Former North Melbourne defender Troy Makepeace was a workhorse during his career with the Kangaroos.
He shares about his journey through the AFL, dealing with a shock delisting and its aftermath and what he’s up to now.
Jack Hudson: What was your junior footy like?
Troy Makepeace: I grew up in Melbourne and played junior footy for a club called Parkmore Football Club.
Then I moved to Gippsland when I was about 11, played junior footy for Churchill Football Club and then the Gippsland Power for three years.
I didn’t get drafted, I went to Moe for a year and was on North Melbourne’s supplementary list the following year.
JH: What was that year like when you were selected?
TM: My path was a little bit different, they had the supplementary lists before the rookie lists, I was on those lists and was able to play only reserves for North in 1999 and had a pretty good season.
Once my name got called out to be on a senior list, it was pretty awesome, especially I had family around and it was televised as well.
It was a surreal sort of feeling.
JH: Did the Roos give you much of an idea that they were going to pick you up?
TM: Not really, because my year in the reserves, I was under Mark Thompson.
The following year, he got the job at Geelong and I had a pretty good relationship with them.
I remember asking him, ‘what are the chances of going with you to Geelong?’ and my recollection of that conversation was that he was going to have a chat with the recruiting officer at North and see where they saw me.
He wanted North to have the first opportunity to pick me up if that was the case.
JH: What was it like coming into a group which had just won the AFL Premiership?
TM: Being drafted at the end of 1999 but also having that season in the reserves in 1999, being drafted was a pretty seamless sort of transition.
The year before when I came down to training, you go into the gym and see Wayne Carey, Corey McKernan, John Blakey doing their weights and you’re sitting there doing the same sort of thing.
You sort of asked yourself ‘what the bloody hell am I doing here?’
JH: What was your relationship like with the players while on that supplementary list?
TM: It didn’t matter if I was on a supplementary list or a senior listed player, it was very much a one-club feel to the point where the senior playing group, when they organise the footy trip, the only reason you weren’t going to be going on the trip, would be family circumstances.
It was never a money thing and if money was an issue, everyone sort of chipped in and helped pay the way so they could have as many as possible.
JH: You made your debut in 2000 – did you ever believe that’d happen?
TM: No. It was a funny feeling for me, I remember after my game and I had about two touches and it was in the Denis Pagan era, particularly when they didn’t have the rotations they do now.
I didn’t expect to playing too much after my first game as I didn’t have much of an impact, and I remember saying to myself I’d be happy that I’d just played one AFL game.
JH: You went onto play in three finals that year, what was that like?
TM: It was awesome. I look back now and I didn’t realise how close I came to be playing in an AFL Grand Final.
To make a prelim in my first year, finals was just another level, amazing.
North don’t have the fanbase like a lot of the bigger clubs, but to have 70-80,000 people there even they weren’t cheering for you, the noise was unbelievable.
JH: You mentioned Denis Pagan before, what was he like as a coach?
TM: He brought me out of my shell in the Denis Pagan way, he was an old school coach, I knew where I stood with him and I think that worked for me, he was straight down the line.
He also allowed me to be my type of player, the only thing he said that you live and die by the sword.
But he lets you back yourself in and do your job, and that worked for me.
I’m not overly tall, wasn’t the quickest, particularly for the players I was playing on, but one of my strengths was reading the ball.
I got along with him really well and he was a real mentor for me.
JH: You played in the game against Essendon widely regarded as one of the greatest of all time, what was that like?
TM: From that game, I’m pretty sure I started off in the forward line and I think I had one or two touches and spent the time watching the ball go over my head.
We kicked 11 goals or something in the first quarter, and I thought how good’s this and I think all of us did.
We know what the Bombers did that year with the quality of players they had.
For them to come back from that far behind and even right to the end, we had our chances.
I’ve seen bits of pieces of that game and some of the goals that were kicked and how quickly was nuts.
JH: The next year was a tough time at North, what do you remember from it?
TM: It was a weird feeling, being only 40-50 games into my career I didn’t have the history as a lot of the senior playing group did with Wayne Carey.
In that sense, I was sort of looking in from the outside a little bit, it was a different club to be around for a few weeks.
Then we rallied behind Anthony Stevens and got ourselves back on track and made the best possible season out of it.
It was definitely different.
JH: The International Rules Series in 2005 – what was that like?
TM: It was awesome, one of the best things I’ve ever been able to do.
To be able to pull on a jumper with the Australian Coat of Arms and be a part of a team, especially in Australia, you have everyone cheering for you, the whole build up was fantastic.
Being able to spend the week over in Perth with some amazing players under Kevin Sheedy as well and then to have the result we did in the first game was pretty cool.
JH: The next year was the least amount of games you’d played and then you were cut, that would’ve been tough to take in, so how did you handle it all?
TM: It happened very quickly and very unexpectedly from my point of view.
I think 2005, I had one of my best years, so going into my last year of my contract and I couldn’t really tell you what was the trigger point.
I didn’t play the first three or four games, I didn’t think anything happened in the pre-season, I’m not sure how much or whether I should be mentioning this.
In my exit interview when I was told I’d be getting delisted, I was told in the 2005 Elimination Final when we got absolutely pumped, basically I didn’t try, looked like I didn’t want to be there and was one of the reasons we had the game we did.
I was pretty shocked and disappointed by it if that was the case.
I know how hard I worked to get to where I did and the last thing I would do everytime I pull on the jumper would be not try, so that sort of hurt a little bit.
JH: You were only 27 at the time, did many other clubs have a chat with you?
TM: There was interest during trade week.
My biggest gripe was that I would’ve preferred the club had told me earlier, I wasn’t told until a week before trade week.
Towards the end of trade week was when reality was kicking in that if I wasn’t traded I was going to get delisted.
I would’ve rather to have been told after our last game in our exit interviews.
At the end of that year, I was told there were players in front of me, which I understood and if I was to get back into the senior side I had to get my fitness up and try and break into the midfield.
I took that as get fit and see how you go over the pre-season and we’ll start again at the start of the year.
I did all that, I trained three times a week with the fitness advisor at North and four weeks into it I hadn’t signed a contract and it’s getting close to trade week.
I spoke to my manager and asked what was going on and he didn’t know.
He said we’re going to do our best to get you to another club.
During trade week, I know there was interest from St Kilda and the rumour was that St Kilda was interested in me and were looking at trading Stephen Milne to Essendon and Essendon dealing with North in a three-way trade.
At that stage, the Saints didn’t have a coach and they wanted to wait until that coach was announced and see what they wanted to do.
The coach was announced on the Wednesday and one of the hot tips was John Longmire, and I had worn his number at North Melbourne and he was my first player-manager before he went up to Sydney.
If he was going to coach St Kilda, I would’ve been pretty happy.
But Ross Lyon got the job on the Wednesday afternoon and the first thing he did was sit down with Stephen Milne and say he’s a required player, so that squashed all that and that was it.
He’s since had an article where he speaks about the possibility of going to Essendon, and I thought that may have been pretty close to happening.
JH: The very next year you played in the VFL for Casey, what was it like being out of the AFL system?
TM: Once I got delisted, I sort of let myself down, I cracked the shits and stopped training.
I was still trying to find another club to go through the draft, I spoke to a couple of coaches, I had a chat with Neale Daniher at Melbourne and Denis Pagan at Carlton to try and sell myself to them.
A lot of them were confident where their list was and they had sorted who was training with them, and that goes back to what I was saying before, if I had known earlier, I could’ve been able to speak to other clubs and at least train with them.
It didn’t work out, I cracked the shits and let myself go a bit.
I spoke to a couple of local clubs and a couple of VFL clubs, the one that suited me at the time was Casey.
But, I didn’t realise at the time, but I was mentally not in a good headspace in terms of where my footy was going and didn’t commit as much as I could’ve at Casey.
I probably let them down and their coaching staff down a bit, they’re a good bunch of guys and didn’t give them as much I would’ve liked to.
At the end of that year, I fractured a bone in my leg and missed out on playing finals and was offered an opportunity to finish my apprenticeship in Gippsland, and seeing as I didn’t really have anything to fall back on after AFL finished, that was a prime opportunity to get an apprenticeship under my belt and some work back home.
JH: When say you were going through a mental battle regarding your footy, how did you overcome it?
TM: My wife and I moved to Berwick, in the middle of her parents and mine and we were battling together ourselves.
She helped me out quite a fair bit, she helped me get through that.
It was more dealing with the reality of shit that happened and its not going to happen again and get my head around that fact.
At the time I didn’t have my apprenticeship o fall back on, I was working in a caravan business and I wasn’t enjoying that a hell of a lot and I wasn’t enjoying my footy.
Having the stability of a full-time job made a hell of a difference and being back close to family as well.
JH: A few years later you had an incident with a car while cycling, what do you remember from it?
TM: Pretty much everything.
The good thing because the car was coming behind me, I didn’t see anything unfold, I didn’t see it happening, one minute I was riding and the next I was on the ground.
In that sense, there’s no sort of flashbacks or bad dreams or anything like that, I haven’t been back on a bike since, but it was pretty scary at the time realising one minute you’re out on your bike early in the morning, the wife’s getting the kids ready to go to school and just the thought of thinking the kids could’ve gone to school and come home and dad couldn’t have been there.
JH: And the final one for you Troy, what are you up to these days?
TM: I’m a power station operator.
I’m living in a country town called Yinnar, I’ve got a wife and four boys, they’re getting back into footy and I’m helping out at the local club Morwell and be an assistant coach there and help out.
I like the development side of football and the analysis side, not so much the coaching side.
I really enjoy particularly the younger guys coming through and seeing them develop and giving them some pointers.