Chapter 3 Resilience and challenge
my career-long exercises to activate and strengthen the vastus medialis oblique (VMO), one of the four big muscles in the thigh, a process critical to drive the rehabilitation of my knee. The exercise was repetitive but I knew its importance and my athletics training helped me stick with such drills.
I swam one day and did weights the next. I was anal about keeping my leg stiff in the pool, always swimming with a buoy so only my upper body was doing the work.
Chapter 6 Redemption
One of our values was to be ruthless but I understood that such a word can be used as an excuse for being thoughtless unless the leadership is on the ball.
‘Ruthless’ was appropriate as a value at that time but around 2012, as the playing group transitioned, it was not so important. By then, we needed to do things differently, to play to the strengths of a new crop of players, to establish a framework but to let players be themselves within that framework. Surely in a high-performance sport being both ruthless and caring can co-exist. Perhaps it should be about being relentless in the pursuit of improvement rather than being ruthless.
Chapter 8 New coach, new direction
I eventually learnt that when issues affecting me and others needed to be resolved, it was best to rely on experts rather than thinking it was my job to resolve everything. That took time and was not without mistakes as I did not always adhere to that philosophy, but it eventually did sink in.
The game also taught me that rigid preparation was not always possible. What was possible was that I could switch on as soon as I dragged the jumper over my head. Eventually the assistants would refer to me as Sir William Wallace, the hero of the Mel Gibson film Braveheart, when they saw me put on the jumper and joke whether I would be able to go over the hill one more time. They knew that was my cue to put all aside and concentrate on the game. It became a habit for me. They thought that trait was remarkable.
Chapter 9 Tackling tacklers
It didn’t take me long to recognise I could gain an advantage over my opposition by exploiting the difficult skill of tackling. And, in my opinion, tackling is the worst executed skill in football. That isn’t because players aren’t good at tackling. It’s just difficult to run 12 or 15 kilometres in a game and also execute such a technical skill when an opponent, with the whole ground to work with, is carrying the ball and running quickly at you or away from you. I identified this as a real weakness in our game and took advantage of that. I prided myself on knowing the rule book better than most and I knew exactly what the umpires were expected to adjudicate when it came to head-high contact. As a competitive professional, knowing every angle mattered.
Chapter 10 New deal, new job
if a player does something wrong, he has let the club down (and probably himself) rather than it being anything personal against the captain or a teammate. Most of the time the guilty party knows it too.
Understanding the bigger picture became something I had to consider and develop in order to lead effectively.
Chapter 11 Leading and learning
Sometimes I would take matters up with him but he was not only a ‘bush physio’ when it came to fitness issues, he was a ‘bush lawyer’ too and he would passionately defend what he had done. I grew to love the way he could argue his way out of anything because he would present his case in a manner that made me smile.
I was wearing a tracksuit bottom on the early flight to Adelaide because I was recovering from a corkie as we headed to meet Travis in secret, realising when we were door-stopped before we had left Adelaide airport that we had created a media storm through pure naivety.
Chapter 12 A near miss
I fuelled the perception that my game was built on brawn, when I told the Herald Sun in 2011: ‘I am not a pretty footballer. I am slow. I don’t kick it as well as the good kicks. I am what you would say an olden-day footballer in so many ways.’ In reality it indicated my thinking that I needed to work harder than most for my talent to be realised.
I’d arranged for Kathryn Cotsopoulos to attend the Brownlow medal with me the following Monday as a bit of fun, checking with her new boyfriend – now husband, Daniel De Lulio – that he wouldn’t be fussed before I’d even asked Kathryn. He was fine but then poor Kathryn had to answer texts all night from friends watching the count on television, asking whether she and Daniel had broken up!
Chapter 13 In transition
My intent was never in question but when you carry that view of leadership – that success was your responsibility – the danger is that when something goes wrong, you look to blame someone else. If you are not careful you can become a cop, rather than a teammate, and forget that the group that had won premierships had changed and other methods might be needed to give different – and new – individuals a prod.
Chapter 23 Bring the love
One of the phrases we came up with early was ‘Connect to WIFI’ with WIFI an acronym for ‘What If, Fuck It’ which would help me attack what was ahead of me with a sense of freedom.
Chapter 26 Getting it right
When reading his eulogy, I said that I fell in love with Vic Fuller the day I met him. His approach to life was spot on – leave the ego at the door and you might learn something. Bloody hell, did I learn something along the way?
The club fostered my belief that if you are open enough to listen you can learn from anyone. It’s part of why jumping in the car with a first-year player to attend a school visit was never a chore for me. They might give up a little bit of dirt on their teammates to me, or reveal a dry sense of humour in a different setting.
Some people can work themselves up way too much. They think you need to do this, or you need to read that. I keep it simple: what about just generally being half a decent person? Have your eye out a little bit for everyone and make sure you have a bit of fun along the way. That was the basis of everything I strived to do.