Making a career for yourself in the AFL is never an easy task — just ask Richmond’s Dylan Grimes and he would be able to tell you all about it.
Since being drafted in 2009, the 26-year-old has faced numerous injury problems but Grimes will this weekend put those behind him when he runs out for his 100th game at the top level.
A milestone he wouldn’t have believed was possible some years ago.
“It’s pretty crazy to think that I’ll be playing my 100th game this weekend,” Grimes told AFLPlayers.com.au. “When I look back at my journey, it’s injuries that spring to mind first, to be honest. The first 50 games took a lot longer to get to than the second.
“It feels like it’s been a long journey but at the same time it’s gone so quickly and I’ve absolutely loved it — even the times when I’ve been injured.”
The dream of an AFL career was one Grimes never took seriously in his younger years, but that all changed when brother Jack got his opportunity with Melbourne.
To have a family member become a professional athlete was the catalyst that spurred him on.
“Jack got drafted by Melbourne in 2007 and that was a turning point for me. I never really considered the prospect of playing AFL footy or being anything more than an OK footballer,” he explained.
“From that moment onwards, I started taking my footy more seriously. I wasn’t a great junior player by any means — I was very skinny and battled away so it was only when I started to fill out and become more co-ordinated that the prospects of playing AFL became real.”
But for Grimes following in his older brother’s footsteps was by no means an easy task.
There were setbacks, like being overlooked in the national draft and being forced to earn his spot the hard way.
“Missing out on the national draft in 2009 wasn’t really a surprise but I was disappointed nonetheless,” Grimes said.
Following that disappointment, Richmond extended a second chance to the wily defender by inviting him to train with them in the lead up to the pre-season draft, which was a gesture he’ll forever remember.
“There were around eight or 10 of us competing for that last spot and, if I’m honest, there was a bit of pressure involved to make an impact,” Grimes added.
“I remember seeing guys like Ben Griffiths and David Astbury, who I played against in the TAC Cup, walking around in their Richmond gear and that jealousy filled my desire to become part of the club. Truthfully, I was still bitter about not being drafted and I tried to remind myself of the chance I had to make the dream become a reality.”
And in an instant the key defender was facing yet another bump in the road with injury — an all too common story in his career.
Following being selected by the Tigers, Grimes was forced to immediately deal with a severe condition.
“In my first season I was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis, which is a genetic disorder that affects swelling in certain joints around your body, and one of those joints was my eye. I was playing a game with Coburg and felt like I’d been punched in the eye,” Grimes recalled.
“It was a bizarre injury. I also got really sore in my lower back and that led to me spending quite a while on the sidelines before they diagnosed me with the condition.
“Luckily the treatment process was rather straight-forward. Just add that to the list of injuries I struggled with in the early days!”
Over the journey, the football club has invested a lot to get his body right. They sent Grimes to Germany to see a world-leading doctor for soft tissue injuries. Getting access to an incredible wealth of knowledge was surreal, but it didn’t prevent what was to come later.
Unfortunately, soft tissue injuries would feel like a regular occurrence for Grimes as he battled stress fractures in his foot and hamstring niggles in the coming years.
“I don’t know if there’s an AFL player who has had both his hamstring tendons operated on. In fact, after the fourth time I injured one of them in the same spot, I went in for surgery and they found a hole in my hamstring tendon. It was almost like an ear-piercing hole.
“After I had both those surgeries I’ve only had a small hamstring hiccup.”
So now it appears Grimes has put all of those problems behind him in 2017, playing all 20 games in the Tigers’ season so far. A feat he had never previously accomplished.
“This year is only one of four years in my career where I’ve played more than 15 games. It’s great to be out there and to get to this point injury free. To be where I am — finally playing every game in a season and with finals not far away — I couldn’t be happier with where things are at.”