Matt de Boer prides himself on the physical side of his game, regularly getting high tackle numbers.
A few years ago, his career was at a crossroads after being delisted by Fremantle, but now he’s the AFL best tagger.
Jack Hudson: Going back to your junior days, where’d you start your footy?
Matt de Boer: I played my junior footy at the mighty Swanbourne Tigers at Allan Park there, I really enjoyed that.
I played a bit of state footy at under 15s, 16s and 18s as well coming through there.
I played for Claremont in the WAFL as well before being drafted to Fremantle.
JH: You represented WA and named in the All-Australian under 18 side, so what was that like for a young footballer wanting to make his name at AFL level?
MdB: It was really enjoyable, around 14 or 15 I wanted to put my energy and time in football, to purely enjoying it and being competitive at everything.
Whether it was cricket, baseball, athletics, basketball, I really dove into my footy.
Getting to go away and compete for your state with some great lads and some players who did some really great things as well.
I look back on it now and it was a really special time.
JH: Those sports you mentioned, did you play all of those?
MdB: Yep, mum and dad were big on having a crack at everything and trying to be competitive at everything, whether it was that or my studies, as parents do, always pushing you to do your best.
I tried a bit of everything and decided footy was probably more my go with the physicality.
JH: The National Draft, you were touted to go in that. What was the process leading up to it and how did you deal with the disappointment of not being selected?
MdB: It was disappointing, obviously I was hopeful to go and there’s no guarantees, I had my family around and ultimately didn’t get picked up.
I thought I can go two ways from here, I can give up or go out for a run and have a kick and get ready for the rookie draft, and I did the latter.
Luckily enough I got my opportunity through Fremantle and from there tried to have a win every day.
JH: Did you chat to many other clubs in the lead up to the Rookie Draft?
MdB: Not really, my manager said he spoke to a couple and Fremantle was certainly one.
I didn’t tune in on the day after the disappointment of the National Draft, and I had a missed call from someone, who ended up being Matthew Pavlich, and I made sure I called that one back pretty quickly.
JH: You made your debut in 2009 in a Western Derby, how do you mentally prepare for that?
MdB: It was exciting.
I had a lot of people give me advice leading up to the day and what stood out was bring effort and play your role and just enjoy the day as well, because it’ll happen quickly.
In the first quarter, I was pretty gassed and thought to myself ‘gee whiz, I’m not cut out for this AFL business’, then got my second wind and got through with a win and kicked a goal.
I got the Powerade shower, so it was an enjoyable day.
JH: Only a year later you were playing your first final against Hawthorn, what do you remember in the difference of intensity from the home and away season to the finals?
MdB: The intensity around the ball and the contested method, how frantic it can be, it was a step up.
We had some great powerful leaders which positioned the younger boys for that campaign, and we took that forward.
JH: That campaign didn’t end with success, so how does a player motivate themselves for the next season after a finals exit?
MdB: I was really young at the time and there was a fair few of us young lads, Stephen Hill, Nic Suban and these kind of players coming through.
We had Pav in his prime, Aaron Sandilands, David Mundy and Luke McPharlin, we had a really good list.
I was really excited to improve my game in fitness or football IQ and keep tapping into these players and coaches.
I came back to pre-season full of energy and ready to go and improve.
JH: You played the full year and in the grand final in 2013, what do you remember about that year and the vibe around the club?
MdB: It was fantastic, we really cemented our brand at Fremantle as being ruthless and defensive unit, really hard to score against and that was our brand and we empowered ourselves with that.
The year had its ups and downs, I had a few different roles that year, and then the Subiaco Oval preliminary final with the ‘MCG’ chant going around is something I won’t forget.
We were ultimately unsuccessful, but I’ve got some great relationships and bonds with those players from that year and they’ll be lifelong friends.
JH: What do you remember from the build up to the grand final?
MdB: It was quite chaotic and the phone buzzing all week, so I turned it off for extended periods to focus on my preparation and getting right.
There was fantastic leadership from Ross Lyon and Matthew Pavlich throughout the whole week, ultimately we weren’t successful, but we gave it a really good crack, you do have some regrets, but it is what it is and you try to take lessons forward.
JH: Your tackling numbers have always been high, especially that year, is the physicality something you pride yourself on?
MdB: It’s something I go out and try and win the ball or make a tackle, I’ve always been someone who’s tried to hunt the ball.
I might not be quick enough to win it myself, so I have to tackle them, but just try and play my role and contribute where I can.
JH: 2016 was your last year at Freo, what do you remember from it?
MdB: I think the writing was on the wall early that the club was starting to go in a different direction, I had some frank discussions with Ross and other coaches.
They started to play the youth, I didn’t feel too old the time, but it was clear they wanted to start playing some of the younger guys and give them the opportunities.
I played most of my footy at the Peel Thunder and tried to put my best foot forward there and lead the club, and I came away with a best and fairest and a premiership.
I’ll hold that dear to me forever and I did it with blokes like Alex Silvagni, Tendai Mzungu and other guys who fell out of favour in that regard as well.
Although it was a disappointing year, I got to play in Pav’s last game and his 350th as well was take home a premiership at state league level.
I finished my uni degree that year as well.
JH: What were you studying?
MdB: A Bachelor of Commerce, I started off doing Law and Commerce, but I was going so slowly, the uni said I had to pick one, which is typical of AFL footballers doing one or two a semester.
It took me eight years, but I got it done.
JH: You mentioned Matthew Pavlich a bit as well, how important is he to you?
MdB: He’s been crucial to me, and he’s still an ongoing mentor.
Early days, he was fantastic for my growth, belief and development in myself and I continue to tap into him and pick his brain from the Giants with all things leadership and off-field business as well.
JH: How did the move to the Giants all come about?
MdB: I was in my Vietnam with my now fiancee having a holiday.
I told my manager after I was delisted I was still confident that I could add value and I had plenty of belief in myself there.
I said to find me another club and we’ll work from there, he came back and said the Giants were really interested, they want you to fly back immediately.
I had a few days left of the holiday, so I said I’ll be back in a few days.
I flew to Sydney and met the general manager and Wayne Campbell, and had a really good conversation with them and where they saw me, what it would take to get into the team and add value.
I said I would embrace that challenge and show you what I can do.
He said we’d love to draft you, I moved over and stayed with the captain, Phil Davis, which was great, got the full insight into the club and the direction he wanted to take it as captain, and I quickly got on board with the family club nature and just how competitive, driven and hungry the boys are to succeed.
JH: You ended up playing against your former club the next year, what do you remember going up against them?
MdB: There were a few texts during the week which is always good, the main thing I remember is that we won.
It was a great feeling, my brothers at the Giants really supported me that week.
JH: You’ve really established yourself as a tough tagger, how does someone change their mentality to shutting someone else’s game?
MdB: I was tagged a few times myself in the WAFL, so I had learned a bit there and then after playing at half forward and on the wing in the early days at the Giants, I planted a few seeds to Lenny Hayes and said if you’re looking for someone to do some run with roles, I’d love to get in there and think I could help.
We experimented in an intraclub game where I tagged Stephen Coniglio and I like to think it was a draw, and then after that, unfortunately Cal Ward hurt his knee which opened up a spot in the midfield at the start of last year.
We ran with it from there and it obviously takes a full team approach, you need to do your research on the upcoming opponents, and make sure you’re contributing offensively as well.
I get plenty of support from the rucks and mids around me, it’s always a team performance, and the only metric that matters is that we win at the end of the day.
JH: You said you have to do a lot of research, so how much would you do into your direct opponent and what do you look up?
MdB: From the start of the week, I review the game from the weekend with Lenny Hayes and break down areas I could’ve been better personally and other opportunities as well.
During the week I’ll speak with Lenny and Leon Cameron as well about potential opponents coming up and prepare for two or three opponents knowing things can change as well.
I look at their last few games or any games of note, look into the AFL tracker on their GPS report or anything I can find.
Structures at centre bounces, running patterns and looking at my own game in any other opportunities I can capitalise on as well.
JH: Last year as well the Giants had an incredible finals series despite falling short, what do you remember from that run from the Bulldogs to the Lions and Magpies?
MdB: It was a real maturing of the group, everyone sort of wrote us off going into the finals.
We knew we had the week off, we had some players coming back, we could rejuvenate after a pretty tough year with injuries.
We had some immense belief within our walls, we had some good team meetings leading up to that, we played well against the Bulldogs which fuelled that belief.
We went up and took it to Brisbane and had a real good win against Collingwood at the MCG which was a real milestone for us.
Ultimately we fell short and we probably let ourselves down in the final game, but just the maturing of the group that year will hold us in good stead for 2020 and beyond.
JH: In that game there were a lot of players who had never experienced a grand final, did you pass on some advice?
MdB: I tried to, but it obviously didn’t work.
There were plenty of chats internally to try and play some images in the boys’ leads on how we want to approach the week and those sort of things.
You can only do so much, but when you experience something yourself for the first time it becomes real and you take those learnings away.
Once again, we fell short, but I’ve got immense faith and belief that the learnings from there will be powerful for us moving forward.
JH: This year has probably been the strangest year of football we’ve seen, how have you dealt with it?
MdB: It’s about embracing the chaos, there’s obviously plenty of worse things that are impacting many more people than us, so we’re grateful for our ability to play the game.
It’s been a great pre-season, we beat Geelong in round one and then we had to go on the extended break.
First and foremost, our thoughts go out to our extended staff and people who have had to get stood down in the wider community which was impacted.
We have immense gratitude and appreciation of the AFL and now we’re able to continue and the guys who have now had to move into the hubs, I commend them on embracing the difficulties that might have for them and their wider families.
Now it’s about any quirks in the season we need to try and embrace it, like we’ll be up early at 6am and travelling the day of the game, but it is what it is.
For me, the team that embraces the new reality and prepares really well and lives their values gameday for majority of the season will come out victorious.