Port Adelaide defender Tom Clurey is a key staple of Ken Hinkley’s defence and has been one of the club’s most consistent performers this season. But getting to where he is now, was something that took patience and persistence.

Tom Clurey is given the hardest job in football each week. Play on the best forward the opposition has to offer. It’s not glamourous; it’s not easy and rarely comes with anything other than a good slap on the back.

It is not something for the faint-hearted either, as we know what kinds of forward beasts lurk inside the attacking 50. But for the 28-year-old, it is all part of the job. More often than not, the stout defender gets the better of his opponent and does so in an unassuming and under the radar type of way. But getting to the level where he is now, took a long time.

Drafted back in 2012 from the Murray Bushrangers, Clurey took time to adjust to AFL life. Thankfully he had the help of another key defender in Alipate Carlile, to teach him the ropes early on in his career.

“(Alipate) ‘Bobby’ Carlile was good early,” Clurey told The Inner Sanctum.

“He comes from Wangaratta, so only about an hour from where I’m from back home. So being a key back as well early days he helped me a fair bit. So he was probably one of the main ones.”

Clurey finally gets his chance

While Clurey was drafted in 2012, he would not get his first senior AFL game until Round 1 of the 2014 season. The key defender played all of Port Adelaide’s preseason games and caught the eye of coach Ken Hinkley.

Clurey would win his first ever AFL game as Port Adelaide defeated Carlton 120 to 87 at Marvel Stadium. Looking back on his debut, the 28-year-old doesn’t remember much from the game itself.

“That was the start of my second year,” Clurey said.

“Obviously didn’t play any AFL games in my first year, had a pretty good preseason that second year at the club. Then played the NAB Cup or preseason games and did alright in them and got the call up for Round 1 against Carlton.

“Obviously, you don’t forget the actual game because of the excitement and build-up; I actually can’t remember too much of the game.”

That would be the defender’s only game for the entire 2014 season as he was still adjusting to life as an AFL footballer and what it took to become a consistent part of the team.

Adjusting to the demands of AFL football

Clurey added to his games total in 2015, playing eight games. He then played nine the following year in 2016. He noted that the physical side of AFL football is something that took him a little while to get used to.

The defender says during that time in his career, learning about the ups and downs of being an AFL footballer and trying to get a consistent performance every week was the toughest.

“Probably more so the consistency of it,” Clurey said on what the hardest thing was about getting used to AFL football.

“Obviously, it’s not easy to play at the level, AFL or even SANFL at the time, being a young key back, playing on some pretty big forwards in the SANFL, and probably just getting used to the ups and downs.

“You might have a good couple of games in a row and then find a tougher one. But probably just working on that consistency week in and week out at the elite level, which you need to play AFL.

“Then the physical side of it early, coming from the TAC Cup in Victoria, only ever playing against kids, 17–18-year old’s. I played two senior games before I got over here, then you go from playing against kids your own age all your life. Then you are thrown straight into SANFL and AFL footy, against mature adults.

“It’s pretty tough at first, but it was one of those adjustments. It did take a little bit of time. The first three, four, five years was a bit of a roller-coaster, but I think it’s a good learning curve along the way and something to build that resilience, and it got me to where I am today.”

The “breakout” year

The 2017 season was his breakout year with the club. Although it is infamously remembered for Port’s after-the-siren loss in extra time to the West Coast Eagles in the Elimination Final at Adelaide Oval, the key defender played 23 games that season as he cemented his spot in Port’s back six.

For Clurey, the 2017 season was when he finally felt like he belonged at AFL level.

“Yeah, that was my first full year, I believe,” he said.

“Throughout that season (2017), getting a full year, playing consistent footy and the team, we were going ok at the time. Bit up and down, but personally, getting those consistent games and learning each week and playing on pretty much the best forwards in the league, I really got a lot of confidence and took a lot out of that year for sure.”

Clurey loves the challenge of playing on the best

The task of playing on some of the best key forwards in the competition on a weekly basis can be daunting for most.

Players such as Lance Franklin, Tom Lynch, Tom Hawkins, Charlie Curnow, Max King, and Ben Brown are some of the names that Clurey has had to battle with over the journey. But for all the challenges each player presents, it is something that the 28-year-old enjoys.

“It’s a challenge I like getting week in, week out, playing on the big forwards, he said.

“That’s my role in the team. But I look forward to the challenge and playing on the big boys. It’s never easy, and you never go into a game, I suppose, knowing it’s just going to happen, there’s some very good players out there. It’s a challenge I look forward to each week, and it’s one that I’m pretty proud of.”

Port Adelaide started the season in horrible fashion, losing its first five games. At the time, Clurey was on the sidelines dealing with a knee issue that still plagues him today.

With the club going through a challenging period so early in the season, the defender says that it was tough being on the sidelines and unable to help out.

“Yeah, definitely tough, he said.

“I have been pretty lucky throughout my career; never had too many injuries or too many severe injuries. I think it’s been the last few, breaking the jaw and then this year doing the knee at the start of the year.

“Then that persisting throughout the season. It’s something that I have had to get used to, but it’s never easy at the time, and it is a bit frustrating at times watching on because you want to be out there with the boys and helping out.”

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With the 28-year-old playing nine seasons in the AFL, he has seen just about everything on the football field. From defeats to big hits, to finals wins and everything in between. However, there is still something that alludes the key defender—kicking his first AFL goal.

Clurey is the longest-serving current AFL player yet to kick a goal in a game. 123 games (at the time of writing) have gone by for the defender, and still no sniff of getting inside 50 for that elusive first goal. It is something that he tries to hint to the coaching staff regularly.

“I hint it a bit to Nathan Bassett, the forward coach. I hint to him a little bit,” Clurey said jokingly.

“It’s something I do hear a bit of these days from friends, and you see it online pop up every now and then, but I’m dragging the chain a bit. I have come this far, I might as well save it for a good occasion.”

Given how long we have had to wait, one can only imagine the scenes when the 28-year-old finally puts one through the big sticks.

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