Hawthorn is one club, many teams, including a wheelchair footy and an AFL Blind team. With more 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 you do outside of footy.
I love to play the piano and drums, as well as listen to music - my favourite artists are B.B. King and Baker Boy. I also enjoy going for walks on the beach and playing fetch with my dog, Earl. Most of all, I love sport - especially the Hawks!
What made you pursue AFL Blind and how did you get involved?
I had an accident and found myself in hospital. While I was in hospital, a nice nurse named Richard told me that the AFL was starting up an AFL Blind league. I love footy, so I was immediately very interested and wanted to give it a go. At around the same time I got a call from Hawthorn. The club had heard about my accident and knew I was a big fan, so they asked if I would like to the opportunity to play for Hawthorn in the AFL Blind League - I said, ‘Definitely! I’d love to!’
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 daily, and in AFL?
I lost my sight due to an accident. I can’t remember exactly what happened, but I was on a roof and fell through it, causing me to lose my sight. Losing my vision has been difficult, especially trying to get around. However, it’s not all bad – now I get to play for the Hawks which is great!
Can you briefly explain how AFL Blind works and what it means to you to play?
The ball has a buzzer in it so that we can hear the ball’s movement, and there are different sight categories which players fit into. For people like myself who cannot see anything at all, we are recognised as ‘B1’ players. We wear blindfolds and wristbands to let everyone on-field know that we cannot see anything. If the ball hits a B1 player anywhere above the waist, it counts as a mark (I’ve copped a ball-to-the-face a couple of times now!). There’s no tackling in the game and we play on an indoor footy field in Tullamarine.
What do you love most about the game?
Meeting new people and being able to play footy again. Growing up I played a lot of footy for my local team the Dromana Tigers, so it’s great to play again and have fun.
What did it mean to you when you found out you were drafted to Hawthorn, and what does it mean to be a part of the Hawthorn Family?
I was so happy, I never thought I could still play football after my accident. I burst into tears when I found out and said ‘a thousand percent, yes!’. I couldn’t sleep later that night as I was just so excited to play for the Hawks. Hawthorn is like a family to me. They are such a nice, caring club.
Winning a premiership is always a special achievement. What did last year’s premiership mean to you?
Winning the premiership was the best day ever, and our team had so much support from the side-lines. After the Grand Final, I went to my local oval every Saturday to practice my kicking, simply because I can’t wait to get back and win another premiership. Winning last year’s premiership was ultimately the best day of my life.
Are there any other sports that you play?
Before my accident, I used to play basketball, football, cricket, and baseball. Nowadays I am involved with athletics and boxing, and I am also really excited to try blind baseball!
Do you have any heroes or idols that you want to be like?
I love all the Hawks players, but most of all, Cyril Rioli and Jarman Impey. Jarman sends me texts to see how I am going which is great. I also love Baker Boy, Dan Sultan, B.B. King and Shakira.
What is your ultimate sporting goal, and what is a life goal of yours?
I want to help anyone who is also vision impaired and encourage them to get ‘up and going’ again. I want to let them know that they can still play sport, and try to make them feel how they felt before they lost their eyesight.
If you could encourage someone going through a similar experience to you to try your sport, what would you say to them?
I would say, ‘if I can do it, you can do it’. I would let them know that I will always be there for support; so have a go at AFL Blind, give it a crack, and see if you enjoy it!
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.