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The hole in my life

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The hole in my life

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Hanging the boots up was the most difficult thing I have experienced in my life so far.

 

You’re in the sporting spotlight for more than a decade. Your world is organised, you are settled, successful. Life is great.

 

Then retirement rolls around and even though you think you’re prepared, you pretty much wake up all wide-eyed in a dark room. A black hole. Your comfort zone has been ripped away.

 

When I played my last game, I did nothing for two weeks. That’s really rare for me. I was agitated. I didn’t know what I was doing. Sure, there was work at Fox League starting the following year but right then and there, for the first time, I had no direction. And it drove me insane.

 

I found myself waking at all hours. This life was so foreign and it didn’t work for me. I was completely lost. I had to work out a new routine.

 

Luckily, I found one pretty soon and things went on from there. I’ve stayed with it ever since.

 

In the back of my mind was the fact I had made the call on my own retirement. Sportsmen and women don’t always get that opportunity but I knew it was imperative to quickly re-shape myself as a different type of performer, in the work place as well as on the home front.

 

This was the real world, Corey. Sink or swim. 

 

 

THE SENSE OF LOSS

You can be prepared for a footy afterlife but until you go through it, I have to say, it’s a really empty feeling. There was a void that needed to be filled. I had to find a new schedule, a routine, and work through it.

 

Brent Tate is one of my best mates. He retired not so long ago. I talked to him many times about it all along with Broncos recruitment officer, Peter Nolan, who has been a long-time mentor to me. Peter has always been able to put life in perspective, into the right context.

 

Those guys, along with my wife, Margaux, were very good for me.

 

A lot of the feedback I was getting was along the lines of, ‘Just relax, you’ve retired; there’s a new line of work to step into next season.’ I knew everyone meant well. They were desperate for me to make a successful transition from a player to, I guess, the real world.

  

When the Broncos began training for 2017, I felt a huge sense of loss. There was a hole in my life and the accompanying pangs definitely hurt. They still do at times.

 

Footy clubs are funny places. There is always lots going on but as an active player you can be cocooned, impervious to reality, protected.

 

 

Top level league is such an insular way of life. You sort of have tunnel vision about how you approach it – your wife, your family, the people around you. You become selfish, but try to find the best balance you can. It’s the way to get the best out of yourself.  

 

My ‘new’ home life tossed up plenty of challenges. With Margaux, and four young kids – Memphis, Jagger, Wylei and River Monroe – I was at home at different times to when I was a professional league player. 

 

The kids got a bit confused. Dad doesn’t play footy anymore but he’s still coming and going at strange times because he has new work down in Sydney. We still see him on TV, but never in a Broncos jersey. Why isn’t he here with us all the time?

 

To be honest, I am still trying to work it all out, to find the right balance. I have had to adapt to my family’s home life. Their routines. The travel time and inconsistent scheduling can be difficult, but we manage to work together in trying to find the right balance for our family and all parties involved. 

 

Margaux has even travelled with me on occasion to ensure we have time together to reconnect when time away becomes overly demanding. She has been absolutely exceptional keeping it all together in my absence.

 

I wouldn’t be able to do what I am now doing without her by my side.

 

 

A TOUGH INITIATION

I exeprienced the same amount of nerves when I made my first grade debut for the Broncos as I did calling my first game with Fox League. The only difference is that in the first scenario I had 12 years of footy under my belt. Back then, I knew how the game was played – how to run, pass and tackle.

 

Going into TV-land was very different. I trusted my ability to read a game but when you are asked to relay that to the punter at home – to commentate on what you are thinking and come across in a nice, respectful and professional way – it was completely different to anything I’d done before.

 

My first day on the job as a rookie commentator at Fox League was a bit of a shock. They asked me to make my debut as a sideline commentator at the Charity Shield game. I’ll admit I was well and truly out of my comfort zone, especially in the first half. It was really unsettling and I wasn’t great. 

 

Then retirement rolls around and even though you think you’re prepared, you pretty much wake up all wide-eyed in a dark room. A black hole. Your comfort zone has been ripped away.

 

I was dealing with noise from the crowd, a producer in my ear, things happening at a million miles an hour and I had absolutely no feel for how it looked and sounded in people’s lounge-rooms at home. This was a trial game and I was on trial as well.

 

It was always the plan for me to join the panel in the commentary box in the second half. After the first 40 minutes of the Dragons v Rabbitohs, I was pretty happy about that. I felt a sense of relief, frustration and disappointment all rolled into one.

 

The whole experience was a blur then – and still is to this day. I can tell you that my mate Mick Ennis was in the commentary box … but as for the other guys, absolutely no idea!

 

Working up in the stands, you get a chance to see everything unfold in the game whereas on the sideline, it’s all go – everything is happening in a split second – there is little or no time to react. They are very different roles. For me, all kinds of emotion hit me on that first day.

 

I did my best in a completely new environment and somehow scrambled through it. But, deep down, I knew I wasn’t good enough. I would need to get a lot better.

 

On the plane back to Brisbane, I tried to think back about what unfolded. I am my own harshest critic and I was wondering how I was perceived, how it looked, how I came across.

 

I got some feedback on the Monday from the producers, the people at Fox League, about how to do things which was great. It was exactly what I needed.

 

 

 

‘PEOPLE CAN TELL IF YOU’RE BULLSHITTING’

I have just finished my first season at Fox League and I love everything about it. I take notes before, during and after games. I ask lots of questions trying to absorb as much as possible. Constructive criticism is more helpful than gushing praise, so I go looking for it.

 

In TV, people can tell if you’re bullshitting. In those early weeks, I tried to be across everything but I gradually learned to pull back a bit. Once I figured out how it worked, I thought it was no different to how it was when I was a player.

 

I have always loved rugby league and, as a player, I’d watch a team and try to find ways to break them down. Nothing has changed to this day.

 

I study the on-air talent and their respective styles – I’ll try anything to improve my own performance. Fortunately, there are plenty of people at Fox Sports who are willing to help you and offer advice. 

 

Mick Ennis has been really good. We started at the same time and have gone through a lot of the same things. He gets it.

 

In TV, people can tell if you’re bullshitting. In those early weeks, I tried to be across everything but I gradually learned to pull back a bit. Once I figured out how it worked, I thought it was no different to how it was when I was a player.

 

Warren Smith is the main commentator, he goes about his business and is a class act. Andrew Voss is really personable. He makes it really enjoyable. At times with Vossy, you feel you aren’t working on TV, that you are sitting there with your mates watching the footy. 

 

Sterlo has an excellent footy brain on all things rugby league but the way he articulates everything and portrays it to the people is very honest, respectful. I am very mindful of that coming into Fox.

 

Then there are the journo guys such as James Hooper. I don’t think you can ever ask enough questions doing this job.

 

 

TRAINING LOCAL MUMS

I mentioned earlier that one of the toughest things about retirement is missing your teammates, the general buzz around the club, the whole football teamwork thing. You are out in the real world and you have to compensate.

 

One thing that has helped me deal with it all will probably surprise. I regularly train a group of about 12 local mothers who come to the Parker family home for fitness training. My wife and I have developed this really good team environment and the ladies love it, as do I.

 

Coaching is something I am also very passionate about. It would be amazing to coach at NRL level one day, or snare some sort of role in State of Origin footy. I guess there is no harm in dreaming.

 

This year I enjoyed helping the Brisbane players with advice or tips on their games, the opposition, any way I could. The Broncos had me working with the forwards throughout the year which I really enjoyed.

 

I worked with them all but Josh McGuire, Herman Ese’ese and Andrew McCullough achieved a lot and I am extremely proud to say that I may have influenced them in some way. That’s really satisfying for a newly retired player like me.

 

Putting time into a younger bloke and seeing him play well on the weekend – it’s a different feeling than doing it yourself but in many ways equally satisfying, if not more. I am greatly indebted to coach Wayne Bennett for giving me the opportunity to work with the lads and consider it a privilege to still be involved with the club I love so dearly.

 

 

 

THE NEXT CHAPTER

When you finish you lose a lot, whether you have things lined up or not. If you are on the verge of retirement, or sometimes wonder if there is a rugby league afterlife, I am more than happy to hand out some free advice.

 

The first thing I’d say is that rugby league doesn’t owe you anything. If you think the game will look after you because you achieved this or that in your career, you are wrong.

 

Nothing will be offered on a plate. There are no hand-outs or freebies. Rugby league is a big wheel that will keep turning with or without you.

 

When you’re coming towards the end of your time as a player, my tip is to plan well in advance what you want to do whether it’s inside or outside the sport. I had a plan and, yes, I have been one of the fortunate athletes able to move pretty much straight from the playing field to a new career.

 

Like everybody else, though, I go through daily struggles and the things I know that work under duress are routine, hard work and dedication. Setting short- and long-term goals, being patient, backing myself.

 

These things have worked for me as a husband, father and recently retired footy player. They will hopefully help other guys moving forward as they stare down the barrel of life in the unknown.

 

Corey Parker  -  Contributor

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