hard to do the work with the horses now because their training competes with my time at the footy club. I thoroughly enjoyed it, though.
Going forward, can we expect you to become a full-time horse trainer?
Haha! Potentially, although I’ve seen first-hand just how hard it is. You only hear about the horse trainers that do well and win the Melbourne Cup. I need to put a bit more thought into it.
Josh Jenkins is into his horses and owns few, doesn’t he?
Yeah, that’s right. Josh is into his trotters and he and I have that in common. I actually lived with him for two years as he was kind enough to put a roof over my head. I rented a room off him with him and his girlfriend, Hannah. He was great for me and horses were a big talking point.
What’s your living situation like now?
I moved out at the start of this pre-season from Josh’s house. I was originally meant to be there from three months but it ended up being two years! He was nice enough to have me for that long, but now I’m renting with another younger teammate in Harrison Wigg. He’s an Adelaide boy.
Being a Melbourne boy, what are your thoughts on Adelaide?
Growing up in Melbourne it’s a constant footy cycle, but there’s at least 10 teams in the state. If a team isn’t going so well, a few other teams may take the headlines off you. Over here, it’s just as crazy with the footy content, but there’s only two teams so if you’re going well you’re the best team in the world, if you’re not then you’re the worst. It is easier to live in Adelaide, though, and less chaotic than Melbourne which makes it easier to get around.
You must have a very strong connection to the Crows given every team passed on you in the 2012 draft… were you worried that you weren’t going to get selected?
That was a very nervous night and every club had made a pick and chose not to pick me. I was grateful for the opportunity that Adelaide presented me with pick 81, which I think ended up being the second last pick in the draft. I was sitting at home with all of my family and friends around which was unexpected — I only planned to sit and watch with my parents — and then the all others rocked up. I thought it might end up being a memorable night for all the wrong reasons if I wasn’t selected and having all of my mates there, but it just so happened the suspense that was building added to a big eruption when my name was called. It’s something I’ll never forget.
Was there a team you wanted to be drafted by? Who’d you support as a kid?
I didn’t support anyone, believe it or not. I was heavily involved with my local club, Maribyrnong Park in the Essendon District Football League. Every member of my family supports a different team — my dad goes for Carlton, mum supports Essendon and my sister follows the Cats — so there was never a team forced down my throat. I kind of barracked for whoever was on top, at times I supported the Swans and then there were other times when I liked Hawthorn, Geelong and others. I didn’t take a liking to a certain team.
I imagine you were prepared to move anywhere across the country and didn’t care, as long as you were picked up given how long you were forced to wait before pick 81?
Yeah, that’s right. I feel like right now, under-18s have too much say with who they want to play with and who they don’t want to play with. They want to stay at home and they let that be known. I was just happy to get the opportunity, and it has been a good thing for me to come to Adelaide and get away from my friends so I could focus on football. It has benefitted me greatly.
Why do you think you fell to selection 81? Take me through your draft year…
I didn’t have the year that I would have liked to have. I played well in the TAC Cup, but when it came to the carnival with Vic Metro, I didn’t play well at all. I played the first two games against the Division 2 sides in the Northern Territory and Tasmania and I played terribly, which meant I didn’t get picked for the three big games against Vic Country, South Australia and Western Australia. Generally, that’s where all the recruiters like to see the players that they’re interested in stand up. That set me back a bit.
Your first year at the Crows wasn’t easy, you spent a bit of time with Sturt’s reserves…?
I spent a fair bit of time at Sturt because I really struggled with the transition from playing against kids my age to playing against men. Obviously, being aligned with a SANFL side you’re playing against 22-32-year-old men who want to knock your head off every time you go near it, so I struggled with that. I still am a slight build, but I was even worse then and weighed about 75 kgs, so I found things quite intimidating back then. It took me 24 months to feel fully comfortable in my body and to be able to show people what I could do. It’s all a part of the process, and it took me a few pre-seasons in the gym, whereas there are kids who might be ready to go at 16. For the majority of guys, it takes that bit longer. Thankfully, I’m starting to develop now and feel I haven’t even reached my full potential yet which is exciting.
When you got to the Crows, David Mackay was quite pivotal in your development. Talk me through his role in helping you out…
When I first moved over and before I was set up with a host family, the club sets you up with another player for a month or so, and I was lucky enough to live with David Mackay and he’s the first senior player I built a relationship with. At the start, he was the person I went to for advice because I felt the most comfortable with him. In my first two years, we used to watch vision together because we were fighting for the same position, and funnily enough, we still are. It’s amusing how that all plays out. That’s a part of having a healthy and competitive vibe within the football club.
Moving forward a bit, you were quite close to being picked in Round 14, 2015 against Geelong, but then that game was cancelled due to the tragic circumstances surrounding Phil Walsh. Can you explain how tough that period was?
I was around the mark at that stage of the year, but I can’t even remember how close I was. I ended up finally debuting a few weeks later. At that time, I was definitely playing my best football in the seconds and I was eventually rewarded a few weeks later in the Showdown which was an amazing moment. That time, however, was so difficult for all involved because that kind of thing just doesn’t happen. People may say that these things happen or can happen, but you can never expect or prepare for it in any way. I remember the morning vividly, and it felt like a movie scene. It was such a tragic event and the Adelaide community were amazing for us as players and as a football club. Everyone rallied behind us during the most trying circumstances. We came out of it saddened by the event and deeply moved, but we also came out strengthened because we know that we can work through tough times together. How we have bounced back is a great representation of the group we have. Ultimately winning a final in that year proves that.
What was it like debuting in a Showdown?
There’s not too many guys who have done it! Richard Douglas tells me that he and I are similar in a few regards because he debuted in a Showdown, too. I was the sub back then so for the first half I was sitting there pinching myself in the best seat in the house. Then I had to remind myself that I needed to be ready because I could come on at any moment. The crowd was unbelievable, and being a Port home game, they were as loud and as passionate as ever. I always thank Daniel Talia for getting knocked out halfway through the second quarter and allowing me to enter the game a bit earlier than when I expected to. I managed to get a touch early which settled the nerves. The whole experience was something I’ll never forget — we were up by a fair bit at half-time, and then Port came right back and we held on by three points. When the siren went the emotions really came out and I just stood there and screamed. It’s one of the best memories of my life — being able to be in the huddle and singing the song with Riley Knight and taking into account all the things that had happened a few weeks earlier — it was remarkable. I even remember my old man being the first person I saw in the rooms as he walked up to me with a big smile on his face.
I’ve got to ask about the hairdo you came up with a few months back. What was the reasoning behind that because it received a fair bit of attention?
One of my mates went with that hairstyle a couple of weeks prior and I didn’t mind it. I had been thinking about it for a while, but when I eventually did it I think it did cop a bit too much attention. I was honestly shocked by the media coverage given I just changed my hair colour, but I ran with it for a few weeks and recently changed it back because I couldn’t be bothered maintaining it. The guys who know me quite well understand that it wasn’t out of character because I have a ‘don’t care’ attitude and I enjoyed getting a few laughs. It just took someone to do it first because I’ve seen a few more of those hairstyles pop up in the competition since.
I didn’t mind it…
Thanks! It was good fun.
Looking at how things sit right now… the club started the season on fire and then regressed a little bit. As a whole, however, you’re in a strong position for a September assault…
Our list is in a great position at this point in time. We’ve all played a couple of seasons together and not too much has changed. We did start strongly, but as we’ve seen over the past month or so, the competition is that even that you need to be on your game every time you play. No matter where a team sits on the ladder, and especially with us being towards the top end, everyone is going to try their hardest against us. Teams will find their A-game against us and we need to do the same. We know our best footy can cut it.
The way things are at the moment with player movement, and the fact you’re Victorian, I’m sure clubs will circle at some point. Is that something you think about?
Moving to Adelaide has honestly been the best thing for me because it has made me grow up a lot quicker. There’s nothing back home that I need that I don’t have here, my living is sorted and I’m incredibly relaxed. I get on well with all the players, all the coaches and I run by the motto that if isn’t broken, don’t fix it. I’m happy in Adelaide and enjoying my time, and the group isn’t far off success. Hopefully we can play later in September than we have in the last few years.
That’s all I’ve got. Thanks for your time, Rory, and good luck with the car service.
Thanks mate! I’ll let you know if it stuffs up…