It was a phone call that caught Ben Long by total surprise.
After the deal to bring Bradley Hill to RSEA Park was signed off last October, the triple-Premiership Hawk and former Docker rang Long and asked if he'd like to join he and fiancé Sam in their new home in Melbourne’s south-east.
The future Saints met almost 10 years ago through Long’s cousin, Cyril Rioli, becoming closer after the 16-year-old Long followed in Rioli’s footsteps and moved from the Top End to Victoria to take the first steps in his budding AFL career.
“I thought it was awesome, I looked up to Cyril and looked up to Bradley when I used to follow the Hawks when I was quite a bit younger,” Long explains.
“It was quite special that he asked me to live with him and Sam for a few months, he’s boosted my confidence and feel he’s always caring for me.”
Thanks to a new partnership with Dare Iced Coffee and R U OK?, we’re here to discuss the importance of staying connected and leaning on each other for support, especially in these incredibly difficult circumstances in Victoria.
After crossing the Nullarbor in a multi-day expedition by car before the 2019 pre-season, it didn’t take long for Hill to take his new teammate under his wing.
Their seven months together has helped Long enjoy his career-best season across his customary half-back, while Hill has grown as a leader off the back of their tight-knit friendship.
“I fully take credit for what he’s be able to do on the field… and I remind him of it all the time,” Hill laughs.
“There’s a lot of boys at the club but you always have your ones that you’re a little bit closer with. It was good coming to the club and knowing Longy and living with him, it made the move a lot easier and it was awesome having him there.
“I’ve got a good connection with Bradley now,” Long adds.
“I love playing footy with him and I’m always happy around him, so that’s a good thing."
Chilled, laid-back and always up for a laugh or two, it’s just the way the pair like it.
Away from the track up in Noosa, Long is an avid fisherman – as he’s been all his life growing up in Darwin – while Hill can often be found surfing or taking photos along the shore.
“Back at home Longy would get the guitar out and he’ll be singing and I’ll just be sitting there and recording him,” Hill laughs.
“We’ll do those little things, muck around on the PlayStation and all that, and you don’t really think about footy and you can get away from it.
“When you’re away from footy is when you get to relax a bit more.”
"That’s what I’m trying to show the younger boys, to just enjoy the game and have fun along the way with all the opportunities or curveballs it throws at you."
2020 has thrown its fair share of those.
It's been a difficult year for many with ongoing lockdowns and social isolation for health measures, particularly for those in Victoria.
“I feel like it’s important to be in contact with your friends and checking in them and seeing how they’re going, not just asking ‘how are you?’, but asking a bit more and actually see how everything’s going,” Hill says.
“I always FaceTime my friends so they probably get a little annoyed, but I feel when you have that connection and get to see them it can really help.
“Obviously it’s a tough time in the world at the moment, and I feel if you can spend a bit of time talking to your friends and chatting to them a few times a week it’s really helpful for everyone."