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In My Own Words: I Copped A Lot Of Abuse But Footy Opened The Door Just Enough That I Could Step Through It

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In My Own Words: I Copped A Lot Of Abuse But Footy Opened The Door Just Enough That I Could Step Through It

The legendary Syd Jackson, Gold Coast Suns youngster Izak Rankine and GWS' Jeremy Finlayson told SPORTbible Australia what the AFL Sir Doug Nicholls Round's 'Legacy' theme means to them...


Meeting with Nicky Winmar, Gavin Wanganeen and the two tyros, Kysaiah Pickett and Bradley Hill for a photo shoot on the MCG the other night was a great thrill. How fantastic

it was to see these great past and current players on the middle of Australia's most famous oval. Most of the times I have been there the place has been alive with fans but the other night the stands were quiet. At one point I took a moment to pause and think about my journey from Roelands Mission, near Bunbury, and reflect on all the great people I have met along the way. Everyone from my mission brothers and sisters, many who did not have the opportunity I had, and all the people from all the great clubs I had anything to do with. From a scrawny little fella running around the paddocks and trying to get a kick to playing with some of the best players of any era and rubbing shoulders with captains of industry and champion sportspeople. It's been a mighty journey.

The great Syd Jackson. Credit: Supplied
The great Syd Jackson. Credit: Supplied

As I walked onto the MCG for that photo shoot I felt completely at home. I became so comfortable playing at the MCG in front of big crowds that it did not bother me in the slightest. I think about this and its quite something considering I was as a little boy removed from my mother at the age of three, growing up in institutions and having no record of my birth, the MCG felt comfortable and familiar. Despite all of these challenges I was supported by so many good people and so my main goal was to make a success of my life. It was here on the MCG I did this but my motivation was my Roelands family. I always felt a strong link and pride in my connection to Roelands Mission believing my mob would be pleased with my achievements. I heard they had the wireless aerial connected to the clothes-line to listen to the 1970 Grand Final. Great memories.

I copped my fair share of abuse but football opened the door just enough that I could step through it. This is what I have kept doing all along stepping through the doors of opportunity because if footy has taught me anything if you don't take the opportunity then you will die wondering. Sir Doug Nicholls, the man who the round is named after, understood this too. Step up and step through, take the opportunity, that is what footy is all about.


For me Sir Doug Nicholls Round is about paying respect to those who have come before me and playing alongside my brothers like Jarrod Harbrow and Sean Lemmens. It's what these great players have passed onto me that means the most. The other thing is family. As a kid growing up I followed the Crows because that's who my Dad went for. In the lounge room of our home in Adelaide he taught my brother and me about taking hangs off the arm of the couch and where to stand for the for the drop of the ball. I've heard Nicky Winmar learned to take screamers from a car seat stuck in the middle of a paddock. For Uncle Syd Jackson, this year's honouree, he had to get a kick with 40 other kids competing for one footy. Some people think the way Aboriginal footballers play is natural, but I think its because we love football and we are schooled to understand the game from a young age.

Izak Rankine of the Gold Coast Suns. Credit: Supplied
Izak Rankine of the Gold Coast Suns. Credit: Supplied

When I think about the Sir Doug Nicholls round the players that stick out in my mind are the the little masters. Andrew McLeod was incredible as was Leon Davis. But when I think about players I can't go past Cyril Rioli. He's the man. But then I think harder and Eddie Betts comes into my head. When I got the chance to swap jumpers with him last year when we were up in Darwin it was unforgettable. It's through those sorts of experiences that you become stoked for the opportunity to play alongside some of the best footballers ever. Its deadly.

For me though footy is not my end goal. Playing is a privilege and my profession but being a footballer is not my only thing. But for me the people that keep me centred other than my family is Harbs and Lemmo. They have guided me along the pathway. Lemmo took me into his home and he taught me about all the important things I need to do to prepare. For Harbs he is the king of the community. If we are at a footy clinic or a school he is the person I try to model myself on. I just count myself lucky.


Growing up in the Riverina I started playing Auskick for the Culcairn Lions. It was the same club my dad played about 400 games for. My first memory was running around and playing with my mates and the smell of the snaggers on the bbq. As a kid I was obsessed with footy and would try to dribble the ball through doorways and up the passage. My mates and I would take turns at trying to kick the ball into power poles and through the branches of trees as we headed to school or knocked around town. I was trying to be like Aaron Davey as I was a Demons fan.

Jeremy Finlayson of the Greater Western Sydney Giants. Credit: Supplied
Jeremy Finlayson of the Greater Western Sydney Giants. Credit: Supplied

As I got a bit older, I started to fill out and my athleticism seemed to really sync in with my skills. I was playing league footy by the age of 15. Playing against men teaches you a thing or two and before I knew it I was in the GWS Giants Academy system and really enjoying the experience. I was on a scholarship in year 11 and 12 through the Giants academy and I have essentially been with the club for 9 years. Footy has given me a so much. Great mates. Great experiences, like playing against Buddy Franklin. I was in total awe of him. I just wanted to stand there and look at him. I laugh now about it as he kicked a bag on me.

When I think of Sir Doug Round, I genuinely get goose-bumps. This year though is even more exciting as I found out from my Dad's cousin that I am related to Sir Doug so the round has a greater significance. My Dad only met his cousin last year as he is part of the Stolen Generation and he had all this incredible information. Like my Nan was one of 18. All born in a tent because they were not allowed into the town hospital.

When I hear those stories, I think about what I want my footy legacy to be but how I want to use that to help kids in the Juvenile Justice cycle. I see the statistics and think about those Indigenous kids in jail and it breaks my heart. So when I found out about my connection to Sir Doug I knew it made sense. He is such an inspiration and I can't wait to get out there and play.

Featured Image Credit: AFL Photos

Topics: Aussie Rules, afl, Aussie Rules Football, racial abuse, Australia, In My Own Words

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