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. Hawthorn’s Wheelchair and Blind football teams are made possible by the club’s social inclusion partner, Afford, one of Australia’s longest-serving disability service providers.
Tell us a bit about yourself, what do you do outside of footy?
My name is Zac and I currently live in Bendigo. Outside of footy, I work at Bendigo Bank as a disputes officer. I am also an assistant coach at my local footy club, the Huntley Hawks, and I play cricket in the summer - that’s about it!
What made you pursue AFL Blind and how did you get involved?
Well, I always wanted to play footy, ever since I was born, I come from a big footy family. I got involved by heading down to an AFL Blind ‘come and try’ day and loved it. Everything else is history.
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 and in AFL?
My visual impairment is Retinal Dystrophy, which means that I was born without retinas. Your retina sits at the back of your eyes and helps with receiving light. I can only see a bit of light and shadows in the day and I am no good at night so I have to use a cane to get around. In footy, because I am classified as a B1 player, I have to wear blackout glasses. B1 players are normally your full forwards which is great because I love to kick a snag.
Can you briefly explain how AFL Blind works and what does it mean to you to play?
Briefly, we play with a neon coloured Sherrin which has a buzzer in it so that everyone on the ground can at least hear the ball, even if they can’t see it very well in the contest. There are different sight categories to make the game even. I am a B1 player which is the totally blind category.
I absolutely love playing footy and playing for Hawthorn. AFL Blind has given me another pathway for me to meet lots of new people and has opened up more opportunities for me. I hope it gets a bigger and bigger reputation over the years.
What did it mean to you when you found out you were drafted to Hawthorn?
It was beyond anything I could have hoped for. To be drafted from the country to an AFL club is amazing! To be able to go and tell all your mates and work colleagues that you have been drafted to Hawthorn is incredible. A lot of people had no idea that such a thing [as AFL Blind] had even been created so it was beyond any of my expectations.
How has your experience at Hawthorn been so far? What are some of the things the club has involved you in?
So far, it has been great! It has been a bit different for me obviously living regionally I haven’t been able to get to everything due to work commitments, but everything I have been able to make it to has been exceptional.
The club has involved us in heaps of activities and events. We were invited to the club’s Best and Fairest night, we’ve participated in really good mental health sessions with SALT (Sport and Life Training), we had the whole club come to our jumper presentation, including the AFL lads, and we’ve got access to Waverley Park and staff. I’ve definitely felt like we were completely a part of the club, which has been great.
Winning a premiership is always a special achievement. What did last year’s premiership-winning season mean to you?
I think it was just a remarkable effort from our team. The Bulldogs were undefeated all year and smashed us by 150 points in Round 1, so to come back a few months later and beat them by seven points in the Grand Final is just an incredible achievement. I would put our success last year down to how the group bonded over the season and the support that we got from the entire football club.
Are there any other blind sports? Have you played any of them?
I play Blind cricket for Victoria. I’ve lost track of how long I have played it for, I think it’s around eight or nine years now. I debuted for the Australian Blind Cricket team four years ago in the 2016 Ashes series.
Do you have any heroes or idols that you want to be like?
Well, if I am playing for Hawthorn I would love to be like Roughy or Dunstall, but growing up as a Bombers supporter I always looked up to Dustin Fletcher.
What is your ultimate sporting goal and what is a life goal of yours?
The ultimate sporting goal would be to break back into the Aussie Blind Cricket squad and stay in it. In footy, just keep on doing everything I am doing kicking snags and winning flags!
There has been a real focus in the last few years on disability inclusion, what advice would you give to someone who wants to get involved in sport, if they are visually impaired?
My advice would be to just go to any ‘come and try’ days and take any opportunities that come your way. Just take them with both hands. You never know what pathways or doors will open.
If someone wanted to get involved, how would they do so?
There are links on the AFL Victoria website and Hawthorn put up a lot of stories, videos and news about the team.
All interviews in the Getting to know series are hosted by Hawthorn’s AFL Blind Vice Captain Ned Brewer-Maiga.
Find out more about Hawthorn’s Social Inclusion Partner, Afford, by heading to their website.