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The Long Road to Geelong

Hamish McIntosh couldn’t have asked for a better start to 2014.

After playing just eight games in the past three seasons due to serious knee and leg injuries, the former North Melbourne ruckman has played in back-to-back wins with Geelong, and all of a sudden looks to have plenty of good footy left in him. The achilles and ACL injuries that had plagued him from 2011 look to be a thing of the past. Few would’ve been bold enough to predict he would make such a return, least of all the big man himself.

“It was definitely a long grind and a long time between drinks – between my last game at North Melbourne and my first at Geelong,” McIntosh told in the lead-up to his second game back.

“But all the hard work I put in the last couple of years was definitely worth it. It was an amazing experience to be playing again and to get that winning feeling, being in the circle with the boys singing the song.”

“That was pretty much all I was thinking about; what’s next in life?” – Hamish McIntosh

From a casual observer’s point of view, McIntosh’s return to the game has been seamless. He’s had 46 hit-outs and 27 disposals in the opening two matches of 2014, and has slotted into the side without a hitch. But McIntosh makes it clear his road to recovery was far from easy, and says there were many occasions where he questioned whether he’d ever get back to playing.

“Mentally, it was incredibly challenging,” he admits.

“I’d come home after training some days and be sore in different spots of my body and would be breaking down again at training, so I was unsure whether I’d be able to get back to AFL. You’ve just got to stay strong, so I did that and worked really hard on my rehab, exercises and did everything I had to do and was as professional as possible to get my body back to give it every chance to play AFL.”

It was a long and arduous process. McIntosh admits it’s “frustrating” how many people don’t realise how difficult recovering from a serious injury can be.

“I love AFL footy, and I want to play footy. I’m passionate about it; I love the game and love everything that comes with it,” he says.

“I love being with my teammates and getting to experience those wins and playing for success. Not being able to do that for a couple of years has been incredibly frustrating, and to think that people don’t see that [is tough].

“They just think you go in there and… I’m not sure what they think rehab is, you train for an hour, and then you leave? I’m not sure what they think. But with rehab, it’s long days, it’s mentally and physically frustrating because you want your body to do stuff and it can’t sometimes.”

“Your days can be long, and there are so many exercises and training you’ve got to do to get your body right. It’s a hard life in rehab – it’s probably a life that supporters and other people don’t see what you really do.”

While supporters mightn’t have a complete understanding of how difficult the rehab process is, McIntosh says those within club-land are well aware and are incredibly supportive.

“I had a lot of support from my past teammates at North Melbourne. They were always wondering how I was going and a couple of my closest mates are there and were a great support. I had great support at the Geelong Footy Club as well – the staff there and the players made me feel really welcome last year when they realised I was finding it tough at times when I wasn’t playing or training.”

If there was a positive in his time out of the game, it was that McIntosh was able to make valuable use of his spare time. Specifically, the 203cm Cat was able – or perhaps forced – to start planning for life after footy.

“At times I thought my body wasn’t going to allow me to come back, so that was pretty much all I was thinking about; what’s next in life, what’s it going to involve? In saying that, I was always committed to getting my body right, to come back to play AFL footy, but it also did help me prepare for life after footy.”

McIntosh has no shortage of career options, having already ventured down a number of different career pathways.

“We did a Diploma of Management through the football club – a few of the boys did. This year we’re doing an Advanced Diploma of Management. I’m about to start work experience at Stride Sports Management and do a day there a week and learn the caper as well.”

On top of all that, he’s already got half a decade’s worth of coaching experience under his belt.

“I’ve done coaching for the last 4-5 years. I’ve worked with Northern Knights, Vic Metro and a few other programs,” he says.

“And now that I’m doing this course I’ve decided to experience something else in the industry and am looking forward to seeing what player management has to offer. I’m not sure if it’s what I’ll want to do when I finish footy, but I’m definitely excited to see what it entails.”

After a couple of years where nothing seemed to go his way, it seems like the tide has turned for McIntosh.

“I feel like I’m quite prepared now to make that transition into my career post-football, whenever that is – hopefully it’s not for a few years yet. But I feel with what I’ve done now I’m really comfortable off-field with where I’m heading and I’m comfortable with where I’m heading on-field with my football.”

“I’m quite prepared now to make that transition into my career post-football, whenever that is” – McIntosh

Given the quality of players surrounding him in the centre square at Geelong, it’s no surprise McIntosh feels he’s in a good place with his football.

“It starts with Joel, who’s a fantastic leader and goes all the way down,” McIntosh says of Geelong’s renowned culture.

“Jimmy Bartel, Stevie Johnson – they demand success and want to be winners. They drill that through the playing group and won’t accept anything less.”

It’s a playing group that has achieved great things in recent years, but McIntosh is reluctant to look too far ahead. The old footy cliché of ‘taking things one week at a time’ is one the former Kangaroo is now forced to live by.

“In terms of my goals, I’ve really had to wind them back,” he explains.

“With the amount of footy I’ve missed, I don’t look too far in advance now.”

As a result of his injuries, McIntosh’s outlook on footy, and life, has changed.

“I look forward to what each week presents and the challenges they bring. I just cherish every game.”