dayle garlett

In light of troubled youngster Dayle Garlett deciding to leave Hawthorn after spending five months there, I had the opportunity to sit down with someone entrenched in the Garlett camp. Preferring to keep their identity confidential, they were able to give me an insight in to what was the catalyst for his departure.

John Feeney: Have you had any contact with Dayle in the last few days?

Anonymous: Not directly. He’s pretty much only wanting to speak through the management company itself and through his welfare manager. He’s spoken to him and asked for the message to be relayed to everyone else within the team and that’s basically because he’s pretty embarrassed. It’s a tough one, that’s for sure.

JF: It’s been reported that he was struggling with certain aspects of being an AFL footballer. Are you able to elaborate on these struggles specifically?

A: I think with the Hawthorn Football Club, they demand a certain level of discipline. Not only do you have training, but there’s also rehabilitation, strength and conditioning, time you’ve got to spend at the club going over opposition tapes, and meetings. So there’s a lot of contact hours and it really is a full time job. It’s not like what he’s been used to in the WAFL where he could train two nights a week and play on the weekend. It has been a big wake-up call in a sense that he put himself in a good position to get drafted and when he did, he knew that was going to draw scrutiny. He knew that Hawthorn were going to ride him to bring out the best in him. To his credit he started off really well and adjusted really well, but I think the constant training load left him feeling not only physically tired, but mentally tired. I think he thought he was going to be ready for it, but I think he bit off more than he could chew.

What needs to be made clear is that he is struggling with other things besides football. There are personal issues with his family back home – his immediate family that is – and it is quite serious. He is struggling with issues back home and I don’t think he was ready to take on the amount of work that was required.

JF: There was much discussion about whether or not a club was going to take him in the lead up to the draft, but, as we know, Hawthorn took a chance and drafted him. In your opinion, were there any concerns for him once he was drafted?

A: No there wasn’t. We put in all the work we thought was necessary and we’d been working with him since he was overlooked in the 2012 rookie draft. So it has been a full 12 months of preparation, going through the highs and lows, mentoring him and helping him with his day to day life as a friend and a mentor. The company really put in every effort they could, but there were times when they really had to push him. He did everything right in 2013. He polled the most votes for Swan Districts in the Sandover Medal and the contact from Alastair Clarkson every Sunday was just a huge boost for his confidence. Leading into the draft, although it wasn’t a certainty that he would get drafted, we basically knew 24 to 48 hours prior that the only club that was interested was Hawthorn. Every other club said no thanks.

JF: There’s going to be two lines of thinking from the football public when it comes to his situation. There’s going to be the fans who say that Hawthorn used a relatively low pick, it didn’t work and they now move on. But there’s going to be those who will question the club’s decision to take such a gamble. What do you say to the latter?

A: I think that Dayle is the sort of player that whilst he comes with a big risk, he also comes with a big reward: I think Hawthorn saw that in him whilst 17 other clubs didn’t. He is a tremendous talent whose story isn’t over. He’ll go back to the WAFL and start to really enjoy his football where hopefully we’ll see him one day play for one of the Western Australian AFL clubs in a couple of years. People need to realise that the Hawthorn Football Club were the best football club, in the AFL, to help him and to nurture him. They’ve got some great indigenous leaders and their welfare department is second to none. People have also got to understand that it was a shallow draft and he was definitely worth the risk. Hawthorn had nothing to lose, and while it’s sad, I guess that’s just how it is unfortunately.

JF: As you’ve mentioned, Dayle will most likely go back to the WAFL and play for the Swan Districts: however, you also said that in your opinion, his story isn’t over. The work load of an AFL footballer is pretty tough and that is part of the reason as to why he is heading back home, but that work load isn’t going to change any time soon. With time and maturity, could he realistically find himself back in the AFL system?

A: It isn’t necessarily that he couldn’t handle the work load. That’s an indictment on him as a person and as a footballer, because he trained himself ridiculously hard in the pre-season of last year after being over looked in the 2012 Rookie Draft. He came back to football, after initially giving it away, and was 12-15 kilos over his playing weight. By himself he devised a training program to get himself fit and he came back the long way at Swan Districts through the reserves. The work load isn’t really the main issue: however, there are areas that he does need to work on and, to some extent, there’s no shame in that. But, I will say that he is a lot less mature than other draftees who are the same age. We’ve seen a lot of 18 year old draftees in the past debut and carry themselves very well. With Dayle, we need to remember that he wanted to come to Melbourne to get away from family issues and his circle of friends that he surrounded himself with. Unfortunately, it hasn’t worked out, but hopefully he can work his backside off and come back in three or four years’ time and be drafted in to the system.

JF: The word maturity has been used quite a lot with regards to Dayle, not only by yourself, but by key members of Hawthorn. In your opinion, should the minimum draft age be raised?

A: It’s a tough one. If you take American sports for example, a lot of the players over there don’t come into the system until they’re 21-years-old. They usually do a couple of years at college and then come in to the professional system. We’ve got to remember that there is a lot of pressure placed on these kids in the AFL system. They go from being year 12 students playing under 18 football to being drafted in to a professional AFL environment where they might spend anywhere from 38-45 hours a week at the club. Most of the time a lot of the players are living away from home and it is something that would have an effect on them. However, at some point they need to adjust. Dayle knows he needed to adjust and that he needed to knuckle down a bit more.

JF: It’s been mentioned through this interview about the work load that was before him when he arrived at Hawthorn, and you mentioned that he got himself in to good physical shape. If he wants to play AFL again, what does he need to do to make sure he is fully prepared? One club has already taken a chance on him and it hasn’t worked out. But if he says he wants to play AFL again, what does he need to do to make sure that this never happens again?

A: I think the problem now for Dayle is that clubs are going to be gun shy. They are going to be hard on him. In a day and age where list management is crucial, clubs are going to be wary of him. That is one thing that we had spoken to him about when he made the decision to go home. He knows that he has the talent to keep his AFL dream alive, but what he also knows is that any sort of work that he did in the past to get himself in to a position to be drafted needs to be put in ten-fold if he is going to succeed at AFL level. From what he has alluded to, he is aware he may never get another opportunity at AFL level. He also believes that if that is the case, he only has himself to blame.

JF: As someone who has been close to him over the last 18 months, do you feel let down by his decision to go home? Was there something else that you or others could have done? Or was he adamant that he needed to go home?

A: He was pretty firm in his decision. He started the pre-season at Hawthorn really well and we were really hopeful of him settling down in Melbourne. From our end we were happy to see him doing so well. We knew that getting him drafted was the easy part. It was then getting him to stick to the training loads and the expectations on him as a footballer. I will say that if a player isn’t enjoying playing football, then he shouldn’t be playing football. It’s the same in any other profession. But we really can’t judge him. A lot of people don’t understand exactly what goes on in indigenous communities and how all the families are intertwined. He’s got a lot of his own demons to deal with, and that was standing in his way of meeting the expectations placed on him by the Hawthorn Football Club. He was brave enough to come forward and admit that he was struggling. I can’t commend the club enough for how they have dealt with him. They allowed him to have some personal time away from the club and see his family in Perth. He spoke with his family and they really pushed him to stay. In the end, it was his own personal decision. We don’t hold any grudges or regrets for how we’ve been able to assist him in his football and in his life in general over the past 18 months. It’s just a shame that it’s happened this way. We thought getting him on to a list would be the best way for him to flourish, but it seems as though it has backfired.

JF: Hypothetically, let’s fast forward two years from now. He’s had two really good years in the WAFL and he wants to have another go at the AFL. A club recruiter comes to you and asks whether it would be worth drafting him. What do you say?

A: I’d say yes in a heartbeat. Before he was drafted, he was regarded as the best talent to come out of Western Australia. For a kid who has been compared to Daniel Wells and Stephen Coniglio, two of the most prestigious talents to come out of Western Australia, I’d be shattered if he did not at least get a look in again. He’s such a talented player and there are very few people that I have seen or worked with that are as talented. I wouldn’t hesitate in putting my reputation on the line to say ‘give him another shot’, because he’s worth it. I’ve continuously gone in to bat for him, and I don’t have any shame whatsoever in doing so, and people will tell me that I shouldn’t have bothered with this kid. They’ll say that he was a waste of time and that this was always going to happen. But when you believe in someone, you believe in someone and he will make it without a doubt.

JF: Thank you very much for your time. For Dayle’s sake, let’s hope he can somehow get himself right and find himself back on an AFL list in the future.

A: Here’s hoping. Thanks very much.