AFL

The truth about jumper punches

Tom Hawkins - Contributor

AFL

The truth about jumper punches

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I was embarrassed.

 

Firstly, because I wasn’t able to play my role for my team during those finals-like games I missed. Secondly, because of other people thinking, ‘You shouldn’t do that’, without seeing or recognising that the reason I’d gone over to remonstrate with players was to help and protect teammates.

 

What I’ve learned now is that I just need to go about it in a different way – by avoiding grabbing the jumper, which hopefully won’t lead to the actual jumper punch.

 

I’ll continue to try and help my teammates out if they’re getting picked on, or if they’re in a vulnerable position, but it’s a matter of being able to control that action and not engage in the push and shove, so to speak.

 

You can’t really train for that sort of thing, but I’ve put a few things in place with some staff at the footy club – our director of coaching Simon Lloyd in particular – so we’ve certainly addressed it.

 

I was embarrassed after the second time, so I’d be really embarrassed if there was a third.

 

I don’t want to say that I’m really confident it won’t happen again, because footy’s a funny game, but I’ll be doing all that I can to ensure it doesn’t.

 

 

LOCKETT, ABLETT & GETTING AWAY WITH IT

It’s a bad look and I understand the AFL taking it out of our game, but it becomes hard for players, and a little bit frustrating, when rules get changed throughout a season. I know you’ve got to be adaptable and change with them, but these are split second decisions. I didn’t agree, certainly, with the first suspension this year but I accepted it and moved forward.

 

The positive of having two of them, though, was that I was able to go for a mini-training block, where I worked on what would help me in that two-week period last month and came out of it feeling really fresh.

 

What I’ve learned now is that I just need to go about it in a different way – by avoiding grabbing the jumper, which hopefully won’t lead to the actual jumper punch.

 

With our new facilities at the footy club we’ve got access to an altitude room where I spent a bit of time, and I did every training session that the group did, as well as a game-like top-up on Saturday or whenever the guys played.

 

So it was a pretty big load for an eight-to-10-day period but it was certainly beneficial. I’m not saying that I’m a running machine now, but I do feel like I’m covering the ground quite well.

 

Most players would be lying if they said they didn’t have some physical issue that they battle and work on throughout a season, and I’m no different.

 

But, considering that, I feel as good as I can be. I’ve got myself to a stage where I know I can go out there and perform each week, so I’m feeling really confident in how my body is at the moment.

 

I haven’t really missed too many games through injury, so that durability and reliability to play most weeks is something I’m pretty proud of.

 

Yes, I’d like to be more consistent, but that’s what everyone tries to be. I’ve been a little bit patchy this year – I had a really good start, faded from rounds six to rounds 16 or 17, and I’ve had a pretty good back end of the season, apart from being suspended. So I’m relatively happy.

 

Some people say I should have more of a physical presence, but it’s a fine line. You look at the way key forwards like Tony Lockett and Gary Ablett senior used to play back in the day, and you get a lot of advice that if someone gets in your way you’ve got to let them know about it.

 

But I’ve seen plenty of incidents that Lockett and Ablett used to do that you would be spending a lot of time on the sidelines if you did that now. The game’s changed, and I don’t really see the necessity of getting stuck into people who get in my space.

 

But I’m there to support a teammate, and that’s what’s probably got me in trouble a couple of times.

 

 

 

THE BRUTAL HONESTY OF A SCHOOLKID

The highs and lows of footy can be magnified down here in Geelong. Having been fortunate enough to play in two premierships as a Cat, I’ve seen the upside. Against Hawthorn in 2012, I kicked the winning goal after the siren; this season, I missed a goal after the siren which meant that we drew our round 15 game against GWS.

 

I had school visits scheduled that week. One of my favourite things about being an AFL player is going to schools – particularly the younger grades, up to about year four.

 

Sometimes the kids know who you are, other times they don’t, but they’re just so honest, and that week after I missed the goal a lot of kids asked me why I missed it, and said, ‘You cost us the game’.

 

The next week, after I kicked five against Carlton, there were no school visits. That’s just the way it works sometimes! The world operates in funny ways.

 

There will always be criticism, and it’s difficult to deal with when you know you’re out of form. There’s also the social media side of things. A lot of players will say that they don’t read the newspapers, they don’t go on social media, they don’t watch TV. I don’t know what there is to do in your spare time if you’re not doing some of that.

 

Sometimes the kids know who you are, other times they don’t, but they’re just so honest, and that week after I missed the goal a lot of kids asked me why I missed it, and said, “You cost us the game’’.

 

At times it’s been challenging – early in my career and even late, at times, you come across something that you don’t agree with, but I’ve always seemed to deal with things OK. I’ve tried to just move on.

 

But we’ve seen that players are feeling the pressure this year – more so than ever. Mental health is a real issue. Not so much for me, but, in saying that, some days I don’t feel like going into the football club, or I don’t feel like going into work and lifting weights and training. But it’s what you have to do.

 

There’s a big upside to the hard days. The game’s in a healthy position and players are being rewarded.

 

We want things from the game, and financially we’re really well looked after and players use social media to their advantage at times, and then other times social media can be too much.

 

So can the media scrutiny. It’s a bit of a catch-22 in some respects but the game’s grown and the football landscape is so different and we’re just getting used to that now.

 

 

 

MY DAYS WITH A RAT’S TAIL

It seems so long ago that I started. Our coach is great at talking about the realities of football, and one of the biggest is that your career goes quicker than you think.

 

I wouldn’t change anything in my development. I’ve done things certain ways, or haven’t done them, but I wouldn’t be the person and the player that I am today if I could go back and change things.

 

It’s pretty funny when you look back at photos. I recently played my 200th game, and for every milestone at the club you get a highlights package and they always show you in your first game coming onto the ground, or for me it was having a shot at goal.

 

I look at that and think how much has changed since I was 18 to now when I’m 29. I’m sure I will go through more change in the next three years, but it’s been remarkable.

 

When I came into the system I wasn’t as well educated as some of the Cats’ draftees. I was overweight, I didn’t really know what it took to prepare myself each week.

 

I was good in the football season but had never done a pre-season. My hair had a little rat’s tail when I was drafted, I didn’t shave. I looked so different. It’s funny. I enjoy looking back. I laugh.

 

Our coach is great at talking about the realities of football, and one of the biggest is that your career goes quicker than you think.

 

There was a lot of hype and expectation when I came to Geelong. I remember being a bit naive about it all, and thinking that stuff about being ‘the next Lockett’ was pretty cool.

 

If you’re playing AFL, you’re generally the best player in your junior comp or your junior team, so you’ve always been good.

 

But in my first three or four years I learned a hell of a lot about myself and my football ability – from going in and out of form, being in and out of the AFL team and just really trying to get through that.

 

I’m contracted for three more years. If I can see my contract out and finish at 32 I’d certainly take that. More football beyond that would also be great, but I’m a realistic person, and if I’m lucky enough to see my contract out that’s probably enough time and anything more is a bonus.

 

 

LESSONS FROM MUM

We moved to a property outside town about 14 months ago. The Geelong community is great, and people are very supportive, but you can be 15, 20 minutes out of town and live on acreage, have a few cows and sheep.

 

Myself and my wife Emma were both brought up in country communities, so it’s really refreshing to live where we do and also great now that I’m a father. I’ve learnt a lot in the past eight months since Arabella was born, but in particular that when your baby sleeps and eats well you can be pretty thankful for that.

 

It’s certainly put more purpose into what I do, and when I go to training I just feel that extra bit of responsibility of having a family and being a father.

 

When you don’t have kids, you don’t have to worry about changing nappies, or getting up early, or finding babysitters, having a clean house and car, all that sort of thing.

 

You listen to your friends and old teammates say that and you just don’t pay any attention to it, but now it’s just reality, it feels like all these cliches that everyone uses, that’s my life. It’s been great.

 

 

My Mum passed away in 2015. I obviously still miss her a lot and I often think how much she would enjoy this time. I feel extra responsibility to ensure Arabella knows about Mum and how important she was in my life.

 

Ultimately you think of all the great things and even the not-so-great things that as a young kid you didn’t like doing. So I’m making sure that even though she’s not here she’s having a real impact on Arabella’s life and hopefully our other kids’ lives.

 

 

MAGIC OF THE FINALS

Finals really do put a spring in your step. Apart from the football being more intense, the weather usually warms up, people get out a bit more and everyone’s excited. It’s a pretty enjoyable time to be a football supporter, let alone a player.

 

In the past we haven’t shied away from the fact that it’s an enjoyable time of year, and we’ve really embraced the fact that we have got ourselves in a really good position.

 

We’re not going to get too caught up in, ‘You’ve gotta change things and do extra work to play well in finals’. It’s not the case. It’s about being able to play the role that you play throughout the year.

 

We’ve been a little bit inconsistent as a team but if we’ve got 22 players that are confident and ready I think we can do a bit of damage in September.

 

It would mean a lot to get into another Grand Final. To win one as a senior player, at my age, to win my third, would be amazing.

 

It’s hard to express how much that would mean to me. I’m super-excited. I’ve now had the opportunity to play finals 10 out of my 11 years, so I’m obviously very thankful for that, but to win one at 29 years of age would be really special.

 

Tom Hawkins  -  Contributor