When Tim ‘Bull’ Smith arrived at Etihad Stadium on Saturday afternoon, he was just hours away from living the dream of many kids across the country — an AFL debut.
Following five years of grit and determination in the VFL with the Casey Scorpions, the 26-year-old landed at the Melbourne Football Club on November 28, 2016 with the 25th pick in the 2016 Rookie Draft.
But April 8, 2017 is a day that will carry extra significance in his career.
“For myself, being a bit older, it felt like a real sense of accomplishment,” he told aflplayers.com.au.
“Getting drafted is one thing, but playing a game is when you know that you’ve made your mark and you’re getting really involved in it. I feel that’s a great starting point for myself.”
Having had his patience tested right throughout the journey — moving between the developmental and senior levels of VFL football — Smith knew he couldn’t afford to allow the bright lights of the AFL to get the better of him.
“I didn’t let the situation overawe me. I tried not to take it too seriously,” Smith explained.
“I didn’t want to consume myself too much because I’d be playing the game over in my head 100 times.”
Melbourne fans were introduced to their new man in the 24th minute of the first quarter, as Smith found himself in an all too familiar position, a set shot at goal, his chance to make a mark. After all, the Upper Ferntree Gully premiership player knew exactly where the goals were, having kicked 87 of them at VFL level.
And in an instant, Smith’s smile lit up Etihad.
“I couldn’t believe it. It was the most surreal thing I’ve experienced throughout this journey.”
“I can’t even describe the feeling. It was relief for one, but I just couldn’t believe it, it was a special moment.”
Having achieved a life-long dream in the opening weeks of the season, Smith is open about the challenges that he has to meet.
“I would like to consolidate a spot within the side, I think it’s definitely doable but it’s going to take a lot of hard work and consistency.”
Off-field noise can often be a source of distraction in elite sport, with Smith becoming the subject of exactly that in his first pre-season at the top level. Respected media personnel tipped Smith to have a big impact at the Demons, but he says paying attention to those comments will only have a negative impact.
“If you get caught up in reading what people are writing about you or predicting about you, I think you can become consumed in things that might not even happen.”
“Focusing on what you can do at the time is the biggest thing and that’s the mindset I’m going to have. I can only do, what I can do.”