Loving what he does: Brett Goodes at training at Whitten Oval. Photo: Paul JeffersStarting an AFL career at 28 with a playing CV that resembled darts thrown at a map of Australia gave Brett Goodes an uncommon launch pad. Yet it was his most recent job, pre-fairytale, that prepared him best when eventually he fell back to earth.
At Launceston in round 17 last year, Goodes laid an arm’s-length tackle on Hawthorn’s Shane Savage that went wrong with a sickening crack as teammate Liam Picken got in between them, and Goodes’ left forearm was the casualty of their combined momentum. He can laugh now that he was simply the latest ”Picko victim”, but there was nothing funny about it at the time.
”I had this picture in my head that my arm was in half, that was all I could picture until I hit the ground,” Goodes recalled of the time-stands-still feeling that accompanies disasters of any degree. ”I looked down and it wasn’t, thankfully. I picked it up, knew I was gone, and just ran straight off.”
He returned to Melbourne on an early flight, a sling supporting two snapped bones, president Peter Gordon and club doctor Gary Zimmerman his solemn companions. Immediately he was in the purgatory of the long-term injured, a footballer removed from his flock.
This is territory he already knew – if not personally, then professionally. As the Western Bulldogs’ welfare officer prior to his 2012 rookie listing, Goodes had worked closely with Dale Morris and his family as the defender negotiated a cruel, prolonged recuperation from a broken leg. He had counselled others, too, unaware they would one day be his teammates.
”It certainly helped,” Goodes says. ”I can imagine the mental stresses a young guy would have to deal with going through a long-term injury. Even me to an extent – I’ve only got a one-year contract, I’ve just broken my arm, that all comes to mind.
”Having worked in that area certainly helped me get through the rest of the season.”
He was left in no doubt the limbo was only temporary. The coaches and list manager Jason McCartney assured him another one-year deal would be offered, and with two plates and a dozen screws in his forearm he was able to resume running, join in certain drills and throw himself into another quirk of the season-over player’s world: training hard to go on holiday. Already he can feel the benefits.
”I think I’m much fitter this year, having started pre-season fit and ready to go,” Goodes says of how he can be a better player than the one who slotted into the Dogs defence for 13 games in 2013 like he had been there all along. ”I’m just looking forward to being that creative running half-back flanker, getting up the ground a bit more instead of just playing on my man and beating him. Be more creative and help our team surge forward.”
Watching the team win four of its last six was a mixed blessing, rapt to see progress but, with the likes of Shaun Higgins, Clay Smith, Tom Williams and Jason Johannisen , fighting back feelings of jealousy at not truly being part of it. Still, Goodes could reflect on a debut season that met his own expectations, and exceeded those of anyone who had been sceptical about his drafting.
”I played all the games I could physically play,” he says of a season blighted by a suspension, a wrist injury and the broken arm. ”For me that was a good year, a great year – my first season, to have played every game I could possibly have played.”
He never felt out of place and thinks his previous occupation helped here, too. ”There was never anything negative, never, ‘Do I belong?’ It was all positive, ‘What a great opportunity, I’m going to train my backside off and make the most of it’.”
He loved the constant education, that despite having seen up close the workload and stresses that accompany the cherished life of a footballer, he was still taken aback by just how hard it was. He found the training was only part of it, the mental load – criticism, scrutiny, feedback – was much more onerous. ”It’s not a normal life, but I love what I do. I’ve always wanted to be involved in AFL footy in one way or another, working or playing. You know what you sign up for when you walk in the door. This is me now for however long I’ve got left in me.”
Being Goodes by name and nature increases his value as a teammate, still bringing to the change rooms the qualities of his previous role, someone whose make-up is to extend a hand if he sees someone in need. ”I think that’s why I loved my old job so much at the time, it was so natural for me.”
There is one significant difference this year to last: no longer is he Adam’s brother, rather the brother of the Australian of the Year.
Goodes was with friends in Anglesea when Adam accepted the award from Prime Minister Tony Abbott on Australia Day, and delivered a stirring speech on the lawns of Parliament House. He thinks only becoming a father – or seeing the child of brother and father-to-be Jake – could make him prouder.
”For my whole family, watching Adam, his speech, seeing mum in the crowd, it was a really fulfilling moment. It was great to see mum there sharing it with him after all the hardship she’s had. It’s never been an easy track for any of us.”
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