Ahead of Collingwood’s preliminary final against the GWS Giants this weekend, Magpies midfielder Tom Phillips spoke to AFLPlayers.com.au about finals, playing your role and thinking outside the box.
Kavisha Di Pietro: Tom, the Pies are in their second consecutive preliminary final this weekend. What has the energy around the club been like now that most of the group know what to expect?
Tom Phillips: It’s been pretty good! This year there’s a different sense of calm because we know what we’re getting ourselves into a bit more. The health of our list and guys being able to come back and train ahead of the game is really positive. We’ve had our issues with injury throughout the season, but as a group we’re starting to come good at the right time. Having one less game (than what we played last year) will hopefully make a difference in our favour. At times we’ve seen teams coming off the bye and not performing that well, but we’re hoping that we can overcome that challenge on the weekend. I expect we’ll have the legs to play out the game really well but the start is going to be critical. We’re definitely much more prepared this year for what it takes in finals football compared to last year when a lot of our list was new to it. I’m quietly confident in the way we go about it that when there is a job to be done, we’ll get it done come 4:35pm on Saturday.
You had a career-high 24 kicks against Geelong in the Qualifying Final. Does that come down to confidence in your own ability to be able to find space out on the ground?
Did I? (laughs). If there’s space and the ability to go forward and take territory I’ll try to use that. Finding space is a strong part of our game – we don’t like to muck around with the ball too much. When I’ve got total confidence in my ability I tend to kick well and that’s when I can be my most damaging. In saying that, I think everyone is playing their role, not just me, this year. That’s how it is – we play our role. I’m sure the phrase ‘playing your role’ would be floated around much more often than not. With football not everyone is going to be able to be at their best every week, but if you want to win as a team it’s about what happens now in finals time. It’s about the team success and glory. Each of us might bring some individual success and glory at different times, but it’s going to be about finding that balance between playing your role and taking it upon yourself to do your best for the betterment of the team. For me and my game personally, if I can play my role then I think that’ll put me in a good position. I want to use my strengths and if I’m not in the right spots or I’m not doing the team thing, in relation to positioning, then I’m not playing my role and I’m also not going to really get an opportunity to show my flash and show my dare, which I think are big parts of my game. With one, comes the other.
How did travelling last off-season to developing countries and working with your family’s foundation, The Phillips Foundation, help you to gain perspective in life and football following the Grand Final loss?
The last few off-seasons I’ve been lucky enough to do a bit of travel for a few weeks and go to different places. I’m not apprehensive or fearful of any particular places in the world – I don’t read into it too much. There are a lot of dangerous parts of the world to travel to but I’ve got a real passion to step outside of my comfort zone and see as much of the world as possible. For me, if you can have a bit of balance with that and not just do your ‘regular’ trips then I think those risks help you to understand more about yourself. Whether that’s going somewhere that’s a bit unknown or to somewhere where people aren’t as privileged as we are here in Australia. That’s my personal preference and everyone is different but this really helps me to get outside of football. People connect with different things in life and different people. I want to see as much of the world and make as many connections as possible while also having a social impact. That’s what it’s about for me. People come and go all the time from a football club and it’s our life right now while we are inside these four walls, but you never know when your career is going to end. Whilst living this life I think you also really need to make the most of it. You’re in the public eye as a player and people love watching football so it’s about how else you can work on other parts of your life to help you maximise your time in the game and those moments after it. We’re not going to be playing forever and so it’s about making the most of it. Travel does that for me.
Do you think your ability to think outside the box a little bit helps you balance your work with your life away from football?
Absolutely! For me, thinking outside the box and having different things that are on my mind – travel, business, family, friends – helps me to think about my life after football. Being in my fourth season I feel pretty comfortable that when I come into work I know what is expected of me in terms of training and nutrition. When I go home each night I’m able to think about things outside of work – it doesn’t have to be football 100 per cent of the time. It takes time to get to that stage but once you do it helps you to not be so narrow-minded and focused on football. It allows me to come in here to the club each day feeling refreshed and ready to focus on whatever ‘Bucks’ (Nathan Buckley) and the other coaches want me to work on. If I’m away from the club and thinking about all the things I have to do when I come in for training the next day, it’s detrimental to my mental health and my performance. It all connects at the end of the day. So for me, if I can connect with more things outside of football, but at the same time also have a balance between not trying to do too much away from the field, then I think I’ll be able to perform at my best. I’m almost on the side of the spectrum where instead of doing too little I’m probably thinking about doing too much away from the field. I think as I get older, I’ll start to understand that balance a little bit more.
Speaking of activities outside of football, talk me through your popular Instagram Live videos with Brodie Grundy…
Brodie and I have a lot of great conversations here at work, out on the training track and away from this environment. We have fairly deep conversations and think quite similarly as well. He’s a terrific guy and the way he conducts himself is similar to myself and the way I want to go about it. He’s a like-minded individual and so we wanted to expand those conversations to get more reach and chat with individuals who are also engaged and think in a similar way to us. It wasn’t about just getting Collingwood fans on-board, but also people who wanted to listen in and gain a different understanding of the world and join in on our daily conversations. I love learning and understanding things and this provided a really great way for us to keep learning. Brodie and I bounce things off each other and ‘Two Birds, One Phone’ is a show that started up as a result of that this year. It’s sporadic, it’s not segmented and the nature of it being live gives us an unpredictable platform – that’s how we do things. It’s been a bit of a laugh but it also gives us a platform to speak our mind. If we can speak it in a really educational way as well then we’re using Instagram for its best possible purpose. There’s a lot of pros and cons (when using social media) but it’s been great fun.
There are still hopefully two games left for you to play but what do your plans this off-season entail?
I’ll be heading to America for 10 or so days with my family for my Grandpa’s birthday. We’ll have a hit of golf at Pebble Beach and celebrate his birthday milestone. From that point there are still a few things to be planned.
Thanks for the chat Tom, I look forward to hearing what you get up to this off-season.
No worries, thanks Kavisha.