From backyard to the MCG
Tuesday, 10th May, 2011
By Taylor Walker,
While I always really look forward to running out on to the hallowed turf of the famous MCG, my favourite football memories are the fun I've had playing with my mates.
That's why at some stage down the track I can see myself heading back to Broken Hill to play a few seasons with North and the guys I grew up with to finish off my playing days.
I've been in love with the game ever since I can remember and enjoy nothing better than running around the field with your best friends and kicking back with a few beers after the game.
My earliest football memories are having a kick in the backyard with my older brother Ayrton and trying to rig the rules so I could win.
When I was drafted by the Crows in 2007 there were plenty of people who said Ayrton had more football potential than me, but unfortunately he suffered a severe ACL (knee) injury as a 15-year-old.
I had a lot of fun in those backyard scrapes with Ayrton (now 25) and when he wasn't around my older sister Aisha was always ready for a game. She could be pretty fiery at times and I don't mind admitting she won just as many battles as I did.
Even though Dad (Wayne) was a pretty handy player himself, he never pushed us toward footy. He was always there to help us with a few tips, but ultimately he left the decision on when we played up to us and I'm very thankful that he took that approach.
In those early days I remember a few windows being broken during our sessions in the backyard and being yelled at for wearing my (studded) boots through the house on Saturday mornings.
Mum (Margaret) was also very supportive and I've got her to thank for my height - which is obviously an important part of my game as a key forward. No doubt I have been blessed to have such a great family life growing up because without that I wouldn't be where I am today.
I've been fortunate that all through my time with the Crows I have been surrounded by a caring support crew. When I first shifted to Adelaide I moved in with my God parents Wayner and Donna Dunbar. Mum and Donna were great friends and basketball team-mates while Dad and Wayne played for a long time together with Central.
Being able to go home each night to friends who provided a stable family environment (Wayne and Donna have two daughters) made my transition from Broken Hill to the "big smoke" of Adelaide so much easier and I am indebted to them.
I was very homesick as a teenager moving away from the comforts of home and all my mates and I may not have survived the first six months in Adelaide without Wayne and Donna and their family.
I have seen other players move to South Australia and arrive at the Crows without close family support and it can be really tough. I'll always make an effort to help out with those guys where I can because I know how much of a shock to the system the whole process is.
After 12 months settling into Adelaide I then lived with a great mate Jayden Kelly for about 18 months in an apartment. We had a lot of fun together and I really enjoyed that.
But when Jayden decided to move back to Broken Hill I was over living in a confined space and really wanted the freedom of having a backyard again, so I'm now sharing a house with Crows team-mate Bernie Vince and a family friend of mine and former BH team-mate Morgan Billings.
Like me, Bernie is from the country (Yorke Peninsula) and we really get along well together. It is great to have someone who is in the same head-space as you, a person to train with if necessary and use as a sounding board about football.
Just as importantly though, it is great to have Morgan around so we don't overdose on football. Morgan is a builder by trade and a great guy who keeps us in the "real" world.
For those who are wondering, we all chip in with the cooking and cleaning duties and I really enjoy getting out in the backyard with the lawnmower and spending some time in the garden.
You really need to have something to take your mind off football because it can be so mentally draining and that is why I am also undertaking a front-line management course at the moment.
I'm fully aware that I won't be playing football forever and I'd like to run my own business later on in life, so getting these type of qualifications is all about preparing myself for life after footy.
In the past I have also completed a real estate course and dipping a toe in the media with this column for the BDT is also adding another string to my bow for the future.
The average playing-span of an AFL footballer is only about three years and while my goal is to play as many games as possible with the Crows and be around for about 10 years, I know there is every chance that may not happen.
I have no doubt that my country upbringing in Broken Hill has helped me adjust to the lifestyle of an AFL footballer and I often use experiences from my youth these days.
When I was growing up in Broken Hill people always took the time to talk to you and that is how I handle the fans here in Adelaide.
With only two AFL teams in South Australia there is a fair chunk of attention on you - particularly when you start playing a few games and become a more important part of the team - but I always make a point of spending time with people who want to talk footy.
It can be a fine line at times because you do have to deal with some negative approaches (every now and then you get bailed up by a Port Adelaide fan who wants to be a nuisance) but when that happens you just have to ignore it and walk away.
Whether we like it or not, we are role models to a lot of young, impressionable kids and when you are in the public eye you have to be careful how you act.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not complaining because there are a lot of worse things that people have to deal with in their daily jobs.
I can still go out and enjoy myself socially but need to understand that people may be watching me a little closer than they normally would someone else.
To me this is just part and parcel of the AFL caper and the club are continually offering help and advice in this area - but I'm certainly not going to miss this side of things when I retire.
That's why I think I'll play a few seasons back in Broken Hill when my AFL days are over. I'll really enjoy the freedom of running around with my mates then shooting the breeze over a few beers post-game.
I'm sure that's what the Bulldogs were doing after scoring a win over West last weekend at "the Jube" and I'll look forward to being part of that down the track.