18/04/2024

Fergus Greene spoke exclusively to The Inner Sanctum about his road to a second chance at AFL. (Photo: Hawthorn Football Club/Design by Madeline Irwin)

Delisted by the Western Bulldogs at the end of the 2020 season, Fergus Greene has embarked on an incredible journey that has seen him earn a second chance in the AFL at Hawthorn.

Greene’s journey began with a simple meeting with Box Hill Hawks senior assistant coach Andy Collins and General Manager Dan Napoli and it has since turned into a redemption arc. The two convinced, the young forward to turn down multiple offers from other clubs to join them at Box Hill.

“They essentially told me the things I was good at and just talked about ‘me’,” Greene told The Inner Sanctum.

“When you get delisted, you’re told all the things you’re not good at as the club justifies why they are getting rid of you. It is a really lonely place when that happens.”

An easy decision for Greene, the stars seemed to align for him when Sam Mitchell was appointed as the senior coach.

In his first season at Box Hill, Greene cemented a good relationship with Mitchell which has remained strong to this day. Their relationship with one another was not just strong on the field but also off the field, but Greene insists that when it was match day it was all business for the pair.

“It is pretty relaxed. We have quite fun back-and-forth banter,” he said.

“He [Sam Mitchell] was generally potting me to the group and I was trying to do the same back, so it was a quite relaxed relationship and that’s one thing I really enjoyed.”

Even when Mitchell left Box Hill to take ahold of the coaching reigns at Hawthorn the following year, the pair remained close. Appreciative of Mitchell’s personality, the forward states it still hasn’t changed from coaching in the VFL to AFL.

Greene admitted that although there wasn’t much deep chat about footy between each other in 2022, Mitchell would smirk and say something about him “getting out the back on a goal and getting a cheap one”.

While Greene did the best he could in a shortened 2021 season, his following season was superb. Finding great form in the forward 50, he ended the season with 53 goals, taking his goal tally to 83 in 26 games in the VFL.

After missing out on the 2022 mid-season draft, Greene thought perhaps his AFL days had come to a close. In the mid-season draft, he had some contact with Hawthorn but no promises were made and he was unselected.

“It was a bit of a gutting moment,” Greene said.

Instead, Hawthorn would pick up James Blanck, a key defender from their VFL program. Blanck ended up playing nine AFL games for the remainder of the season, while Greene continued delivering amazing performances in the VFL.

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While Greene never thought he would leave the Box Hill Hawks, he wondered about the idea of leaving the club to go back and play local footy after not being selected, due to the demands of playing VFL football, combined with full-time work.

Then out of nowhere, Greene received interest from the Fremantle Dockers. As the Dockers showed strong interest in the former Bulldog, the Hawks swooped in. Through Sam Mitchell, the Hawks asked whether Greene was keen to have another crack at the AFL level.

Greene detailed his answer and Mitchell’s response.

“I still think I have a bit to offer,” Greene said.

While Sam Mitchell replied, “that’s good mate, we will see what happens”.

Fergus Greene’s performances at Box Hill caught the eyes of those at Hawthorn. (@BoxHillHawks/Twitter)

Entangled in discussions with Hawthorn for a one-year contract, Greene firmly locked in the new deal in late 2022 thanks to his manager Peter Rohde.

Thinking he was filming a special farewell message for former general manager Dan Napoli who was departing Box Hill. Greene was completely overwhelmed when Mitch Lewis and James Sicily gate-crashed proceedings to welcome their newest teammate.

The emotional moment was captured on video, with sceptics questioning if it was staged, but Greene maintains it was completely real.

“It’s genuine shock. I don’t think I could fake that. It was a really cool moment for me,” he said.

While Greene urged that he would have travelled anywhere for a second chance whether it be to Western Australia or Victoria, his heart was drawn to Hawthorn.

“I have been given a real advantage, I’ve gone to a place where I have good relationships with some of the players, coaches and the head coach as well, which are three big things that can help set you up and give you a bit of a leg up.”

Greene’s first experience in the AFL came in 2016 after being selected with Pick 70 by the Western Bulldogs in the National Draft. He admitted that he wasn’t mentally or physically ready for AFL footy at the time.

“I’d only played a handful of games of TAC Cup. I hadn’t come through any pathways or Vic Country stuff, so I was genuinely raw,”

Making his debut for the Western Bulldogs in Ballarat against Port Adelaide in late 2018, Greene ended up playing five games to round out the season, kicking five goals as well.

Showing real promise in his inaugural season, Greene excited the Bulldog’s faithful. Leading into 2019, he had a strong pre-season but was sidelined for several weeks after sustaining an ankle injury.

Having recovered, his injury woes would continue in his first game back to VFL as he suffered a serious shoulder injury that required reconstruction which ended his season abruptly.

With no VFL matches in 2020 due to COVID, it was virtually impossible for him to make an impression in the scratch matches, and it saw his time end at the Dogs but Greene said he bears no ill feelings despite being delisted.

“I don’t hold any grudges against anyone… I really loved my time there”.

Fergus Greene during his time with the Bulldogs. (@TheSaltyBulldog/Twitter)

Now aged 25, Greene said he feels much more ready, driven, and focused for his second chance at AFL football. He also explained that if there is one lesson he can take away from his time at the Dogs, it is just “being comfortable”.

“Knowing what I want to get out of this opportunity, knowing where I’m at. I know what my body can tolerate and just a bit more of a wiser head on my shoulders,” he said.

“For a long time, I wasn’t ‘me’ in a lot of ways, not just as a footballer but as a person, not confident in what I was putting out. By the end, I started to be the person I wanted to be.”

In contrast, at Box Hill, Greene noted he made a concerted effort to “be the person I know I am, an energetic person, can be the fool at times, but I really enjoy it.”

Now at Hawthorn, it’s that “energy guy” he’s tried to tap into, knowing that being himself brings about the best performance results on the field. It’s a regret he has, not realising that earlier.

With a significant turnover of the list at Hawthorn, there is a buzz in the air for the exciting possibilities this younger demographic holds and there will be opportunities abound for players like Greene in 2023.

“It’s a pretty cool group, we’re all sort of going through it and essentially learning and experiencing it together,” Greene explained.

“It’s an exciting forward group. There’s a heap of really strong talented players, so it is a really fun group at the moment.

“Then you got ‘Punky’ (Luke Breust) and Chad (Wingard), you’ve got a fair bit of class and experience towards the top end as well.”

Greene could have never imagined he’d one day be taking on the exact same role in the forward line at Hawthorn as triple premiership star Jack Gunston (who is now with Brisbane Lions).

“He was the pinnacle of the role, but the last two years I’ve tried to distance myself from Jack Gunston as much as possible because I’ve worked out if I keep comparing myself to him I’m only going to do myself disfavour because of how good he is,” he said.

“He’s the ultimate of what that third tall really is, and he’s made it such a strong role.”

When Greene walks out for Hawthorn this season he will be wearing the number 26, a revered number at Hawthorn, something he is chuffed at the honour. Champions such as Peter Hudson, Rodney Eade and Liam Shiels have worn this number with distinction and are favourites amongst the Hawks fans.

Playing alongside Shiels at Box Hill, Greene garnered enormous respect for him.

“I’ve had some great teammates, but he’d be up there with one of the best. He really taught me a heap about what it is to be humble, to be a great person,” he said.

“He was the most driven player we had on our list in the Box Hill system. He wanted to win a flag and that taught me a lot about being a good teammate.”

Greene expressed he’s not often starstruck but meeting legendary goal kicker Peter Hudson was a thrill. Hudson kicked a staggering 727 goals in his 129-game career at Hawthorn and is considered one of the greatest full-forwards in the game’s history.

“Hopefully we’ll sit down for lunch, and I’ll get to learn a bit more about him as a person. What he’s done for Hawthorn is pretty amazing,” he said.

Talking together about kicking goals, Hudson admitted to Greene that it frustrated him seeing players kicking three goals in the first quarter, then sitting back satisfied, and told him “I was never satisfied with three. If I kicked three in the first quarter, I wanted six in the next.”

Knowing what it feels like to be delisted Greene spoke about the best way recently delisted players can work their way back into the system.

“The VFL or any state league is still a really awesome competition. There’s a heap of great people in those organisations,” he said.

“Are we playing for the team, or are we playing to get picked up? I just want to win a VFL flag. As soon as I’d made that switch in my mind, things changed. It’s funny how things happen when you take your mind off them.”

When Hawthorn takes on the Western Bulldogs later this season, Greene is hoping to remember the occasion this time around after he was knocked out cold the last time he faced the Bulldogs in the VFL. He regularly catches up with his old Dogs teammates off the field and is looking forward to the clash.

Following a strong pre-season, Greene has proved himself to be a bargain buy.

While Mitch Lewis sits on the sidelines with injury, Greene will be looking to keep up the form that bagged him three goals against Collingwood, as he looks to cement his spot in the Hawthorn side.

Hawthorn will kick off its 2023 AFL season campaign against arch-rivals Essendon in a blockbuster clash at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.

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