At the end of the 2017 season, David Mirra had just about had enough.

Eight seasons with Box Hill had brought Mirra plenty.

He’d become the longest-serving club captain, won a club best and fairest, been named in four VFL team of the years and, most treasured of all, won a VFL premiership in 2013.

But, as so many had found before him, the lure of local football was proving increasingly enticing.

“The closest I came to leaving the VFL for a local club was just before I got drafted,” Mirra says.

“In the off-season leading up to then, I’d had discussions with local clubs, and especially my local club Scoresby, about potentially playing with them in 2018.

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“But then Wrighty rang out of the blue and that changed everything.”

Playing locally had its obvious attraction, offering a “fair bit of cash” and being “half the work load”.

But all of that paled into insignificance after a call from Hawthorn’s list manager.

The then 26-year-old Mirra was working in sports marketing with New Balance, a “great gig” that he loved.

But he was willing to put that aside in a heartbeat for the chance he had worked so hard for for so many years.

This weekend Mirra will become just the sixth player in Box Hill club history, joining Jack Wright (180 games), Keith White (171), Ian Bates (165), John Baker (155) and Vic Lawther (153) to pull on the jumper for the 150th time.

For reference, Lawther, the most recent of the sextet, retired in 1983 – eight years before Mirra was born.

Refreshingly, Mirra is openly, and justifiably, proud of the scale of this accomplishment.

“When you look at it like that, and the fact that the VFL is changing so much – it’s constantly changing and getting harder and harder for players to stick around in the competition and play a lot of games – it’s a pretty big achievement, I guess.”

Across his time in the VFL, Mirra says the biggest change he has seen in the competition is the removal of development league.

He points back to his 2010 development league premiership, playing alongside the likes of Taylor Duryea, Mitch Hallahan and Sam Grimley.

Youngsters at the time, those players were deemed not yet ready for the rigors and demands of senior VFL football.

Instead they did their time, allowing their development to progress at the necessary rate before, fast forward to five years later, and Duryea is a two-time premiership player for the Hawks.

But, despite being a part of an AFL-aligned VFL club, Mirra says he has always found the brown and gold bond to be strong.

“I think the Hawthorn and Box Hill footy clubs have got it right in terms of their alignment and I think they have their goals and objectives right as well.

“(Current Box Hill Coach Max Bailey) says that not even a Hawthorn-listed player’s spot in the side is safe come the back end of the year and I really do believe that.

“If someone is genuinely not pulling their weight and we do need to win these games, unfortunately they’re just going to have to miss it and someone who can play their role better can come in.

“You have to have that mentality towards the back end of the year if you want success, I believe.”

Mirra gets a glint in his eye when talking about this topic.

He’s considered one of the club’s funny guys, but his motivation to play football is unquestionable.

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“As Hawthorn players, we can’t just rest on our laurels and think that it is just going to be an easy ride every week.

“That’s the environment that we’re in – the same goes for the AFL side, so why shouldn’t it be the same for the VFL team?

“Whether it’s an AFL-listed player or VFL-listed, I still think that once we’re there and we’re putting the guernsey on, the only thing is winning and winning a premiership.”

Ultimately this is one of the elements of AFL-aligned state league football that makes it so unique.

Last weekend, in David Mirra’s 149th game for Box Hill, just shy of 80 per cent of the team was AFL-listed, players that spend all week together, training and hanging out together.

The other five are VFL-listed players.

“It makes it really tough for those VFL-listed players who have to train with 30-odd Box Hill teammates on Tuesday and Thursday nights but then play with a completely different 17 other players on the weekend.

“It can be challenging but I guess that’s the landscape of VFL these days, that’s why, in my opinion, it’s so rare to play as many games at the level as I have.”

One could mount a case to argue that no one has ever worked harder to earn their AFL opportunity than David Mirra.

You would excuse the man for harbouring jealousies or feelings even stronger against those that get drafted straight out of school.

But it just doesn’t seem to be the case.

“It’s a funny one, 18-year-old me looks at them and is jealous because I would have loved to have had that opportunity straight out of the Eastern Ranges,” Mirra says.

“But a more mature 28-year-old me looks back and probably thinks I wasn’t ready, and it was probably the best thing for me to miss out.

“Instead I was able to get a work-life balance and I was able to go into the real world, get a job and play footy for the right reasons and love it and enjoy it.

“Whereas if I was drafted as an 18-year-old I might not have ever got to the point of playing a game - I don’t think I had nearly enough maturity.”

Mirra suggests this is one of the toughest thing for young footballers, who are straight out of school and suddenly thrust upon a highly-professional environment such as an AFL club.

“When you’re 18, you think the AFL world is rosy and everything is great and you’re not going to have any setbacks but then you go into the system and you’re the 45th player on the list.

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“There are so many kicks in the guts along the way in AFL footy, I don’t think I would have been able to deal with at the time whereas now I feel much more equipped.” 

Mirra attributes much of his evolution as both a footballer as well as a person to his beloved Box Hill Hawks.

The club, he believes, gave him as good a preparation to life as an AFL footballer as he could have asked for.

“We’re talking about trademarks, structures, pre-training meetings, reviews, weights – I don’t think I touched a dumbbell till I was 22 – there’s so much of that to get used to.

“So being able to do it in a VFL environment teaches you how to do it on your own, there is no program for you or someone telling you what to do.

“If you want to play good footy you have to do it off your own bat, go out and buy a gym membership, find a massage, do your own recovery.

“These are all things that I am thankful to Box Hill for, the club has taught me so much.”