Doing it the hard way
Josh Gibson had good reason to be bursting with tears after the Hawks' Grand Final win this year. Gibson was one of many players who came into AFL the hard way. After school Gibson was not selected by an AFL side. He was then picked up by Port Melbourne in the VFL. Gibson was a small defender so it was hard for him to stand out and prove his talent to selectors, but he kept going at it every week, chipping away at the dream of one day playing AFL footy. Gibson finished the season as a reliable undersized defender and as a result of his hard work he was drafted by North Melbourne with pick #7 in the 2005 Rookie draft.
Gibson was able to break into the North Melbourne side in round one, 2006, after working hard over the off-season. In his first game he had 12 disposals and was able to keep his spot for another 12 games. Gibson managed to get himself back into the side for the last game; he played well and was elevated onto the senior list at season’s end. He continued to play good footy throughout the next three years at North Melbourne, but thought that he lacked the opportunity at the Kangaroos to play as a key defender, and immediately after the 2009 season requested a trade to Hawthorn, who were in need of some solid defenders after having lost Trent Croad to a career-ending injury. The deal was done on the first day of the trade week for Hawthorn's second and third round draft picks, #25 (Aaron Black) and #41 (Ayden Kennedy).
In Gibson’s first year at Hawthorn he tore his hamstring in the third round but was able to recover towards the latter part of the season and played in his first ever Elimination Final against Fremantle. Unfortunately Hawthorn lost by 30 points. The next year saw Gibson get the opportunity that he thought he lacked at North Melbourne, after long-term injuries struck key defenders Gilham and Stratton. He played in every game, including all games Hawthorn played in the finals series, where they were knocked out by Collingwood in the Preliminary.
Gibson again appeared in every game in 2012 and played in his first Grand Final against Sydney. Gibson was solid in defence and kept his opponent to only one goal; however, this was not enough to get the Hawks over the line.
In the early rounds of 2013 Hawthorn key defender Ryan Schoenmakers did his ACL which left backline stocks for Hawthorn low again. Gibson played every game and Hawthorn again made the Grand Final. After last year’s defeat, Gibson was keen to get a win for the Hawks and played a crucial role in shutting down the Fremantle forward line, a factor which which went a long way to getting the Hawks over the line. At the final siren Gibson was seen in tears - understandably so, as it has been a long ride for Gibson and he deserves every taste of success.
Brent Guerra’s road to success has suffered many setbacks along the way and the 255 gamer is a very deserving premiership winner. Guerra was drafted to Port Adelaide in 1999 with selection 28. He was drafted as a dangerous winger/forward and played four seasons at Port Adelaide before requesting a trade to return home to Victoria. He was traded to St.Kilda for pick #39 (Robert Forster-Knight).
Guerra was a vital part of the Saints forward line in 2004. He kicked 20 goals in his first six games for the club, including a seven goal haul in round nine against West Coast. After his seven goals his form shaped and he only kicked another nine goals from the remaining 12 games of the season. Guerra was also involved in incidents which led to suspension on several occasions, seeing him in and out of the side.
Throughout the 2005 season, his poor form continued, and he collected less than six disposals in seven out of the 13 games he played. St Kilda decided that they had given him enough chances and delisted the forward at season's end.
Alistair Clarkson had been assistant coach of Port Adelaide before claiming the coaching role at Hawthorn and saw the potential in Guerra’s ability. Guerra was invited to train with Hawthorn and was later selected in the pre-season draft. Clarkson saw the potential but didn’t think that his former coaches had been playing him in the right position, so he decided to try him as a strong-bodied half back flanker. Throughout 2006, 2007 and 2008 Guerra averaged just over 20 disposals a game and this led him to a Grand Final birth. Guerra was very reliable down back and had 25 possessions in the Hawks' upset win over Geelong. Over the next three years he played the consistent footy he had lacked at St. Kilda up forward.
In the last quarter of the 2012 season, Guerra sustained a serious hamstring injury, which would see him out for the remainder of the season. Hawthorn went on to make the Grand Final and unfortunately he was ruled out.
After the disappointment of last year, Guerra was back out and playing again in round one. It was a successful return and he finished with 24 disposals in a loss against the Cats. He had a few niggles and missed several games during 2013. At season's end, Guerra was just about best on ground in the Qualifying final and the Preliminary final, and the disappointment from last year seemed to be all over. He showed a bit of emotion after the Hawks won the Grand Final and later announced his retirement. Guerra's has been a remarkable career, and he deservedly retires with the glory of two premierships, as his has been a long journey, with many setbacks overcome.
Puopolo, a small, quick and strong defensive forward, spent four years in the SANFL before being granted the opportunity of playing AFL footy. Puopolo made his debut for Norwood in 2007 and played out the year as a forward. He was later converted into a defender by new coach Trevor Hill in 2008. He quickly became known as the best SANFL lockdown small defender. Despite his lack of height, he always managed to beat taller opponents with his strength and speed. He continued playing great footy as a defender for another two years, and at the end of 2010 was drafted by Hawthorn at pick #66. By the time he had got drafted Puopolo had played 68 games, and booted 13 goals, in the Norwood seniors.
In round 7, 2011 Puopolo was selected to debut, at the age of 23 years old. Puopolo has 15 disposals in a win against Port Adelaide and kept is spot in the side for the remainder of the season, including all games in Hawthorn’s final campaign. The following year Puopolo was selected in the side for most games, including a career best five-goal game against Port Adelaide in round 20. However, during the finals campaign of 2012 Puopolo’s form was poor, and he had just 21 disposals and kicked one goal across all finals games, including the grand final loss.
This year Puopolo had a massive season and played in all games bar three. His form has been very good and this resulted in another grand final birth. Though Puopolo was fairly quiet, his forward pressure was great, evidenced by six tackles, all inside the forward half.
Simpkin, a country boy from Colac in Victoria was playing with the Geelong Falcons at TAC cup level and had a great season with the side. Unfortunately he was not picked up in the national draft but was asked by Sydney to train with them over the pre-season. Simpkin showed promising signs and was listed with the 16th pick in the 2006 rookie draft. In his first season, 2007, he was elevated onto the senior list. Despite this, he was delisted at the end of the season without playing a game for the Swans. After the disappointment of being delisted Simpkin returned to play for the Colac Tigers in the Geelong Football League.
In 2008 he played for Geelong in the VFL, and continued to do so until the end of 2009, where he was asked to train with the Geelong senior team in December. Geelong was impressed with Simpkin and he was selected in the 2011 rookie draft. Consistent performances across the 2012 season saw him win the Geelong reserves best and fairest for the second year running. In round nine, a spot opened up in the side after Nathan Vardy was placed on the long term injury list. Simpkin was upgraded onto the senior list and then made his debut against the Western Bulldogs, starting as the substitute. Simpkin managed to reappear in the side another three times after his debut game and was again delisted at seasons end.
Alistair Clarkson saw potential in Simpkin just as he had done in Guerra and decided to pick him up in the 2012 Delisted Free Agency Period.
In round six Simpkin made his debut for Hawthorn against Adelaide, starting as sub. He managed another 13 games after this, including the Grand Final. He played for the Box Hill in the VFL Grand Final and won the best afield medal. With an injury to Whitecross sustained in the Preliminary Final, a spot in the senior side opened up. Simpkin was selected and a major opportunity lay ahead of him. He started as sub, and came on at three quarter time to play in his first AFL premiership. He had six disposals in the winning side. Simpkin’s story is one of the biggest in the AFL. His journey to success has been a very challenging one but all of his hard work has paid off and given him a place in a premiership-winning side.
Luke Breust, born and bred in Temora in NSW, switched his focus from rugby league to AFL from the age of 14. He suffered a major setback in 2008 sustaining a fractured leg, and when he was not selected in the national draft that year, he believed that his goal to become an AFL player was over. But after he recovered from his leg break, he received an invitation to trial with the Hawks in the 2009 pre-season. Breust managed to impress Hawthorn selectors, getting picked up at #47 in the 2009 AFL rookie draft as a result.
After two years of slogging it out in the reserves for Box Hill, Breust was finally rewarded a spot in the side against St Kilda in round eight, 2011. He kicked two goals after coming on as substitute. Breust cemented his spot in the team and in round 15, his 16 disposals and two goals saw him receive a Rising Star nomination. Breust again continued to improve in 2012 and played every game but one, and he kicked a career best 5 goals against Collingwood. Breust had a great finals campaign and played in the losing grand final side. At the end of the season Breust managed to collect fourth place in the Hawthorn best and fairest, acknowledging his improvement.
In 2013, Breust layed in every game, and was a valued member of the Hawthorn outfit. He kicked one goal in the Hawks winning Grand Final side. Breust’s journey has been a tough one, with several setbacks suffered along the way; he is now a deserving premiership player.
Max Bailey is one of the most remarkable stories of a player’s journey to success. He was drafted at pick 18 in the 2005 national draft and made his AFL debut in Round 18 of the 2006 season. During the 2007 pre-season, he suffered a rupture to the ACL in his right knee ACL and missed the whole of the 2007 season. Bailey returned to the Box Hill Hawks, midway through 2008 and unfortunately again ruptured his right ACL and required another knee reconstruction. He decided to postpone his surgery to concentrate on his studying, and at the end of the season had the reconstruction done. The operation went well and in 2009 Bailey continued training and was expected to play later in the season. Finally, he made a return to the senior team in round 21, and had 23 hit outs in a successful return. But the following week against Essendon Bailey landed awkwardly on his left knee and suffered another ACL injury, yet again needing a reconstruction this time on his "good" knee. He missed the whole of the 2010 season. Hawthorn kept the faith and retained him on the list after his third reconstruction, even though he had only played six senior games over five years.
Bailey returned to the side in Round 9 of 2011, looked injury-free and he played another 15 games after that. During 2012 Bailey aggravated an already injured wrist, another setback for the ruckman and this injury kept him sidelined for another 12 weeks. He was only able to play two games after coming back from injury that year.
At the start of the 2013 season lucked turned Bailey's way. With no injuries, he managed a full pre-season in, and was able to finally cement his spot in the side, playing 19 games, including Hawthorn's Grand Final win. At the end of the game Sam Mitchell said that Max Bailey was “the greatest story of the 2013 premiership.” Bailey has recently announced his retirement and ended his career on a high rather than a low, thanking the club for keeping the faith.
Other Players who won a flag the hard way
Sam Mitchell – Overlooked in the 2000 draft
Brian Lake – Traded from the Bulldogs
Jack Gunston – Traded from Adelaide
David Hale – Traded from North Melbourne
Shaun Burgoyne – Traded from Port Adelaide