After 13 years, 165 games and a premiership, retiring Collingwood swingman Tyson Goldsack reflects on the highs and lows of his AFL career, presented by Pickstar.
If I think back to before I was drafted in 2007, I didn’t really follow the AFL closely.
That’s not to say I didn’t love football, but my focus was on my local club: the Pakenham Lions.
Saturday’s were spent there as a boundary umpire, running water or manning the scoreboard. It didn’t matter what I was doing, weekends were about local footy.
It was never in my thoughts to think I would then go on to play 13 years in the AFL.
As my career has to come to an end and the crazy ride that was my football journey begins to wind down, it’s pretty special to reflect on what I’ve been able to learn and achieve.
The life lessons that I have been privy to throughout my career was probably never something I had actually considered before playing.
Playing professional football you learn about yourself, the resilience that you build and what you can put your body through – both mentally and physically. I’ll take those lessons with me outside of football and hopefully they will hold me in good stead into retirement.
As for making the decision to retire, well your body generally tells you when you’re ready to go but, for me, it was probably a little bit before that when I made the decision to hang up the boots.
With my wife Chelsea and two daughters (Harriet and Cleo) at the forefront of my mind, it was time to make a decision to progress into life after football and the timing felt right.
After the 2018 Grand Final, Chelsea and I were discussing whether or not I should play on or call it. With the result of 2018 falling so short, it felt right to go around once more.
Although this year was frustrating and didn’t really turn out the way I had wanted, it was nice to be able to round off the relationships I had made through football and embrace everything that football has been able to offer my family and I.
I’m only a couple of months out of the game but if I had my time again I would want to trust in my own ability as a player more. There was always a seed of doubt in my mind about whether or not I had actually earned my spot in the side.
If I had more confidence in my ability from the word go then I think that I may have enjoyed the roller-coaster of my career more.
Even when I had solidified a spot in the team, selection time still made me nervous. I thought there was always the possibility I would get dropped and the anxiety associated with that was, at times, consuming.
If I didn’t have that performance anxiety hanging over my head and had the freedom to be myself, I think aspects of my career – especially around Thursday night selection – would have been easier to embrace.
A contributing factor is probably the fact I never did things by the book!
When I reflect on 2010, in particular the premiership, it was a unique time.
At the time, and almost still to this day, that was the hardest week of my football career followed by one of the most satisfying.
To play in a preliminary final against Geelong and then be dropped for the Grand Final, was disappointing.
The first game against St Kilda was brutal – a physically and mentally-draining contest.
Standing in the rooms after that game with ‘Tarks’ (Tarkyn Lockyer), Cameron Wood and myself, knowing we had another chance was an incredibly strange feeling.
We left the MCG that day and headed straight for the Holden Centre going hell for leather on the treadmills to try and get some fitness back into our legs.
I didn’t know if Mick was going to make a change but I had to give myself the best chance to earn a recall if he did.
To get another chance in a situation that will never occur again presented a challenging opportunity. I knew the lows Leon Davis would feel losing his spot, but I also had to embrace the opportunity to run out on the biggest day in the AFL calendar.
Looking back now, despite the volatility of the fortnight, the bond we have as a team because of that win is incredibly special and makes everything worth it.
I’ll cherish my place in the 2010 team for forever.
Football isn’t always about those moments though and a career is never without its challenges.
I knew that feeling as a player who struggled to cement their spot in Collingwood’s best 22, but I was also reminded of how tough the game can be at times when I tore my ACL in our JLT Community Series pre-season game against the Western Bulldogs in 2018.
At the time I didn’t know the damage I had done. I sat on the bench thinking I’d be right for our Round 1 game against Hawthorn, but the MRI scan confirmed that wouldn’t be the case.
In the moment of it happening and finding out I’d be facing a year on the sidelines, I tried to think of the positives. My doctor even shared a story about how (Winter Olympic gold medalist and former Pies board member) Alisa Camplin returned from an ACL injury after just 16 weeks.
Although our sports are different, knowing it was possible meant I wasn’t going to put any limits on my ability to return to the field that same season.
I had the drive, I just needed the plan to be in place.
Mapping out my recovery involved a criteria sheet with stages and key dates for each phase.
When my rehabilitation coordinator and strength and conditioning coaches presented that to me the first thing I did was remove the timelines.
I didn’t want any limits on what I could (or couldn’t) achieve.
Some of the gym sessions I was doing were unfathomable but returning for the Grand Final wouldn’t have been possible without the support of Collingwood’s strength manager Adam Paulo, strength and conditioning coordinator Dean Filopolous and rehabilitation coordinator Ben Shipperd. I could thank countless medical staff, but these three were pivotal in my ability to return for the finals series.
Whenever I wanted to do a gym session they were there by my side and tailoring every aspect of my rehabilitation to how I was progressing and what stage I was at.
Rehab and time away from the main group can be incredibly isolating and mentally challenging, but with the support of ‘Ads’ and ‘Deano’ I was able to get through.
We created playlists where we would vote songs on or off and top five challenges where we would list our top five of a particular category.
Having those moments every session, which don’t sound like much, made for a personalized experience that allowed me to get through.
However, like with all rehabilitation there came a point where it began to feel like a grind. In that time I was fortunate enough to visit Europe with ‘Chels’ and Harriet to clear our mind and enjoy a European summer.
In that three week trip I clocked over 250,000 steps – in part because of the stairs in Positano.
But that holiday was crucial in helping me to continue my rehab while also giving me a mental break away from the gym.
I returned for the second half of the season with a renewed energy and the dangling carrot of finals to keep me motivated.
Remarkably, five months later I was deemed fit to play my first game of football.
To return for the finals was a monumental achievement.
I had played two VFL games before the Qualifying Final against West Coast, both of which were pretty ordinary from an individual perspective, but importantly my body felt right.
You can do all this training and match simulation but it’s not the same as playing and you’ll never know how your body will hold up with unexpected hits and movement.
I felt good enough to try to plead my case with ‘Bucks’ (Collingwood coach Nathan Buckley) and was lucky enough to return for the game in Perth.
Despite the loss, to be able to run out with my teammates again in what had been an emotional time for the club was incredibly special.
The month flowed on from there and, according to Bucks, I was playing good enough footy to hold my spot.
The result in the Grand Final was of course disappointing and not what you set out to achieve, but in years to come I think I’ll be able to reflect on that game and it won’t be as raw and painful as it feels right now.
At the end of the day football comes down to wins and losses, but reflecting beyond that there are aspects of my career I am incredibly proud of.
For me, it was never about kicks and marks because I didn’t get that many and, to be honest, would have always been left wanting more.
I wanted my career to be about the legacy I left the game with.
I always had the thought that I wanted to leave the game behind having everyone feel that they’re a better person having been able to play alongside me.
I was never going to win a Brownlow Medal or the individual accolades that decorate so many careers, but I was more than OK with that because I wanted to be a team player.
I was fortunate enough to win a premiership, which I hold very dearly, but more than that the friendships I formed and the trust I built with my teammates is something I won’t forget.
Before you find your football career coming to an end, be sure to utilise your time in the game to learn as much as you can about yourself and the people around you. The better understanding you have, the greater team experience your football will bring.
The last few months has been overwhelming as people have wrapped their arms around me and shown their support as I enter the next phase of my life.
To my wife Chels, thank you for keeping it real and to my girls, Harriet and Cleo, thank you for being my world.
To the Collingwood Football Club, Collingwood members and supporters, the wider AFL community and everyone who has been part of my football journey, thank you.
It’s been a magical position to be in for the better part of 13 years and one that I’ll miss dearly.
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