The Draft: pick me

Pick me!

Pick me, damn it!

Pickme, pickme, pickme!

The draft. I’m ready this time.

When I was younger, Fitzroy broke my heart. I trained to train. Had muscles on muscles. Why I was so fucking skinny fit my mother thought I was on drugs.
Sorry Mum.
I did okay in the practice matches, for a kid with no skill and hunger to burn, I stayed out on the training track longer than anyone else, working, working, working on it until dark. And got the chop.
But that was okay. I was eligible for Under 19s for another year. Andy Goodwin did it. Made the AFL on hunger alone. Bugger the big names, he was my star. Next pre-season I went into freak mode. I touched the ball and ran my guts out for two hours a day, every day, all summer long. I literally shirt-fronted power poles to practice wearing big hits. And broke my ankle on a sprinkler, and never got the recall when it came good.
And cried.
Anyone would think I was just a bloody teenager. A kid! The other boys who got the chop shrugged, grunted and moved on, as if they didn’t give a damn. Aliens, the lot of them!
It made me mad.
To get there, so as not to be late, I would run the three kms home from school, scoff some high carb, zero fat energy stuff, grab my footy gear, run to the tram, from which I would run to a bus, and go out to Bulleen, the Lion’s home, and run from the bus stop.
It took me a month to realise all AFL Under 19s players are given a cab card.
“Where are you from?” my teammates would ask.
“Fitzroy,” I would say.
“Where the hell is that?!” they would piss and moan.

Anyways, we end up where we end up. I’ve had a great football life. I still spew on my ankle, but I was never good enough. There’s a bottom line.

I’m ready now, though!

I have the experience! The scars. The stories. Suns, Giants, Port. You need blokes like me. Big and slow and smart. Someone who’ll wear a pack for your kids. Pods springs to mind. Take me on. We’ll win 3 from 5!
Hawks, you need a top up. Do it for me and Stewie Dew. Talk about force of personality. So unbelievably overweight for the modern game! So what? He won a flag, damn it! Single handedly turned the tide in the 3rd.
I have force of personality! I’m not overweight like him, but have terrific B.O.!
I’ll be your Mitchell, bit of a snail. But so good at reading the play it looking like the game simply says: “Fuck it, this bloke looks like a gun, lets take it to him.”
He reminds me of one of those video games, where, no matter what’s happening, everything else shifts so your character remains in the middle of the scene.
I’ll be your Mark Lee!! The big donk! He was a glacier! But never, ever stopped moving. He had one pace, and was damn relentless with it, like a bounty hunter that never sleeps.
Pick me low! 74, or whatever it was they got James Hird at. Let me slip under the radar. Lounders got picked high. It sure didn’t help him. Or Tamberg. Or Banik. Or Polo. Haha! Ahhhh, Richmond…
Show me the dotted line, Tigers. You could do worse.
If nothing else, I’ll do a Maxwell. Rant and rave at the team in the huddle. I’m great at that.
Recycle me, like Rhen, Spider, Salmon, even Cloke! How many big men have just kept farting along?
Of course, in the Big League my height ain’t that big! Jesus, black-flankers could glare at me, eye-to-eye-to-eye-to-eye. I always wondered about that. Eye-to-eye. Two people winking at each other. Imagine Johnson and O’Brien eye-to-eyeing before the opening bounce like pirates.
I could always be a Jacko, or Fev, or even Cappa when he went to the Bears. Haha. (Sorry, the memory of it made me laugh.). Be there for colour, for memberships and bums on seats. I’ll be the underdog, the battler that draws people in. The story. Every club need a player who is a story. Redemption and all that.
Good on ya, Big Bad Baz.
I’ll shave my head draw some tatts and convince people I’m Martin Pike, coming back for one last crack! Thrice unwanted, four flags! Cop that!

Sometimes, over the course of my career, I wonder how I would have done out there, if I’d kept defying the odds. If hunger, from a kid who never played juniors, and was never taught how to kick, was enough.
Sometimes I wonder how I’d do now. How much of a massacre it would be. Their pace would carve me up!
God, the more I think about it, the more I’d be laughed at. Like that big, fat, pasty bloke in the country footy Twos that’s filling in numbers, who hugs himself away from the ball even when he’s the only one near it.
But so what! I’d have a dip! I’d hit hard, if the pack was slow enough.
I recently told a man who’d never played and was half thinking about coming down to our club, but was scared of making a dill of himself:
“Mate, nobody cares if you can or can’t play, not really. As long as you go hard, and are a good bloke, you’ll get respect. People can tell when you have a crack.”

I firmly believe each club should be given a dark horse pick. A super long shot, A gut feeling. Get given a player or two each they don’t have a single beep test or stat on. A Rocky for each team, a Karate Kid.
I think they, and we, would be surprised at how well some of them handle it.
I’m in my 40s going on 16 and still haven’t given up on the dream.
And never will.
Maybe, for that random pick, the AFL could put names in a hat!

If that doesn’t work, if those bastards break my heart again come draft time, I’ll just have to adopt another veteran to live my dreams through. Rohan Smith’s gone, so’s Pikey. So’s McCloud. Hm, Goodes is an easy option, but he’s a thoroughbred.
I was never a Goodes.
Not even a lower level shadow of that stuff. I couldn’t see myself in him. I’m a Spud. A servant of the club.

Hudson! You’re my man! Retired, carried off, even, then slung back into the circus, up into the frontiers! One more year!

Into the brink…


  1. Haha love the work as per usual Mate!!! That Heart break is true for some many young drafties some that are good enough that just dont shine at the right time and some just dont make the cut!! You really have put a lot of it into this!!! Keep up the good work!! Keep putting your head over the ball in all forms of life, because if you dont you will never know the outcomes! (Hanging back is not a option)

  2. pamela sherpa says:

    I love the idea of a dark horse pick. There must be so many ‘as good as’ players out there who are unlucky not to get the opportunity to get picked.

  3. Great piece mate, always a pleasure reading ya work

  4. Alovesupreme says:

    I can certainly relate to your riveting account. I think I just about reconciled myself to the inevitable when the Australian Athletics selectors couldn’t find a place for me in the marathon squad for Athens (I wasa then aged 57, with a PB a bit over 3 hours, so I have to conced that objectively their decision was probably justified).
    One also gets to the age where you understand you won’t captain a Carlon (insert your own preferred team) premiership team at CHF.

  5. Matt Zurbo says:

    How much more fun, and goddamn romantic, would the AFL be with dark horse picks, Pamela! Imagine how many Pods etc all, and quality players up north there are out there!

    Thanks, Jack! You ripper! You too, Frosty!!

    Supreme, 1. yes, is heartbreak! Good on you for even doing marathons, I reckon. and 2. what, and move Sticks out to a flank?!

  6. Malby Danlges says:

    The truth Matty. Liked hearing about your near shot at the big time (tho feel sad for you that you never got a proper chance)…maybe nowadays you could of dominated in the VFL and got a go. How much of life is these chances big and small missed or taken and regrets…well I guess we gotta enjoy the good stuff when it comes!
    I’d pick you Matt for my footy team in a heartbeat

  7. They had their chance, but my knee is buggered now…

  8. Matt Zurbo says:

    On ya, Malby! Thanks heaps! Let’s have a kick soon!

    Gus, hahahahaha! Mate, got back from a 13 hour day, covered in mud, and laughed! Top stuff! Wish I was wherever the hell you are right now!

  9. Nice work fella…
    As usual.

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