Hawthorn is one club, many teams, including a wheelchair footy and an AFL Blind team. With lots of time to be spent at home over the coming weeks, we thought it was the perfect time for Hawks fans to learn a little bit more about the players that make up these teams.
Tell us a bit about yourself and what do you do outside of footy?
I'm an ex-PE teacher and now do the odd day of emergency teaching. I fly up to Newcastle quite regularly to help out a mate who lives with Multiple sclerosis. I love to keep fit and active as well. They’re the main things that occupy my time at the moment. Hopefully my volunteer role at Hawthorn can resume this pre-season.
Apart from AFL Blind, what is your connection to Hawthorn?
I came to Hawthorn in 2018 as a volunteer in the footy department. My role was to set up and pack down training, and do anything that was needed like collecting footballs, running drinks and helping the coaches set up drills. Prior to that I was a trainer at three other AFL clubs, Fitzroy and Port Adelaide when they first started in the league and then I spent eight years at Gold Coast when they started up in the league as well. Unfortunately, my role at Hawthorn had to stop due to COVID-19, but fingers crossed I can resume it this coming pre-season.
What made you pursue AFL Blind and how did you get involved?
I first heard of it at the 2019 Peter Crimmins Medal when my now teammate Ned got up to speak about the season. That sowed a bit of a seed for me. Throughout 2020 I found it quite difficult being away from the club and it was until then I really started thinking about the Hawks blind team and started to investigate it. I came down to men’s training on the 30 year celebration of the 1991 flag and talked to members of the clubs community team about the sport. I went to a try out session and was lucky enough to get drafted to Hawthorn.
So, to play AFL Blind you need to have a visual impairment, what is your visual impairment and what are some of the challenges you may face on a daily basis?
I was born blind in my left eye. After neurosurgery 19 years ago, it was discovered that I had a bilateral meningioma in my right optic nerve. Essentially that’s a tumour, and what’s happening is that tumour is slowly constricting the blood vessels of the nerve to the point where it will kill the nerve completely. As a result, I was declared legally blind four years ago. I now have only five degrees field of vision in my right eye which really means I have tunnel vision in that eye. I have next to no peripheral vision so things like crowds are very intimidating to me because people walk from all sorts of directions, and I don’t see them until they’re right in front of me. I tend to walk into a lot of things, I often bump into the corners of my kitchen bench because I have no perception as to how far I'm away from things. I have contrast issues so things like crossing the road I find really difficult as I don’t see silver or grey cars or flashing indicators. My night vision is not good either.
In terms of footy, collisions have more of an impact on me because I don’t often see who me is around. Because of my blindness in my left eye, I have never had 3D perception, so I tend to hit the ground harder because I cant judge how far away I am from the ground. In saying all that, AFL Blind is a game we all play because we have a disability, and we get to show not just ourselves but everyone that despite our limitations there is still so much we can do.
Can you briefly explain how AFL Blind works and what does it mean to you to play?
AFL Blind is a modification of indoor footy played on a roughly 60 by 30 metre synthetic field that is indoors and enclosed. There are three categories of players based off their sight with 6 players allowed on field for both teams. There are even stipulations of how many from each category is on the field. There are also different scoring calculations depending on the category of player. Category A and B players both rely on hearing more than vision, and have modified rules and scoring to make the game more accessible to them. Category C players use traditional scoring and rules that you would see in mainstream AFL. It’s a very quick game because of our vision, the ball is often on the ground more and there isn’t as much kick mark game play that you see in mainstream footy that makes it quite exciting to watch.
There is assisted technology to support players such as a buzzer in the ball, as well as lights and people rattling sound shakers behind the goals so its known where they are. It’s modified to suit people with all types of visual impairment and gives us the opportunity and confidence to play footy.
What do you love most about the game?
Life is about doing what you can with what you have got. This is just another way I can show people and myself that I can play a sport that I am passionate about in a safe and secure environment as I can’t play mainstream footy anymore due to my vision. To me its also significant in building my self confidence and getting so much more out of it like the camaraderie in the team, helping others, putting your trust in others. It's very hard for people with disabilities to put your trust in things and people because you are vulnerable, this being my first year I've had to put a lot of trust in people I didn’t know. There is so much more to this for me besides the enjoyment of the sport, and the thrill of being able to play for the club I've supported since I was a kid.
What did it mean to you when you found out you were drafted to Hawthorn?
It means the world. When I got the call to saying I've been drafted to hawthorn I was absolutely over the moon. I have been a supporter of the club since I was a kid so to pull on the Hawks jumper is enormous. It really means I play for the club which makes me have to pinch myself at times, its amazing.
Do you play any other sports?
I played a lot of sport growing up, footy cricket and soccer as a junior. I travelled a lot in my 20’s so sport got put on the back burner a bit, but I was in London for 10 years and actually played in the British-Australian Football League over there and won a flag for Longwood. I started a pre-season with Hallam in the Veterans competition, but it only took a fractured Tibia to make me realise I was past footy at that stage. I'm a sports nut through and through.
Do you have any heroes or idols that you want to be like?
Sounds funny because I am 15 years older than him, but Shaun Burgoyne. Our working relationship goes back a long way with Shaun, I was with him at Port Adelaide when he first started. What he has done for the game for Hawthorn and for his community makes him a real hero for me. Over coming his body letting him down all those times and proving wrong all the doubters was incredible. Listening to the way he speaks he is so humble about everything and always credits others for his success which makes him a hero to me.
What is your ultimate sporting goal and what is a life goal of yours?
My sporting goal would be to win a premiership with the blind team, as well as enjoying every time I wear the brown and gold. A life goal is to be proud of the person I am on the day I die.
If you could encourage someone going through a similar experience what would you say to them?
A philosophy I have stood by since going legally blind is do what you can with what you have got, I don’t believe in sitting around playing 'poor me'. Don’t die wondering, try new things and if you fail either try it again or accept its beyond your limitations but don’t not do the things you want to do for fear of failure.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected you?
It has been massive, particularly for the work I do up in Newcastle. I got stuck up there last year for four months because NSW shut the borders. Now this year I have been stuck down here for four months because Victoria’s borders are shut so there has been a lot of time away from family and friends. Not being able to work for three months has taken a toll mentally for me. All we can do is see it for what it is and stick fat with the philosophy that there’s always situations that are worse in life and finding the positives is so important, which is why getting drafted to Hawthorn means so much to me.
Hawthorn’s AFL Blind Team is made possible thanks to the support of the club’s new social inclusion partner, Afford. With over 65 years of experience, Afford are one of Australia’s longest serving disability service providers. To find out more, please click here.