The Hawks fan who lived his dream: Jack Fitzpatrick

Jack Fitzpatrick celebrates his famous late goal against Collingwood in 2016. Picture: hawthornfc.com.au

Growing up, Jack Fitzpatrick idolised the Hawthorn Football Club and its players.

So when he had the opportunity to represent the brown and gold, he took it with both hands, creating a memory he’ll never forget.

Jack Hudson: Tell us a bit about your junior footy; where’d you start and who’d you play for?

Jack Fitzpatrick: I started playing for Wyndham Vale out in the western suburbs in Melbourne.

I grew up in Werribee and obviously there’s the VFL team there who is pretty strong, and it’s quite a big area these days.

We always managed to get the players who couldn’t quite get a game for Werribee, they always had one, two or three junior teams per age group, while we were struggling to fill out one.

I played there from about seven years of age starting in the under 9s and played there all the way through until TAC Cup.

JH: What was the Western Jets experience like?

JF: It was awesome, I was probably fortunate just about junior squad you could make, I made it.

I had a pretty good junior career to be honest, I was always in the interleague teams for the Western Region Football League, then Vic Metro and Western Jets under 15 and 16s teams.

Made the Vic Metro under 16s team, had a real good carnival and made the AIS.

I played two years of Vic Metro under 18s as well. I loved my time at the Western Jets.

But probably the worst year of my junior career was my draft year, which I went from being an almost lock for a top three pick to just getting picked at Pick 50.

I went from being one of the more highly touted players to a player who was going ‘jeez, am I going to get picked up?’

JH: Was that due to pressure or confidence? What changed?

JF: I had a couple of injuries, I broke my thumb in the last game of the nationals carnival so I didn’t play the second half of the year.

To be honest though, I just didn’t play well, there were no excuses for it.

In hindsight, I got a little bit ahead of myself to be honest, I don’t think it was something at the time that I’d realised I did.

The reality is, without sounding too arrogant, I probably always knew I was going to get picked up.

I won the goal-kicking at under 16s level, I was in the AIS, I played four out of five games as a bottom-age player for Vic Metro.

I always knew I was going to get picked up, whether in the draft or as a rookie, but as I said at the time, I don’t think I took the foot off the accelerator, but in hindsight maybe I did just a tad or maybe I was out of form.

JH: You were drafted by Melbourne, but what clubs did you speak to in the lead up to the 2009 draft?

JF: Melbourne was definitely the keenest club, that was pretty evident from a long way out, but other than that it was probably all the interstate clubs.

I was a Melbourne-based boy, but all my interviews at draft camp were all the interstate clubs and Melbourne.

That’s my memory of it all.

I would’ve gone anywhere to play, but it’s quite funny thinking about the draft, and there’s a lot of talk about it being a weak draft.

But, you look back at it now and you can make an argument to say the best three players in Nat Fyfe, Dusty Martin and Max Gawn have all come from that draft.

They’re pretty handy players.

I always joke as well, that was the 2009 draft, the year Melbourne was found not guilty of tanking but got fined for it, so I always say what they were found not guilty for was deliberately making sure they could pick me at Pick 50.

It wasn’t to get Trengove and Scully in the first few picks, it wasn’t to have four picks inside the top 20, it was purely to make sure they had Pick 50 so they could get me.

JH: A couple of years down the track, you made your debut at a Adelaide Oval against Port Adelaide. What do you remember?

JF: I remember quite a lot actually.

It’s just the week I remember really well, it’s something I wanted to do from as long as I can remember to play AFL footy.

Everyone has a moment where it becomes real, and for me, it was when the teams go to do to their warm up around the square, and then they’ll run inside 50 and take shots at goal.

For 15 years I’d been going to the footy and I was a mad Hawthorn fan growing up and watched that happened.

I remember being at Adelaide Oval and it was before the redevelopment and there was a bit of a carnival atmosphere.

It was a nice sunny day, and I could hear the theme song going and as were running inside 50, all the players had a shot for goal

For me, that was the moment I went ‘oh my god, wow’ I’ve watched this happen for 15 years when I’ve gone to watch the footy.

My first kick I got pretty early, it was a behind.

Interesting side story to that, one of my best mates growing up, his brother, earlier in the week before anyone knew if I was playing, put $20 on me to kick the first goal at astronomical odds.

He’d seen I was emergency a few weeks beforehand and I’d kicked four in the VFL the week before and it was the last game of the year.

He thought maybe they’d throw me in and give me a chance, and I didn’t know about his bet until after the game, but when I was selected I came into 100-1 and then named on the ground I came into 50-1.

I had the first shot on goal of the game, and I dribbled it from about 50m out, there was a player coming alongside.

Jason Dunstall would’ve excused it as a dribble kick because there was a genuine reason for it, it was bouncing, bouncing and missed by about a metre.

He would’ve been about early 20s at the time, so it would’ve been a pretty handy get at any age particularly for him.

Another thing that probably sums up my career is the stat that my first kick at goal was a point, and I’ve done that for both clubs.

JH: It took a few years to get your first win, what was that like to celebrate that game?

JF: It was a great game, a really good game.

Western Bulldogs, Saturday night at the MCG, it was my fourth year of footy but was only my sixth or seventh game of footy.

It was every dream come true, you have your first game and that was awesome, you kick your first goal, you get your first possession and you get that out the way.

But then it becomes I’m here to win a game of footy, that’s what I’m here for and that’s what I want to do.

It was a tough time at the Dees in that period, Mark Neeld had just left and Neil Craig had taken over.

I love ‘Craigy’, he showed a lot of faith in me and gave me a chance and 2013 was probably my best year of footy.

I had a pretty reasonable impact for a team that was struggling quite a bit.

We were in front of the Bulldogs by a long way at three-quarter-time and I was lucky enough to kick a couple myself.

One was a pretty nice banana from the boundary line which I still happily show people.

It was a great win, to get your first win on Saturday night footy at the MCG was a pretty cool thing.

JH: The next few years you were in and out of the side, what was that like trying to break back in?

JF: Frustrating is probably how I would describe it.

My VFL form when I was at Melbourne was pretty strong, I’d say almost my whole time there, but certainly from 2012 onwards.

Playing that full forward or second ruck spot, depending on the ins and outs of the team.

In 2013, I got my fair share of opportunities and I felt like I made the most of them, and that was, for want of a better phrase, a break out year.

Then in 2014, I started in the team when Paul Roos took over, and I just played appallingly.

It was no-one’s fault bar myself.

The first game of the year we played St Kilda and I got concussed in the second quarter, and if my memory serves me correctly, I started the game pretty well.

It was a Saturday night at Marvel, and I was going okay, I was confident going off the year I had in 2013, I was fitter, stronger and getting to that stage where taller players get.

I played the next two weeks, I passed the [concussion] tests, maybe in hindsight you go was I 100 percent right?

I played pretty poor the next two weeks for losses and got dropped for the VFL and deservedly so.

For the rest of the year, I struggled, we struggled as a team in VFL level.

It was the one year I was at Melbourne where Casey wasn’t strong, we were regularly a top four team.

I was playing okay football, but certainly not to the level I knew I could play and expect of myself.

That was a frustrating year because I wasn’t getting opportunity in the senior team and the senior team wasn’t going that well, but to be honest, I probably couldn’t make a case to say I was banging the ball down.

In 2015, I sort of felt the decision had probably been made that I wasn’t in the future plans.

At the start of the year I had trained in the forward line and as a second ruck, then I was thrown to play centre half back in a practice match and played really, really well.

I ended up playing the full season in defence, and my form in the VFL was really strong, and pretty dominant if I’m honest.

I got three chances at AFL level at full back and kept my man goalless in two of the three games and still managed to get dropped.

I don’t think I deserved to be dropped that year and deserved more opportunities, but, you can also make the case it was my sixth year of the club and I hadn’t come on from an outsiders’ point of view since 2013.

There was ‘Roosy’ and new coaches and I’ve certainly got my personal issues with that, that’s the decisions they make and that’s the way it works.

I personally think I could’ve been given a bit better of an opportunity, but having said that, I can’t complain at all, because it all led to me moving to the Hawks.

Jack Fitzpatrick moved to the Hawks at the end of 2015. Picture: hawthornfc.com.au

JH: During that period, Melbourne went through heaps of things, but what do you remember about the vibe of the club and the attitudes of the players?

JF: A lot of it I look back, particularly the early stuff, whether it was the sacking of Dean Bailey, you’re so young and immature as a person and a footballer in understanding the football industry you take it as face value and you believe what you’re told.

I had five coaches in six years at Melbourne, I started with Dean Bailey, then Todd Viney who gave me my first game and was also the one who sacked me which is a bit funny, and I have no issues with ‘Vines’, I’ll be forever indebted to him to giving him my first game.

There was him, Mark Neeld, Neil Craig and then Paul Roos, to build some continuity and talk about that considering I then go to Hawthorn and talk to blokes like Jarryd Roughead who was drafted in 2004 and retired only recently and had one coach his whole career.

From things like building relationships to securing your role, all of that kind of thing.

I think there were some really tight bonds formed, because when you go through times like that, I enjoyed 80 percent of my time at the Dees, it was a really good time and I loved it, but there were some tough times.

I think the relationships you have with some of the guys from that time, you have a beer whether it’s at someone’s wedding or buck’s party.

You refer to each other as the Dees crew from 2010 or 2012, 2013.

You have a bit of a laugh about it, but we did do it pretty tough and there’s a pretty good friendship built there.

It’s tough in sporting terms and I’m not trying to minimise it because there were some things that went on that shouldn’t have happened.

You only need to look around now to see what real tough times are.

You don’t want to make it sound you’re martyrs because you are playing AFL footy, but at the same time, it probably wasn’t the experience it shouldn’t have been.

JH: You were then delisted by Melbourne but traded to Hawthorn, so how did it all come about?

JF: Again, maybe being a bit self-confident, I was probably confident in 2015 that I would end up elsewhere, possibly as a last-pitch rookie pick.

I was 24 at the time, I had played some really good footy, I was pretty dominant to be honest.

I was 200cm, quite athletic and tall and coming into that stage where everyone says they’re ready.

I was pretty confident someone give me a lifeline, but having said that, you don’t know.

Halfway through the year I thought my time at Melbourne was done and I wasn’t getting the opportunity I felt I probably deserved, and that’s the decision that was made.

I was delisted, that’s the decision they made.

It came out of the blue, the day after the Brownlow Medal in 2015 and I had a phone call from my manager.

I was quite busy that week doing some stuff for The Footy Show and the revue, I did that a couple of times.

That was a lot of fun, but jeez you rehearsed for that, there was a lot of time spent, especially in Grand Final Footy Show week.

He contacted me on Tuesday and asked me what my plans were for the week, Hawthorn are interested in catching up.

I was gobsmacked, because they were playing a grand final that week, they were going for three in a row and arguably the greatest team of all time.

Here I am, a bloke who was in and out of the Melbourne side, while I always believed I was in the best 22, from an external perspective, it’s like ‘jeez this bloke can’t get a game for Melbourne’ kind of thing.

That was interesting in itself, and I said to my manager that I assumed they wanted to meet next week to get the grand final out of the way.

They said they were keen to catch up that week and I sent through my schedule of Footy Show stuff and in the end we couldn’t make it work.

But the Saturday morning of the grand final, I got a text from Graham Wright.

He said ‘hey mate, can we catch up for a coffee?’.

I was like ‘wow, you’ve got so many more big fish to fry’, and I watched the grand final and I hadn’t told anyone except for my partner at the time.

I was a childhood Hawks fan anyway, they blitzed West Coast that day.

The Tuesday was the meeting and it was at 12pm and just before I was about to leave, they called a press conference to announce David Hale and Brian Lake had retired.

Being 200cm myself, I thought this looks good for my meeting in an hour.

I caught up with Graham, I had met with one or two clubs before that, but it was very much me having to say why I would be a good decision and why they should give me a second chance.

While this meeting with Hawthorn was more them trying to sell the club to me, and I’m thinking this is backwards, like, a) I was a Hawthorn fan growing up and b) you’re one of the best sporting organisations in the country and arguably the best team of all time.

You don’t need to sell anything to me, it all happened pretty quickly.

I met ‘Clarko’ a week later, and that finished with ‘well mate, it’s good to have another big fella on board’, which was amazing.

In the war room at Waverley Park, and I remember the last time I was at Waverley was the last game there and things were mad.

I was there as a Hawks fan and people were taking home chairs and goal posts and all kinds of things.

Then all of a sudden I was signed.

The day itself, I thought I was going to get picked up as a delisted free agent, and I was with my best mate who I had grown up with, who was a Hawks fan and we had gone to many games together.

We were at the Geelong Cup and I got a call from a girl in my manager’s office, and I was trying to think what could she be after?

She said to me ‘guess what I’ve just signed’ and I said ‘no I don’t’, and she said ‘you now play for Hawthorn, you’ve just been traded for Pick 94’.

I didn’t even know the trade was going through.

It’s fair to say the rest of the day and night it was a pretty big celebration.

Jack Fitzpatrick retired during 2017 following a concussion. Picture: hawthornfc.com.au

JH: Then 12 months later, you’re playing for Hawthorn against Collingwood at the MCG, what were your feelings going in?

JF: It was August of what was a pretty tough year, in the fact and I got to Hawthorn and things were going well.

I had a good pre-season, I was training well, the feedback I was getting from players and coaches there was pretty good.

When you’ve got players like Mitchell and Hodge and the likes, the feedback you’re getting from the players is probably better than the ones from the coaches.

They were quite happy with how well I was going and in the second practice match, we played Richmond and I hyper-extended my knee and I missed six weeks from there.

All I needed to do was not be injured and I probably would’ve played every game that year, because that was the year Jarryd Roughead missed with his cancer diagnosis, Ryan Schoenmakers dominated the 2015 grand final but he had issues and barely played at all.

I just needed to be fit, so it was frustrating to get to this new club, seem to do everything right and then things just don’t work out for you.

Away from the club, I was really close with my grandfather and he was unwell, and he ended up passing away the weekend of round one.

While I was missing with injury, I was spending a lot of time with him and then in my third game back at VFL level when all I needed to do was get back to being match fit, I copped a concussion.

That was probably the one that impacted me the most aside from the one that forced me to retire, I missed about 10 weeks with it.

Things weren’t going right, with the concussion you’re spending a lot of time away from the club, you’re at home resting or seeing specialists, I had been there 12 months and hadn’t been able to form too many relationships with what had gone on.

Even before going there, the only two people I’d met from Hawthorn were James Frawley who I played with at Melbourne and Liam Shiels who I was in the AIS with 10 years earlier.

It was frustrating I was finally given this opportunity I would’ve been able to make the most of in a team that was winning, just unfortunate circumstances had stopped that.

Towards the end of the year I was thinking this is unfortunate, I’ve enjoyed my 12 months and I really appreciated the opportunity, but having said that it’s probably going to come to an end.

Then in the second to last game of the year, big Jon Ceglar does his knee against West Coast, and it was awful luck for big Cegs, and I got the opportunity to debut in the last game of the year against Collingwood in a must-win game to make the top four.

The rest is history from what happened there, I grew up a mad Hawks supporter, I had posters on my bedroom wall, I went to best and fairests, a member for 15 years and the ability to play for Hawthorn tipped that off.

That was something I was so fortunate to have happened and the way it ended, when I retired, mum said she remembered when I was young there was a game when Ben Dixon kicked a goal after the siren against Carlton in 2001, and she recalls that I said to her that afternoon ‘I want that to be me one day, I want to kick a goal after the siren for Hawthorn’.

While mine wasn’t quite after the siren and it wasn’t a great career, I didn’t play 200 games or anything, I had that moment and it’s something no-one can take away from me either.

It’s a special moment and part of the reason why I enjoy showing it so much on social media.

I spoke about the moment in the debut game against Port Adelaide, but for this Hawthorn game, I had two moments.

The first one was the day before, we had finished our final meeting and were just about to leave the club, just after the meeting, Luke Hodge says to myself and Marc Pittonet to hang back.

I had six years in the system and was 24, 25 years old, but it was a meeting with Hodgey, Sam Mitchell and Jordan Lewis.

They sat us down and said ‘look boys, it’s an important game tomorrow and we need to win to make the top four.’

‘At some stage tomorrow, we can guarantee, one of us three or all of us will yell at you, it’ll be loud, swearing and aggressive.’

‘We just want you to know it’s not because we don’t like you or don’t want you in the team, it’s because we see something, we need it done and we have high standards and that’s how we drive them and we are as loud as vocal with each other and everyone else in the team.’

‘We just want you to know when that happens, that’s why.’

I had been in the system six years, and that is nothing new, but that moment, I thought that’s why this club is so successful and has been so good.

A) they’ve got these standards, B) they give the feedback, C) they help people understand while it’s your first game for the club tomorrow, you’ve got a job to do and we expect you do it.

The second moment was after I kicked the goal, it was walking back to the centre circle with Shaun Burgoyne and Sam Mitchell, and you can still see it on the replay in a little square in the bottom, we’re discussing the next centre bounce what we should do.

It was just so conversational and relaxed and it was like we were at training, and I just put that down to the calmness of Mitch.

There were two minutes left, thousands of people, there was madness, a Sunday afternoon, the importance, but between the three of us, it was just calm.

Questions of where are we hitting it, how are we playing this and for me that was the moment because there was so much externally going on.

Sam Mitchell cops it quite a bit because from an external point of view he can be arrogant, maybe he is a bit arrogant, but he is supremely confident and knows how good he is, and he was just calm.

He knows that when these things are done properly, they just work out.

JH: The concussions, do they still affect you now?

JF: That’s a tough question to answer because you don’t know.

Nine concussions is a lot, I didn’t drive for six weeks after that and I was in a pretty bad way after that but I recovered.

The decision to retire, when I say decision, the advice from the specialist and doctors said I was no longer to play contact sport.

Deep down you know it’s the right decision, which makes it a bit easier, because I’m still only 29 and physically I’m fine aside from that.

Now, I’d still be able to run around and play, and coaching at VFL level, you get involved in non-contact drill and think you’d love to be doing it.

The reality is, people forget things, everyone forgets things.

If I do something, if I say the wrong word in a sentence or I forget something I should simply remember, do I go ‘oh this is because of the concussion or am I reading too much in it?’

For me, it’s impossible to answer.

If I’m honest, I think some of it is probably related to it, there are times I’d simply say the wrong word in a sentence, say the wrong day of the week and some of the stuff I’m forgetting is basic stuff.

When my grandma was living in a nursing home, you have to put in a four-digit code to enter, and I was there for 25 minutes and when I went to leave, I’d forgotten that code and it’s designed to make sure 80 year olds can’t pass it, not people in there 20s.

People do forget things all the time, am I reading too much into it? I don’t know.

I’d say I’m probably about 96-97 percent recovered, I don’t have headaches when I wake up, I’m pretty good and am able to live a pretty normal life.

I can’t play footy, local or anything, I’m certainly not complaining about it, I like to look back and thing it was handled pretty well at the time, medically that is.

Maybe there was one when I was put back on the ground when I shouldn’t have been, but apart from that, I was handled pretty well.

I compare myself to the guys like John Barnes and John Platten, and the medical care that I received compared to what they did, I would hope that is going to serve me better long term.

Much like getting Diabetes at the age of 21 in my third year of AFL, being fit and healthy, you eat well and then you’re struck down with that, but you can’t change it either.

You move on and deal with it the best you can, like if you go to the casino and get two s*** cards at the blackjack table, you can’t ask for your money back, you do what you can with the hand you’re dealt.

JH: How did you manage to balance your AFL and diabetes?

I was probably lucky, that if I was going to get diagnosed, it was when I was playing AFL.

Firstly, the medical care and the team you have around you, you go to work every day and you have the doctor there and have their mobile numbers.

That was one thing I was really grateful to have had.

The other thing is how do you manage Type 1 Diabetes in the best way? You exercise, you keep fit, you have a good routine, you eat well and you look after yourself. That’s exactly the AFL footballer lifestyle.

I was doing all those things and disciplined, I didn’t have to change too much, but just with dinner I was having to inject myself and prick my finger during games of footy.

There were things I was doing I had to change up, but it happened pretty organically.

Now I’m an ambassador at Diabetes Victoria which I love, I talk to kids, teenagers about issues like going to a sleepover and handling that, going to a kids party and not being able to have the lollies.

Being a teenager is hard enough for anyone trying to fit in, the one thing you don’t want to be as a teenager is different, you want to be accepted and you want to be considered normal and diabetes by definition is something that makes you different.

From that point of view, I was fortunate that I got it when I was playing footy and I see these kids and they’re so mature in the decisions they make and they way they talk.

The reality is, the work I do with them, I showed I was diagnosed in my third year of footy, played eight years, would probably be still playing if it wasn’t for concussion, so I wasn’t exactly Gary Ablett or Buddy Franklin, I was able to live my dream out and chase my goals, so if I can do it, so can you.

If it gets across to one person, it’s a powerful thing.

When I was growing up I had chronic fatigue system and I remember looking up to Alastair Lynch and thinking about the inspiration he provided because he had what I’ve got, and he can still do what he can do.

Maybe you have to manage things differently and a bit of maturity, it’s just another challenge you’re dealt with and you deal with it as best you can.

There’s also the reality that 50 percent of the people with diabetes are impacted by mental illness and there’s a reality that there’s a strong correlation of people who have concussions and suffer mental health issues.

I’m quite fortunate that I haven’t been impacted by that, and to be honest I still don’t quite understand, you see things like depression and anxiety, you can read about it and try to be as sympathetic and empathetic towards people as possible, but until you’ve got it, you can’t understand it.

I hope and touch wood that it’s something I never have to deal with, but concussion and mental health are things I’d probably put together as similar, as they’re still a lot of people who say it’s not real and to toughen up and all that garbage.

With a broken arm you can see it, you see it in plaster, you can quantify it and understand it, but with mental health, you can’t do that, it’s down to how someone’s feeling.

You hear people saying ‘are they making it up?’ or ‘is it an excuse’, and to this day there’s still people about concussion who say harden up and it’s not that bad.

For me I put them together that they’re unquantifiable and it’s real to only the person who’s going through it.

Like I said, I’m fortunate I haven’t had to deal with these mental health issues, but having said that, there’s a real possibility I may in the future.

I’m a positive person who likes to live life and take the mickey most of the time, that’s my goal in my life.

Hopefully with my overly arrogant sense of humour or self-deprecating sense of humour I can provide a laugh.

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