Playing NAB AFL U18 Championships

In July last year I had the privilege of representing my state at the NAB AFL U18 Championships. I played in the final game of the championships, which was a four-point win over NSW/ACT at Skilled Stadium in Geelong – our only win of the carnival. Pulling on the Territory Thunder jumper was a massive honour and something I am sure I will remember for a long time.

I had an injury interrupted 12 months prior to this, which caused my form to drop off, and as a result I fell out of favour from the selectors. I worked hard to try and find a spot in the team and I was included in the group of 25 to travel to Melbourne. After being named as first emergency a couple of times I finally got my chance against NSW/ACT in the last game of the whole carnival.

(Definitely not a morning person)

The previous couple of days had been full of team meetings, indoor training sessions (followed by torturous outdoor ice-baths), stretching sessions and more team meetings. By the morning of the game I was itching to play. After an early breakfast, we hopped on the bus to travel to Geelong. Prior to the game we have to urinate in a cup to test our hydration levels and if they are not satisfactory, we could start on the bench. I prepared well for this – too well as it would turn out. I sat next to my good mate Ben Rioli (a chance for this year’s draft) and listened to my iPod but after about ten minutes into the drive, all I could think about was going to the toilet. I can honestly say that never before and never since have I needed to urinate so badly, it was excruciating. Instead of being exciting or nervous about the game, I was concentrating hard on not pissing my pants. When we finally got to the ground I was the first off the bus, pacing up and down and unable to walk properly. I asked the team manager if I could pee behind a tree (despite all the traffic) and he looked at me as if I was having a joke. I hobbled into the main reception at Skilled Stadium and urgently asked the receptionist where the nearest toilet was. I sprinted down the corridor to the change room before finally being relieved. Now it was time to think about the game.

It was an upbeat mood in the rooms before the game as I tried to warm up as much as possible. We named a seven man interchange and the three emergencies were not told that they wouldn’t be playing until about half an hour before the match. Looking back on it now, I disagree with that approach as I feel that all of the seven players could not prepare properly as they feared looking like a fool if they didn’t end up playing. I remember vividly the pre-match rev up from our coach and despite the simple message, it was very motivating. He said “Boys, I don’t care about winning this match … I just don’t want to ******* lose! I am sick of losing and I hate it!”

I started in the back pocket on some bloke who had one of those NSW Scholarships to train with an AFL club. I matched up on him pretty well and got a couple of early kicks at the start of the match. We were in the contest and I got my hands on the ball a couple of times so things were looking good at the first break. I got another couple of possessions early in the second quarter before hurting my calf midway through the term. At first I thought I may have done a muscle but it was just bad cramp. I limped around on it for a while but it wouldn’t come right. Every time I would go faster than a jog it would seize up pretty badly. I spent the half time break getting a rub for my calves and had a couple of magnesium tablets to hopefully stop the cramping. A few of the boys rushed to grab the iPod dock to play some beats to keep us hyped up. It was part of our strategy to stop us falling away in the second halves. The one song I can remember hearing a couple of times was Edward Maya – Stereo Love and now whenever I hear this song I associate it to this game.

I reckon this worked a treat as we came out after the half time full of run. Unfortunately my calves were not getting any better and the cold weather wasn’t helping its cause. I spent the majority of the last half on the pine but got to watch the boys bring home our first and only win of the carnival thanks to a late goal from Jake Neade – another potential draftee this year.  It was a funny ending to the match because as the siren went all of us players on the bench ran onto the field. Little did we know there was a deliberate out of bounds paid against us and the bloke decided to take his shot from about 55m out. We weren’t exactly sure on the rules so thought maybe we had too many players on the ground so about four of us made a mad dash to the boundary and just about jumped the fence.

(Celebrating the win!)

We weren’t allowed alcohol so we celebrated the win by cruising around Melbourne city pigging out on Krispy Kremes (don’t have it in Darwin) and pizza. We copped a spray from one of our coaches due to being late back to the accommodation but that didn’t worry us. Playing in the championships was a real honour. Even though I was nowhere near in contention of getting drafted, the fact that many recruiters would have been watching the game felt special.

TWITTER – @JClark182

About Jackson Clark

Born and bred in Darwin, Northern Territory, I am a young, aspiring football writer that lives and breathes the game of Australian Football. I'm also a keen player and coach.


  1. I want to see some photographs and videos of this championship. Please share some pictures and videos this tournament with me.

  2. Barkly St End says

    I loved that story about running onto the ground on the final siren, only to discover that a player had a set shot from 55m, I can imagine all of you thinking: oh, oh, and madly diving back over the fence.

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