With seven minutes left in the second quarter of a round three clash with the then winless Saints, the Giants’ season took a turn for the worse. Number one draft pick Jonathon Patton landed awkwardly in a tackle from St Kilda swingman Rhys Stanley and tore his anterior cruciate ligament, requiring a reconstruction on his right knee that will force him out for the rest of the 2013 season.
Already in his short career, he has required treatment for patella tendinopathy – or ‘jumper’s knee’ – for his left knee in the pre-season of 2012, as well as shoulder surgery in the post-season. The highly rated 19-year-old played only seven games last year, and won’t get a chance to add to his three this season. At the conclusion of his first two seasons in AFL, in a team that fielded 13 players aged 20 years or younger last match, Patton will have spent more time in the grandstands watching his peers than out on the field with them.
Injuries of all kind are a tragic inevitability of football, but Patton appears to be one of the unluckiest players in the game today. However, Patton need only look at his opposing number 12 from last week to draw confidence that injuries to young stars need not define their careers.
The early parallels between Patton and current St Kilda captain Nick Riewoldt are astounding. Both were highly rated key position players, drafted to a young side and desperate to make an immediate impact. However, both Patton and Riewoldt were destined to make delayed debuts due to knee injuries, with Patton making his debut in round 12 and Riewoldt in round 15. The early similarities continue when you consider that Riewoldt missed two games after his debut thanks to a shoulder injury, with Patton missing the last four games of 2012 due to surgery on his shoulder.
In their debut seasons, Riewoldt played only six games, with Patton playing seven. Riewoldt watched on as Justin Koschitzke, the player drafted to St Kilda immediately after him, claimed the AFL Rising Star award. Patton would be able to sympathise, as eight of his fellow Giants were awarded with Rising Star nominations, including fellow tall forward Jeremy Cameron, the eventual runner-up. Riewoldt was lucky enough to receive the Rising Star award in his second season, an achievement now sadly beyond Patton’s reach.
Into his thirteenth season, Riewoldt has numerous accomplishments to his name, including five best and fairest awards, four All-Australian selections including one All-Australian captaincy, and a Leigh Matthews Trophy for the AFLPA MVP. 2013 marks his eighth season as captain of the St Kilda Football Club, and the 30-year-old has stamped himself as one of the greats of the modern era.
It hasn’t come easy for Riewoldt, with knee issues continuing to torment him, and a list of injuries including a degenerative knee problem, a broken collarbone in his first match as captain and a season-destabilising hamstring injury in 2011. This is not to mention the pressure that has fallen onto his injury-prone shoulders in light of St Kilda’s many scandals, ranging from Andrew Lovett to the “St Kilda Schoolgirl”, with his position as captain dictating that he should burden much of the external pressures placed upon his team.
In spite of his injuries and controversies, Riewoldt’s career will be defined as one of a superstar centre half forward and a captain that led his side to within a point of a premiership. Patton should be hopeful that once he overcomes his latest hurdle, he too can shake off the burden of early injuries and carve out a career as individually successful as Riewoldt has.
While Patton recovers from his torn ACL, he should look to Riewoldt to inspire him to fight through his recent hurdle and come out swinging in 2014. It is clear Patton is a prodigious talent, and he should not allow some poor luck to halt his career. Riewoldt never let his injuries stop him from becoming the superstar he is today, and Patton shouldn’t either.