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The youthful 30-year-old

I didn’t come from your traditional path to footy. I didn’t play TAC Cup so I never really thought I’d play one AFL game let alone 100.

I started playing junior footy when I was six to play with my mates because all my friends from school were playing.

That all feels so long ago.

My senior football took me to Langwarrin Football Club, and then eventually to Frankston in the VFL.

After spending three seasons in the VFL, my life changed dramatically overnight.

But before I get to that, it’s important to discuss what proceeded.

At the end of my last season at Langwarrin, I received a call from the coach at Frankston and he told me to come down and have a run in the pre-season. I was keen to go down because it was a chance to play in a more professional environment than in local football.

I suppose you could say that I went there with an attitude that I had nothing to lose.

The opportunity to play against AFL players who were playing reserves in the VFL was certainly appealing.

The thought of playing AFL entered my thinking in my second year in the VFL when I was about 23 years old. A couple of weeks before the draft in 2010, I got a call from a recruiter at Collingwood that showed some interest.

It came out of the blue and shocked me a little bit, I hadn’t even nominated for the draft at that stage but it eventually amounted nothing. It’s interesting to think back now but that interest can definitely put a bit of pressure on you because you want to play well to enhance your chances of getting drafted.

It’s a pretty tough life when you’re laboring on plumbing sites but also trying to play a good level of football. When you have a job that is your primary source of income, it makes football just a hobby and something that’s in the periphery. After work it’s a bit more social and a release.

To be completely committed to working long hours and then training three nights a week, you have to weigh up how much you enjoy it and how much you think it’s worth it. If it’s becoming too hard then you’re probably better off looking somewhere else to play footy. I enjoyed the challenge of playing hard and seeing where it took me.

A lot of players get drafted from the VFL now, so that light at the end of the tunnel is a motivation for many, especially those that play at an AFL-aligned VFL club.

I wasn’t 100 percent sure that Essendon would select me in 2011, but the conversations I had were positive and I remained hopeful that they’d pick me.

I was at work when the draft took place, so I was listening on the radio and waiting for the picks to be updated. I was getting calls from people who seemed to know I was taken before I even did, and then I was on the phone to James Hird. I put the tools down and I was off to the Gold Coast that day for a training camp.

It was so surreal, I didn’t know what to do or what to expect.

A lot of hard work goes into that moment. You sacrifice so much so when it actually happens, there’s a million things running through your mind.

My phone was flooded with calls from family and friends. Knowing that I was going to get a chance on an AFL list was satisfying.

When I first got to the club I realised how hard it was going to be to crack it for a game.

You’re competing against 40-odd other players and we had a good team in 2012.

We started the season strongly and I was on the rookie list, so you’re waiting on form and injury to get a shot. I played some good footy in the VFL and the senior team started to get some injuries toward the end of the year, and a few long-term injuries led to me playing the last seven games and showed a few signs which helped me to get a contract for the next year.

You become a bit more comfortable at the level once you get through the first 20-30 games.

The first two years I played 28 games in total and competed hard but didn’t feel comfortable at that level.

In my third pre-season, I got a lot fitter and stronger started to feel influential in the team. Having a few pre-seasons behind you is invaluable.

It’s about understanding what is happening in the game and being more influential on the field because you understand the strategy and how things work.

There’s a lot of pressure and scrutiny on AFL players, and I have taken a bit of time to adjust to the media coverage.

All of that stuff aside, I find it really enjoyable to come to training every day and hang out with 44 mates. There’s never a day I wake up and feel as if I can’t be bothered, but when you’re out there in the workforce you can have those feelings quite often.

I never take things for granted because I’ve experienced both.

My football journey has been interesting, and if I could sum it up I’d say that there’s been some low points like going through the supplements scandal for a big part of my career. My teammates getting suspended was tough because I felt for them.

There’s also been some tremendous highs. In my first couple of seasons we had a good side and it was fantastic to play in a final in 2014 which we were unlucky to lose. I really want to get back to that stage and that motivates me greatly.

This season has felt like a fresh start. The media coverage has purely been based on our football for the first time in a long time, rather than what has been going on outside.

Even though I’m now 30, I don’t feel like a normal 30-year-old who has faced 11 pre-seasons.

I feel fit and that I have a lot left in me. Hopefully there’s more good football to come.