Dayle Garlett will perhaps go on to be the greatest talent that never was. The prodigiously talented West Australian has overcome so much, but now finds himself homesick and unable to cope with the demands that AFL football requires, which has resulted in him giving his dream away.
“Melbourne would be the place for me. I’d be a nobody and so I can just focus on my footy.” Famous last words from Garlett who, according to some, describe his push to play in the Melbourne fishbowl as an admirable one, but according to others it would be a lamb being led to the slaughter.
And they would be right.
As an advocate of Garlett’s for some time, he has jumped many hurdles and pushed through barriers to give himself the opportunity, especially in the face of adversity.
Garlett’s life had been a rocky one. Being involved with the wrong crowd proved too much of a distraction, which ultimately saw him overlooked in the 2012 national draft.
Pictures of himself drinking and smoking mid-week on Instagram did no wonders for his reputation nor character, and circulated news of missed interviews with prospective clubs, staying out late at nightclubs and losing his licence for speed-related issues all culminated into being branded a ‘problem child’, and according to some, this was always going to happen.
A shock to his system, Garlett believed his dazzling football ability would see him go inside the top 30 in the 2012 draft despite his off-field antics, but when reality hit it shook him. He wanted to have his cake and eat it, too.
Even then, when given an unlikely reprieve through the Essendon Football Club, whose simple instructions were to “behave, and we’ll pick you” fell on deaf ears as he engaged in another famous bender that burst the bubble of any faint chance he had of being rookie-listed.
Not even Garlett himself could believe it had happened again.
The months that followed the rookie draft were dark ones. He walked away from football, suffered depression, separated himself from most and once again roamed with the wrong crowd.
When he did pull himself together, he was invited to play again with Swan Districts in the WAFL, and returning to the game 12 kilograms over his natural playing weight, Garlett quickly put in the hard yards to get himself back to peak fitness, not missing a session. A lot of people wouldn’t know, but despite Garlett having all the talents to demand a round one selection in the senior squad, he opted to return via the reserves, which he felt was only fair, wanting to earn the respect of his fellow teammates that he too had to earn his spot.
It took just two games in the reserves before Garlett earned a senior selection, and after a stellar year of football in 2013 when Garlett kicked 51 goals, averaged 17 disposals a game, won 24 Sandover Medal votes and had weekly contact from Hawthorn coach Alastair Clarkson, it was inevitable that Garlett was staging a return, once again throwing his name into the hat ahead of the draft.
If you believe the rumours that Garlett missed an Port Adelaide interview with the head honchos, then you’d be correct. But it wasn’t without reason, for Garlett had been drastically ill according to his welfare management team. Make of that what you will.
But with everything going against Garlett, he made a fist of what he could still control. His off-field behaviour mimicked his on-field form; clean, classy and sophisticated. Garlett had avoided nightclubs, rid himself of his poor circle of friends, settled down with his girlfriend and even took on a personal training diploma, which he successfully completed.
It makes his fall from grace even more damning considering the monstrosity of work he had put in to put himself in the best position. Dayle Garlett was Dayle Garlett. Without the “bad boy” prefix, nothing more to hide, but with everything to gain.
It’s why this story is so sad.
Who are we to condemn a young man who is battling personal demons and misses his family? Those who imply him to be a sook are uninformed, and should reconsider. There have been players before him that have left the game citing the same reasons, and for that he should not be judged.
If anything, this speaks wonders about the Hawthorn Football Club, who gave him a chance when everybody else had washed their hands of him. There wasn’t a better club in the land that could have nurtured him and provided him with all the tools he needed to make his AFL career a successful one. The fact that not even Hawthorn of all clubs couldn’t save Garlett from himself is not their fault, nor is it his; it’s just life.
He believed himself to be ready. In a day and age where dedication, discipline and culture are king, Garlett is left wanting in all facets.
Unfortunately, the carry on affect here is what may block future draft prospects in the future. The issue now is that any other player considered to have off-field issues will suffer as a result. Clubs will look to this as “the Garlett rule”, whereby a player may not be given the benefit of the doubt as perhaps they may have in the past.
Last year, I spoke personally to one of the AFL’s most respected player managers, at equally one of the most respected player agencies. When quizzed about whether he, or his company would ever hypothetically take on Garlett as a client, a return and stern “no” quickly left his mouth. When asked why, he explained “he’s too risky”.
He too was right.
The boom or bust pick from 2013 was always going to be a gamble, and in a draft which was shallow on talent, Garlett was worth the risk. It’s hardly a “missed opportunity” from a list management point of view, but a venture in which both the Hawthorn and Garlett camps will be better for.
Depending on how you look at it, 17 clubs today will say “I told you so”, and are vindicated of their decision to overlook him. But even those who believed he’d blow up like this would’ve been privately hoping they’d be proved wrong.