There’s a lot of reasons why Gary Rohan was taken at pick six in the 2009 AFL Draft.
His precise ball movement, his goal sense, and his athletic ability. All standouts among his peers. But the thing that has always stood out about Rohan is his lightning, electric pace. Sheer speed, the likes of which is possessed by only a select few in the AFL.
That same speed is the reason why so many Sydney fans were devastated to see Rohan suffer the incredible, almost unfathomably bad compound break of his leg, early in the 2012 season.
An errant challenge from North Melbourne small forward Lindsay Thomas, who chose to slide in to contest the football on a wet day at the Sydney Cricket Ground, snapped the tibia and the fibula in Rohan’s right leg.
Sure, the incident was memorable for a few reasons – it led to the inception of the slide rule, media commentators called for Thomas’ suspension due to the negligence of the act, and it spurred Sydney to a 36-point win, but Rohan probably only remembers it for what it was – the end of his 2012 season, and much of his 2013 season as well.
In the midst of the hysteria surrounding the injury and supporters baying for Thomas’ blood, Rohan exhibited another trait that no doubt contributed to his selection in the draft. He called talkback radio, as Gary from Cobden, and stated he had no ill will towards Thomas, and that the contest was “just part of footy”.
This week, with a top four spot all but sewn up, the focus hasn’t been on Sydney’s game against St Kilda. It’s important, yes, but it seems as though football media has downgraded it to a background spectacle, choosing to place more importance on Rohan’s return.
The Swans are a formidable outfit in terms of contested football, with a seemingly unending rotation of grunt midfielders that simply want the football more than their opponents. Kieren Jack, Daniel Hannebery, Josh Kennedy, Jarrad McVeigh, Jude Bolton and Tom Mitchell can all lay claims to spots in the competition’s premier inside midfield brigade.
Where they appear to lack is outside runners. Lewis Jetta has been injured, Adam Goodes is nearing the end of a wonderful and storied career and Jed Lamb is still learning the craft. The Swans almost need Rohan to play a few tune-up games, with the aim of preparing him for another finals campaign in that crucial outside running role.
Swans coach John Longmire admitted this week that Rohan has exceeded expectations, claiming that he would have been happy to see him “have a big pre-season, and get into next year after two or three reserve games”.
Even Rohan himself claimed surprise at being picked for the senior side, stating: “It hit me pretty hard, because I wasn’t expecting to play so soon.”
While injuries like Rohan’s are mercifully uncommon in the AFL, players like Michael Barlow and Nathan Brown have set the blueprint for recoveries from compound leg breaks.
Barlow suffered his injury in round 14 of 2010, and returned almost a year to the day later, in round 13 of 2011. Brown was injured in round 10 of 2005, and was part of Richmond’s team for their season opener in 2006.
It speaks volumes about the severity of Rohan’s injury that the rehabilitation period has been the longest of the three. Rohan’s struggle has been well documented – at one point even considering giving up the game – but from round four, 2012 to round 21, 2013, there has been nothing but hard work.
His attitude towards the challenges he has faced is best summed up by Longmire, who was quoted as saying: “He’s been able to get over those setbacks pretty quickly, so he’s probably surpassed my expectations, which is a real credit to a young bloke from the bush.”
So on Sunday, 16 long months of being lost in the wilderness will end, the 22-game career which was put on hold will resume, and Gary Rohan will step onto the SCG as a member of the Sydney Swans once again.
The fans will be eager to see whether Rohan has retained his pure pace or his jumping ability.
But for Rohan, it will simply be the joy of being out there.