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 and what do you do outside of footy?

My cultural background is Sri Lankan-Tamil and my culture is something I am very proud of. I am currently in my final semester of university completing a Bachelor of Business and Accounting and I’m hoping to find future employment in the government sector.

What made you pursue AFL Blind and how did you get involved? 

I found out that the AFL was going through a trial phase for AFL Blind in 2018. A few people encouraged me to give a go so I went down to one of the trial sessions. I enjoyed it a lot and then got the opportunity to play with the Hawks in the inaugural season of AFL Blind.

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?

I have a cortical vision impairment, mainly due to a brain injury I got during birth. So for me, the nerve from my brain to my eyes lags a lot so I don’t see things as quickly as other people and I don’t see things as far as others either.

As far as football is concerned, it is challenging because I cannot track the ball in the air or on the ground as quickly or as well as someone with full vision might.

Can you briefly explain how AFL Blind works and what does it mean to you to play?

AFL Blind is quite similar to regular AFL, except we use a ball with a buzzer in it. There’s no tackling, we play with touch tackling rules.

For me, it means a lot to play. In school I was always told I couldn’t play footy because of my condition, which was devastating because I love the game, I loved watching Collingwood play on TV and deep down I always wanted to play.  I am very grateful to be given the opportunity to play the sport I love! 

What do you love most about the game?

I think the camaraderie between everyone is amazing. I think our league is a really unique environment because everyone is vision impaired just like I am, and everyone has really interesting stories and backgrounds, so it’s a really supportive environment.

What did it mean to you when you found out you were drafted to Hawthorn?

It was amazing! Even though I love Collingwood, I was so grateful Hawthorn had given me the opportunity to play. I’m so appreciative of how they have welcomed and accepted me into the football club, and the opportunities that have come from it, have been amazing. I am just really grateful to the club and everyone in it.

How has your experience at Hawthorn been so far, what are some of the things the club has involved you in?

My experience has been great so far. There have been many things that the club has involved us in. I really enjoyed being a part of the NDIS launch. That was great for me to talk to people about how things could be better for people with disability to get jobs. As someone who is just about to graduate and in the process of looking toward future employment that was great for me. We also got to play a game against the 1st to 4th year AFL players and that’s an experience that I will always cherish.

Winning a premiership is always a special achievement. What did last year’s premiership-winning season mean to you?

It was amazing. We came into the Grand Final as real underdogs so to beat the Bulldogs, who were so good and unbeaten, in the Grand Final was really special. It showed how much we improved and grew as a team from Round 1 where we lost by 150 points. To come back from that and win it all was incredible.

Are there any other blind sports? Have you played any of them?

I have tried a few sports like Blind Cricket, and once I have finished university, I would love to get into more sports and try playing new things.

Do you have any heroes or Idols that you want to be like?

I always idolised Scott Pendlebury and Nathan Buckley growing up. From Hawthorn, I always loved Sam Mitchell and Shane Crawford. They were both incredible players

If you could encourage someone to try your sport what would you say to them?

I would just say don’t be scared to try new things, just give it a go. AFL blind is designed for people like us so just give it a go. It’s a very community-based environment, and even though we all play against each other everyone is really friendly and supportive.

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.