With the AFL Pre-Season and Rookie Drafts looming, there are many football players who are anxiously awaiting their fate.
They are training hard at pre-seasons at different clubs, competing for a limited number of spots. Rumours abound as to who will be selected, and who will miss out on the enormous opportunity to pull on a guernsey and play for an AFL club.
It must be a time of incredible stress for the men involved; they may feel that their entire future depends on whether their name gets called out. A heady mix of optimism and fear would mingle with nervous tension leading up to the phone conference with the AFL and the respective clubs that will determine their fates next year.
AFL clubs make their decisions based on a complicated formula of list requirements, a player’s athletic suitability and the risk factors such as injury and psychological capacity to handle the rigours of the AFL as well as on-field talent. In recent years, players such as Brendan Fevola and Kyle Reimers have had the talent but still found themselves without a club.
Some young men will give up. They will turn their attention to other careers, perhaps only playing at a local level, or even giving the game away altogether. Others will be driven to persist; they will find themselves a club at state level, wanting to pursue their love of the game. The road will be difficult and the wages for players who aren’t at the highest level of the game requires for them to supplement their income with other employment. This means attending weekly or bi-weekly training sessions, being available for match time and rehabilitation of injuries as well as holding down a nine-to-five job.
While this road is far more difficult than the one travelled by the 17 and 18-year-olds who are drafted by AFL clubs, it is still one that can eventually lead to a long-dreamt AFL career. Proof of this is Ian Callinan, a 172cm small forward-midfielder who made it to the Under-18 All-Australian team in 2000 but missed out in the draft. Callinan was consistently overlooked by numerous AFL clubs despite silky skills and many of the attributes of a natural footballer: ball awareness and an uncanny capacity to read the game.
Callinan’s road had many twists and turns – he completed pre-season training with Collingwood, Essendon, North Melbourne and Richmond. When playing for the Tasmanian Devils in the VFL, he won the club best and fairest in 2005 but still he could not get an AFL club to take a chance on him. Callinan played in four consecutive premierships for SANFL team Central Districts and won its best and fairest in 2007 and 2010. In 2011, he was finally rookie listed by Adelaide. When his dream looked close to being realised, he suffered a cruel injury, tearing his bicep from the bone which sidelined him for 10 weeks.
However, Callinan did not falter. He completed rehabilitation, he trained hard and he got his aging body back to full health and fitness. In 2012, Callinan played in 23 matches for a great return of 41 goals, many coming from his outstanding chasing and tackling pressure applied in Adelaide’s forward 50.
After over a decade of hard work, Ian Callinan has finally achieved his dream, with Adelaide upgrading the 29-year-old to its senior list. He is a shining example of what hard work, tenacity and commitment to the game can bring, and sets a great example to the many young men who will be anxiously awaiting their fate in the upcoming drafts – the dream isn’t over until you give up.