Escaping the cold
With our bye coming up, my girlfriend Kate and I headed back to Byron Bay, where we’ve been something like seven or eight times, starting with my first off-season in AFL footy.
It’s a great place to just cruise, to escape the cold of Melbourne and forget about – if only for a brief few days – those freezing morning training sessions and mid-winter night matches.
We love Byron. The people are laidback and you can just kick around town in bare feet. Everyone’s really friendly, the food is so fresh, the scenery is beautiful.
The surrounding areas up in the hinterland, around Bangalow and some of the waterfalls we love exploring – it’s a pretty special place.
Maybe best of all, no one up here cares about footy. It’s our place to escape and refresh before heading back, rugging up and getting stuck into it again.
Keeping a relaxed and laidback approach to life is probably a product of the environment I grew up in at Leongatha, down in South Gippsland. Dad was a builder, Mum was doing interior furnishing and each ran their own business.
They always gave my brothers and I great support and we’ve all stayed very close. My little brother plays in our VFL team at Essendon and is like a best mate to me.
Growing up in country Victoria was a lot of fun and we were lucky to have a stable home life. We’d go water skiing up in Echuca and camping on the Murray or over at Wilsons Prom.
We were all heavily involved in local sports, as you do in the country, and had plenty of mates. I even enjoyed school and, despite not being a super ‘braniac’, I did pretty well.
Another way in which I was probably pretty fortunate was that it wasn’t a huge shock for me when it was time to come to Melbourne to start my footy career.
I’d played a fair bit of basketball in the city, in representative sides, so the adjustment of being away from family and friends – and Kate, who was still in school in my first year of footy – was something that took a little while but I got used to without too much hassle.
Football was enjoyable but I was never a big superstar and ‘making it’ to the big time wasn’t the be-all and end-all for me. Maybe that took a little bit of the pressure off at that early stage of my career.
Basketball had been my main sport, but I got to about 16, stopped growing and everyone overtook me. That was my hint to give it away, though I still love the game, loving mucking around on a court and follow the 76ers in the NBA.
Of course, everyone reckons I’ve jumped on the bandwagon because of Ben Simmons, but I’m full noise. Ben’s a Bombers man, after all.
Harrison’s a ripper
Stability has been a consistent theme for me. It’s something I never take for granted. I’ve been so lucky with my relationship with Kate.
We’ve been together since I was going into Year 12, when I was 17. She’s been through all the ups and downs with me. It’s been amazing to have someone so supportive with me throughout.
Kate has just finished her Masters in Speech Pathology and is heading back to do a degree in nutrition as well. She’s pretty switched on.
She’s also very passionate about the environment and about helping people. She’s very charity-minded and has inspired me to take an interest in how I can use my position to improve the lives of others.
One avenue I’ve gone down in that way was to become an ambassador for Scleroderma Victoria. My grandmother passed away from scleroderma, which is an autoimmune disease that attacks major organs in the body. It’s quite a rare condition that’s not heavily publicised.
There’s a little tacker named Harrison, who I met through my work in that role. He’s a little ripper.
A couple of years ago they said to me, ‘We’ve got this little fella called Harrison who loves his Bombers’. He was keen to come and watch us train. I met him there but he was hiding from me because he was so shy.
By the second time we saw each other he was running up and jumping all over me. It’s been great since then and we’ve built a really nice relationship. I’ve loved catching up with him.
Harrison’s so bubbly, yet here is this six-year-old kid who’s battling this condition that could take his life at any moment. It’s unbelievable.
We get caught up in the hard times in footy and silly things that happen like being potted for smiling after a loss. But then I catch up with someone like Harrison and nothing else matters.