Brendan Whitecross - AFL - PlayersVoice
Brendan Whitecross - AFL - PlayersVoice

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Wisdom & a deaf, one-eyed dog

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Wisdom & a deaf, one-eyed dog

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I’m a massive dog person and a big reason for that is how much I admire their resilience and ability to adapt. If something changes with their world, or with ours, they don’t whinge or complain. They just get on with it.

 

One of our three dogs, our Border Collie-Kelpie cross Bailee, has been deaf for eight years. It happened from a combination of standing too close to me when I’d take her out shooting, and from getting mites in her ear. She went deaf at five, but because I’d put the work in training her as a young dog, even though she can’t hear, through hand signals she still knows what you’re asking her to do.

 

Just recently she copped a rock in the eye from the ride-on mower and we had to have the eye removed. But you wouldn’t think there’s anything wrong with her – she’s 13 and still races around chasing balls and carrying on. We joke that she’s the healthiest, happiest, deaf, one-eyed dog in the world.

 

They’re amazing creatures. As humans, we complain about the little things and make a big deal of them. Dogs just get on with it. They trust what you’re doing, what you’re telling them to do. The way Bailee has adapted has been a good lesson for my football. She did the hard work before she went deaf, and now she copes beautifully.

 

As a footballer, you do the hard work through the pre-season – the running sessions, the weights, the time trials – and when you get to round one, everything becomes instinctive.

 

 

 

‘I’M NOT GOING TO GET OUT OF THIS’

Having two knee reconstructions and missing out on a premiership has tested me, but it’s made me appreciate the game more and shown me that there’s more to life than footy. And it’s shown me that I’m resilient, a quality I’m proud of.

 

Growing up, mum and dad worked pretty important jobs for long hours, mum with foundations like St Vincent de Paul and the Asthma Foundation, dad managing big transport companies. They were busy people, and I became independent pretty early. They taught me how to cook and clean and get myself to places on my own.

 

My love of the outdoors came from mum and dad teaching me how to fish. We lived pretty much on Moreton Bay, the north side of Brisbane, and would walk down to the end of the street and throw a line in the water. We’d spend Friday and Saturday evenings down there, having a barbecue and fishing.

 

My sister Rose is nine years older than me. I was in my early teens when she started seeing Daniel, who’s now my brother-in-law. Daniel was into four-wheel driving, camping, surfing, all that sort of stuff, and sometimes they’d take me on little trips at weekends. Then dad started to get into it, and I convinced him to buy a 4WD, then a dirt bike. My brother-in-law planted the seed, then dad and I just took it and ran.

 

We’d literally turn off the road, find a river, drive for a while, find a clearing and set up camp for a few days. Then you’d move on to the next place. It could be five, six days before you’d come across a little town or a service station, or people for that matter. You’d have to take all your food, water, petrol, everything you needed to get by for a week.

 

My love of the outdoors came from mum and dad teaching me how to fish. We lived pretty much on Moreton Bay, the north side of Brisbane, and would walk down to the end of the street and throw a line in the water.

 

The old man always showed me things that were worth knowing – changing a tyre, how to put oil in the car, top up the radiator fluids, all that sort of stuff. I’m very grateful for dad and all the advice he’s given me along the way. It certainly helps in situations where you’re on your own, you’ve got to think through it pretty quickly, because if you get flustered – particularly when you’re in the middle of nowhere – things can escalate fast.

 

If you’re on your own, just with the single vehicle, you might get stuck in a mud hole or stuck up a hill, get a flat tyre. The thought goes through your head, ‘It could be a while before I’m found,’ or ‘I’m not going to get out of this.’ I guess with who I am, the way I was brought up, the approach is not to worry about too much. You’ll always find a way to get yourself out.

 

 

 

INJURIES & PERSPECTIVE

When I first got to Hawthorn there weren’t too many blokes who were into four-wheel driving, camping and fishing, so I’d venture out on my own up to the High Country or west to Little Desert.

 

But that’s the beauty of it, why it’s such a calming activity – you pick a spot on the map, figure out how to get there and how to get back. Some people would find that stressful, but I find it therapeutic.

 

Learning that getting away on my own was really good for my stress levels and keeping a positive mindset is a big part of the person I am. Now, with a young family, it’s not a case of going missing for three or four days, it might only be a few hours going for a motorbike ride or just mowing the lawn.

 

But with the setbacks I had with my knees in 2012 and 2013, it certainly had a big impact on keeping me on track, keeping me level-headed and not worrying too much.

 

I don’t tend to dwell on things too much, I move on pretty quickly. After a game of footy, I use the time in the car on the way home to think about it, analyse what happened in the game, and by the time I get home I’ve left footy at footy. If I’ve had a bad game, a bad training session or some feedback that didn’t sit well, I don’t bring it home with me and let it affect my family life.

 

As humans, we complain about the little things and make a big deal of them. Dogs just get on with it. They trust what you’re doing, what you’re telling them to do. The way Bailee has adapted has been a good lesson for my football.

 

I couldn’t have picked a better wife than Kelly. We’ve known each other pretty much since I’ve been in Melbourne, through mutual friends. We became mates, then we became more than that. She’s into exactly the same things as me – she loves shooting, camping, four-wheel driving, motorbike riding. Sometimes that can be bad for us – we both spend money on the same toys, and they’re not cheap toys.

 

We’ve got Cody, who’s four, and Harvey, who’s one, and I can see they’re going to be into the same things as us. Cody loves camping. He’s got a little quad bike that comes with us whenever we go camping and he just fangs around on it. He loves getting in the river, riding his bike on the gravel roads. He just loves getting away.

 

Over the journey, it’s gone from the swag to the tent and now to an off-road caravan – when the family grows, so does your equipment. We don’t go to a lot of caravan parks; we try to get off the beaten track as much as we can.

 

It’s great for me, and Kelly finds it exactly the same – getting away from reception so you can’t use your mobile phone, the kids haven’t got iPads. Getting off the grid brings you back down to earth and gets you back in touch with the things that really matter, that’s the biggest thing we get from it now.

 

 

 

LONELINESS

The hardest period through both reconstructions, because we made the grand final in both of those years, was the week after the grand final. Even as a player who’s missed out, you’re still part of the group so you celebrate on the day, go out, have a few drinks, share stories.

 

In 2012 I was a week-and-a-half post-surgery, in 2013 I’d literally had the operation that week which meant I couldn’t go out with the boys. I was sitting at home on the couch, they were all out and about. You’d open up the paper and there were photos of them celebrating, they’d be on the TV news, social media, everywhere you looked.

 

It felt very lonely, and I didn’t really have anyone to talk to about it. Being a bloke, you don’t tend to talk about your emotions too well. Certainly, through those times, I did feel quite alone.

 

Footy is an industry where you get caught up in winning and losing. It’s a serious sport, you’re playing for high stakes, but sometimes you do take it too seriously.

 

It’s great for me, and Kelly finds it exactly the same – getting away from reception so you can’t use your mobile phone, the kids haven’t got iPads. Getting off the grid brings you back down to earth and gets you back in touch with the things that really matter, that’s the biggest thing we get from it now.

 

We all start out playing for the love of it, being with your mates having a kick and a catch and a laugh. It’s not until there’s a setback in your career or something happens with family – or something like my teammate Jarryd Roughead has gone through with his melanoma – that you take a step back and think, ‘You know what, there’s more to life than footy.’

 

What I do is pretty special, I’m fortunate to have the opportunity, but you get back to basics and enjoy being around your mates, getting paid to play a sport that you love.

 

I’ve had four years free of knee problems, but people still come up and ask me about it. It’s not a great place to start a conversation, but you build from there.

 

Growing up in Queensland where footy wasn’t massive, every chance I got to interact with a Brisbane Lions player – if they came to our club training, or we went down to watch them train at Coorparoo – I thought was just the best thing ever.

 

I’m not the most high-profile player, but if people show a genuine interest in me it gives me the chance to ask them who they are and what they do. The smile on their face grows, and I get a massive kick out of that.

 

 

 

PULLING MY FINGER OUT

The game tests me all the time.

 

Through 2015 and 2016 it was tough – I’d got myself back in a position to play AFL football again, to playing some good footy, and things still weren’t going my way. I thought, ‘What’s going on here? I’m good enough to be playing, why aren’t I?’

 

There were times when I thought, ‘Maybe I’m just not good enough anymore, I should give it away.’

 

On reflection, after 2016 it was all my own doing. I wasn’t playing as well as I thought, I was getting the shits with not being selected, blokes being brought into the side in front of me when I thought I should have been there.

 

I had a good chat with Alastair Clarkson and the other coaches, it was an honest conversation, and they said, ‘This is where you’re at, this is where you need to get to. If you don’t pull your finger out and make something of it, you could be spat out of the system.’

 

You don’t want to hear those things, but you’re better off hearing them then and having the chance to do something about it. It made me want to work harder – to be a better player, a better leader, a better person around the club.

 

For the first time in my 10-year career, I didn’t go away camping over summer.

 

For the last five years I hadn’t been able to complete a good off-season, which meant I’d start every pre-season with niggles and setbacks. I decided to stay in Melbourne and train my butt off, so that day one of pre-season I was ready to go.

 

There were days when I was running laps of the oval and thought, ‘Bugger it, I should just go away.’ The problem with camping is you go to remote places and there’s no road to run on, or it’s a gravel track full or corrugations or potholes, it’s not good for your training. I missed it, but while it was a tough call I know it was the right one, and so far it’s paying off.

 

In the last year, we’ve been through a lot.

 

We had our house broken into, our car stolen, our material world turned upside down. Harvey was only three weeks old at the time.

 

Kelly has since got a promotion and is travelling with work. There have been things go on with family and illness. It hasn’t been an easy time.

 

But there’s not much that can knock us down anymore as a family. Kelly’s a survivor, and I see resilience in our boys.

 

As a footballer, there’s not much that can rattle me either. Life can be brutal, you never know what’s in front of you. But it’s taught me not to dwell on things, just face the circumstances you’ve been presented with, deal with them, move on and keep going until the next thing bobs up.

 

Then you bat that away for four and keep on going again.

 

 

 

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