Special moment as Chris joins ‘200 club’
Sunday, 5th June, 2011
Billings never referred to himself as a hardman in the interview, yet that description made its way into the headline. He was, perhaps, preceded by his own reputation.
The 32-year-old will line up for his 200th game today and, whether he agrees with the assessment or not, there is no denying that he plays a very direct brand of collision football.
Long-kicking and a ferocious attack on the ball - and the man - are hallmarks of Billings’ approach. Concern for his own welfare, and that of his opponent, rarely seems to be an issue.
“I don’t worry about it. If I get hurt, I get hurt, and if they’re in the way, well... as long as it’s not a teammate, it doesn’t bother me,” said Billings.
“We’re playing a man’s game, after all.”
His on-field demeanour is a contrast to his life off the field, which he spends with wife Kristy and their three daughters Summa, Takiyah and Ebbi.
The family recently enjoyed a holiday to Phuket and Kuala Lumpur, and it was only once Billings returned to Australian soil that his looming milestone began to sink in.
“I’m pretty excited, pretty pumped. I wasn’t too into it until I got back from overseas,” he said. “But since I’ve been back I’ve had people coming up and talking to me about it, it’s been pretty full on.
“I’ll treat it like a normal game, but obviously it will be a bit different. To be in the 200 club is pretty special.”
Although he was keen to avoid talk of his on-field achievements, the milestone is just one highlight in a 15-year career that is as decorated as any.
He has played in five senior premierships, represented the city four times, and topped his club’s goalkicking twice.
It hasn’t always been smooth sailing for the midsized-utility however, and he admitted he was contemplating walking away from the game after a slow start to this season.
“At the start of the season I was thinking of quitting. In the first three rounds I wasn’t playing good footy and I had no confidence,” he said.
“But that’s all gone now, I’m enjoying my footy again.”
In years gone by, frustration with his own game and his beloved club had even prompted him to look elsewhere for opportunities.
“I trained with Central once for three months, and I trained with South once for a month, but I couldn’t do it,” he said.
“All my mates are on the footy field and you can’t play against them. It was just too hard.”
His decision to stick with the Bulldogs has resulted in him becoming an integral member of North’s best 22, with the ability to provide a dangerous leading target up forward or rebound off the half back line.
It also gave him the chance to play alongside some of North’s all-time great players, and he listed Dean Solomon, Taylor Walker, Josh Savage, Brett Johnson and Todd Spain as the most skilled of his past and present teammates.
As for his toughest opponent, that honour was reserved for former South defender Justin Johnston.
“He was probably my hardest opponent, he was very physical and always kept me honest.”
The years of tough contests against the city’s top defenders have taken their toll, and Billings has battled through numerous injuries including a knee reconstruction, dislocated shoulder and cracked shins.
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The aches, pains and niggling injuries continue to mount, but Billings said he hoped he had a few more years left at the top level.
“(The body) is slowly deteriorating, it’s slowly telling me what to do, but I’m not listening for a while,” he said.
“I’m hoping I’ve got three years to go. If I’m good enough for another three then I’ll be happy with that.”
In that time he hopes to add to his flag tally, enjoy the development of North’s juniors, and spend as much time as possible on the field playing the game he loves.
“So far we’re doing ok. If we just keep going the way we’re going we should be up there.
“We’ve had a couple of disappointing years and I think it’s made everyone a bit hungrier. We’re more eager, more fit and I think we’re gelling better.
“I’ll play wherever Rudds needs me. I just hate the bench. Being sent to the bench, or starting there - I hate it.”
North will hold a function for their 200-gamer at the clubrooms following their clash with West, and Billings said the club’s doors were open to teammates and opponents alike.
“I hope all the past players and the guys I’ve played with and against come over for a beer.”