At the start of the year, my only goal was to have a single AFL game to my name.
I definitely didn’t that would come in Round 1, and I absolutely didn’t think that I’d be lucky enough to line up for another six in my first season at the club.
It was an exciting year and a challenging one too, but it certainly had its fun. Playing games in front of thousands of fans is something I’d always dreamed of, but obviously had never experienced before. Debuting on a Friday night at a packed Marvel Stadium against Collingwood certainly reminds you that you’re not dreaming.
The roar from the crowd at every contest, the heat on the ball and the intensity was even more than I could have ever expected. I haven’t played a game at the ‘G like Marcus has, but far out, I can only imagine what that would be like with fans packing the aisles.
It had been a dream of mine to play since I was a little kid. I was shocked when I got the news – sure, I had a bit of a sniff that I would be a half-chance – but it still hits you just as hard when Ratts gives you the news a few days out and before you know it, you’re pulling on the jumper for the very first time.
While the result didn’t go our way in the end and it won’t go down as the most memorable of debuts, it was definitely a night I’ll never forget.
‘Play like a man’
You get a lot of people who are willing to take you under their wing when you first walk through the door.
Getting to shadow Jack Steele in the pre-season and do a ton of work with Seb Ross has been massive for me. It was because of them that I was even in the conversation for our season opener, and I’ve learned so much from them over the past few months, not only on how to play the game, but what it takes to be a footballer in so many different areas.
The best bit of advice I got though was from one of our Assistant Coaches, Brendon Lade. He told me that I had to “play like a man” and not like a boy. It did a lot for me. You can kind of go into your shell a bit in your first year and you almost automatically pull back a little bit because you’re the new kid on the block, but when Ladey gave me that advice it gave me a lot more aggression and confidence to attack it head-on.
Running out with your best mate
Making my debut was a pretty unreal moment, but Round 11 against the Roos I reckon just about takes the cake for my best memory from the year.
I managed to kick my first goal, reckon it was up there with my best games for the season, but I also got to do it alongside my best mate, Marcus Windhager, which made it all the more special.
Being drafted to the same club was unbelievable – it’s hard to believe that was almost a year ago – but it doesn’t really come close to actually playing an AFL game together.
It was unreal to play with Marcus in my first year and it was so exciting for us that we finally got to run out together. He’d been in the side every week since Round 4 at that point, and I was hoping the day would finally roll around where we’d both be out in the middle of the ground in Saints colours.
We grew up together, played in the same footy and basketball teams and also went to the same primary school, so I’ve always had a good connection with him. I think it definitely helped us on the field know each other were on the field and each other’s strengths, and the off-field friendship took care of itself.
I was pretty lucky to already know Marcus and Max Heath well, but I’ve also become good mates with all the first-year players and a few of the older boys like Hunter, Paton and Ro. All the boys have been really good though and have made it very easy to come into the club.
Getting through the rough patches and looking ahead
Being a first-year player comes with its fair share of high-points, but you’re not immune to the lows, as I found out at about the halfway mark.
It was definitely challenging after not being able to play for three weeks after being concussed against the Lions, and then missing another two with COVID-19.
It was frustrating from that perspective and it was especially tricky when there wasn’t a set date on when I could return to footy, but I managed to come out the other side and play a couple of games in the second half of the year.
It’s hard to pinpoint one big lesson from the year, as I learned so much about what it takes to be an AFL player. There’s absolutely the on-field, professional side but then all the tactics, craft and mental side of footy I all took valuable learnings from.
Net year, I want to work on my kicking and cleanliness with the footy and build up my quick hands. I just want to keep getting better and hopefully play every game next season. It sounds a bit ambitious, but it’s one I’m pretty keen to see out.
Getting to do what I love as a job for the whole year was something I loved doing and building connections and friends at the club was the same is something I don’t think I’ll ever take for granted.
Who knows what 2023 will bring, but if that’s the driving force behind me, I’m hoping that with a lot of hard work, that will pay off big-time.