By the end of his AFL career, Mathew Stokes played 200 games for Geelong and then Essendon, including two premierships and three grand finals.
It would be a clear path for Stokes, as an early draft snub would help change his life early on.
Stokes grew up in Darwin, and his father was a local legend in the Northern Territory Football League, a life member of the Palmerston Magpies.
Footy was in his blood, and Stokes told The Inner Sanctum life was great growing up.
“My family is pretty big,” he told The Inner Sanctum.
“We’ve got the Aboriginal side that is well documented, but we have a really huge Filipino component of our family.
“I loved growing up and being multicultural and also to being, you know, a first nations person as well.
“It was a pretty good lifestyle growing up, I loved every part of it and being family as big as we are…I have three sisters, there probably aren’t too many memories of me growing up that doesn’t consist of my aunties and uncles and my cousins.
“I loved growing up in Darwin and what that brought us, I have nothing but amazing memories of growing up with a huge family.
“It was interesting (with dad). I grew up with obviously, him being captain, Premiership player, at Palmerston Magpies.
“But I was really fortunate to grow up with the Davey boys, whose dad the late Danny Davey played with dad in that premiership, so I grew up with Alwyn and Aaron and their other brother named Russell.
“Ever since I can remember I was kicking the footy with them at half-time. I was always fortunate that I had footy in my blood, but also to have people surrounded with me that were in the same boat with a dad that was a little bit of a local legend.”
Stokes would make his senior football debut at 14-years-old, and his debut include playing alongside an AFL legend.
“It was pretty good. I debuted with Alwyn Davey, and we were both pretty young, our first game was with Nicky Winmar. He debuted for the Palmerston Magpies in the same game and time,” he said.
“Mark West who used to play for the (Western) Bulldogs played in that team, and Russell Jeffrey was our player-coach.
“We were pretty fortunate, growing up in Darwin; me, Alwyn and Aaron Davey, plus Trent Hentschel who was at the Crows for a few years until he had his really bad injuries with his knee.
“To have the four of us that have come through juniors and have go through the similar route (to the AFL), all pretty mature age when we got drafted.
“But we all played in premierships with Palmeston before we moved to Adelaide to make it…so it’s a pretty unique story, but it’s also something that I look back and realise probably half the reason why I was able to make it…that when I went through junior footy, I probably got a little bit given to me too early and had to learn that hard work and putting in the effort to get to where I got to.
Stokes would be up for the AFL Draft in 2002, but he was overlooked, and on reflection he said it was a blessing in disguise.
“I think my maturity probably wasn’t where it should have been and moving away from Darwin to Adelaide was pretty difficult for me,” he said.
“But I think back now, if I got drafted when I was 18 I probably wouldn’t have made it, probably would have been kicked out in two years’ time and my career would’ve been over before it got started.
“I think it’s a blessing in disguise for me that I didn’t get drafted straight away.
“Having to live a life and work nine to five and understand there’s a lot more to life than football was something that’s really important for me as a person growing up and also too in my footy life.
“I think I have nothing but appreciation for what it was like to have to work really hard to get through.”
Stokes would play in the SANFL still with Woodville-West Torrens, but also work part-time as a zookeeper.
“It was interesting (as a zookeeper),” he said.
“I mean, for me, it was something about finding a passion away from football.
“A lot of people say about the purpose in your life and stuff and what the zoo was able to do for me was to take my focus away from being an AFL footballer or wanting to be an AFL footballer.
“So, finding that passion at the zoo and the animals and learning to get to work on time and I was doing study at the same time with Animal Husbandry, so to fit all that in and still play footy or go to training in the afternoons and play on the weekends was something that taught me so much about the real life and the real world, and that was an AFL SportsReady traineeship.
“They taught me so many lessons that then helped me once I got to the AFL.
“Because like I said, I was pretty, I was a pretty naive, immature kid when I went to Adelaide.
“But by the time that I got to the Geelong Football Club, I’d established myself as who I was and the person I was, and I was pretty strong in my belief that I was good enough to play.
“Because I was playing in the SANFL against the same guys who were playing for Port and the Crows and I’d always think they weren’t that good.
“Whether that was they weren’t or they were, it was my belief that I was actually better than them, so I always knew that I was good enough to play AFL footy, it was just a matter of getting that opportunity.”