I have learned many things in my 11 years in the AFL.
Football, from the day of your first kick and, I suspect, to your last is an education. As it happens, my finishing school has been Collingwood.
To describe what it is like to play for Collingwood is not easy, although I believe, like a lot of people, that the club has a ‘personality’ unlike any other. Collingwood functions on a scale that is never small. There is a mystique about our club that has existed for over a century but appears to build with every season. We are unmistakably black and white, in everything, but also a football club that fascinates as if there is always more to be revealed or said. In this, we are a paradox.
When I arrived, in late 2005, excitement was as much as I could process. I didn’t think too much, if at all, about how or why I got here. I certainly didn’t recognise or understand that the courses of my professional and personal lives would have been very different if I had been drafted elsewhere.
The AFL is the AFL, right? Well, no.
I’m sure it is a privilege to pull on any AFL jumper but pulling on the Collingwood jumper has always made me feel big and small, often at once.
I feel as large as the game itself when I stretch the black and white stripes over my head on match day. Knowing that I am one of only 1200-odd players to have had the experience is exhilarating in the way I imagine an astronaut, who does something few others will ever do, must feel.
I have never walked out of the race for the start of a game thinking that victory wasn’t possible.
And then, when you stop to consider the rare privilege it is, I find it impossible to ignore the realisation that I am really a speck on a continuum that already stretches back 125 years. That I share something with men who, in 1892, probably felt as proud and as fortunate as I do to have played for Collingwood.
I believe that you only have to do it once to understand. I’m not sure that the same sensation can be found anywhere else in our game.