From the Northern Territory, to Victoria, back to the Northern Territory, on to Western Australia and finally to New South Wales. Wade Derksen’s road trip around Australia was fuelled by determination and has culminated in his ultimate dream – a spot on an AFL list.
Derksen describes his route to the AFL as “a real adventure,” and couldn’t be more thankful that it all paid off when the Giants selected him with pick number five in the AFL Mid-Season Rookie Draft last month.
“I’m very, very fortunate. I haven’t played a great deal of footy over the last four years so to end up on a list, I just feel so lucky,” Derksen said.
The 21-year-old’s unconventional path to the AFL had its fair share of roadblocks, from a global pandemic, a slate of injuries and four interstate moves – all of which Derksen navigated whilst finding his feet as a new father.
His sporting journey began in Darwin but surprisingly, didn’t commence with a Sherrin in hand.
“It’s a town where the focus isn’t predominantly footy and I actually started off playing rugby,” he explained.
“Me and most of my mates played all sorts of sports but I guess when you get to a certain age, you’ve got to choose which pathway you want to go down if sport is your desire in life.”
Derksen ultimately followed his family’s footsteps, opting for Australian Rules and playing for the Nightcliff Tigers in the Northern Territory Football League (NTFL) – the club where his father, Mark, played 200 games.
It wasn’t long before Derksen set his sights on the next step toward his AFL dream, moving to Victoria where he was picked up by Essendon’s VFL program after a stint with the Sunbury Lions in the Ballarat Football League.
A “bumpy road” ensued, with COVID striking just months after his move. A string of minor injuries kept him off the field when the rare opportunity to play football did present itself, limiting Derksen to just one single game for the Bombers.
But in a time that was difficult for so many, there was a focus far greater than footy.
“It was tough but at the same time, we’d just had my young fella so there was that to think about.
“I was a fresh father and just learning how to be a Dad so that was my priority at the time.”
Perspective off-field provided motivation for Derksen and his partner, Deika, who were able to narrow their focus and set goals for their young family.
Having completed his electrical apprenticeship during the lengthy Melbourne lockdowns, Derksen’s attention once more shifted back to football.
He travelled home to the Northern Territory, but the stay would just be a stopover, with an opportunity in the West Australian Football League (WAFL) re-routing his family to Perth.
Peel Thunder was the destination, where Derksen went on to play six games before catching the eyes of recruiters ahead of the Mid-Season Rookie Draft.
“It was hard because I was told by my coaches at Peel Thunder not to expect too much just in case it didn’t happen,” he said.
“In saying that, I had interviews with 14 or 15 different clubs, so it felt like there was a fair bit of interest.”
Having been granted an exemption to nominate for the draft, Derksen only had to wait until pick number five to start planning his move to his fifth state in two years, after being selected by the Giants.
It was a night that Derksen won’t soon forget, spent at his home away from home.
“We don’t have any family in WA, so we were just at mate’s house. My partner and my son were there and about ten of my mates.
“It was a really special night.”
The move from Western Australia to New South Wales has been a significant one, with Derksen still waiting on a few possessions to arrive in the harbour town – most notably, his car.
But the support he has received from his new club and teammates has been second to none, from his stay with Harry Perryman and Brent Daniels when he flew into the state, to his temporary chauffeur to and from training, Isaac Cumming.
“It’s been a big move and it’s taken a little while to get all my stuff over but I’m fortunate enough to have good people around me who have helped me,” he said.
“I’m settling in really well; the club has been really supportive and I’m starting to create really good relationships.”
Given the circumstances of the past two years, it’s unsurprising that Derksen’s football goals are relatively simple.
“I just want to be playing footy, week in and week out.
“When I get my chance to shine, hopefully at AFL level, I want to take it.”
Having now come to terms with the surreal feeling of standing next to the players he sat and watched on television, Derksen is ready to give everything to the club who has given him a chance – whether that’s forward, back or in the ruck.
“I can’t thank the Giants enough and I’ll be doing everything I can to repay the favour.”
With six goals in his first two matches for the club’s VFL side and named the travelling emergency for the Giants’ clash with Collingwood last week, that chance may be right on the horizon.