Leopards Leap – Chapter 26

Sunday, 30th November, 2014

3 days after the AFL National Draft

Deon and three of his new friends left the room at the Greater Western Sydney Giants training facility and started meandering through the building towards the front entrance. It had been a morning and half the afternoon of meetings and familiarisation for the new AFL players. “It sounds like we’re going to be in for it tomorrow.”

Jeremy shrugged. “It’s shouldn’t be too bad. I don’t really like getting up at that time of the morning, but it won’t be the first time.”

Deon shook his head. “I think it’ll be worse than you think. I used to play with Kevin Scanlan, and he’s told me what the Swans did when he first started with them. I doubt the Giants will be any less severe.”

Caleb nodded. “I’m expecting the worst. That’s why it’s going to be an early night for me. I think the last thing any of us wants is to show up late for our first training session.”

“Same here.” Jack grinned. “I’ve seen what the coaches do to anyone who isn’t ready on time.”

Deon chuckled as the four headed along the corridor. “You and Jeremy have got the advantage of being drafted from the Giants academy. Is there anything in particular we need to watch out for?”

Jack shook his head. “Just pay attention. I haven’t had much to do with the coaches of the senior team, but I know the development coaches aren’t happy if they think a player isn’t listening.” He glanced at Deon and Caleb. “Do you guys have your rides organised or do you need a lift somewhere?”

“I’m fine,” Caleb said. “Someone from my host family will be picking me up in about fifteen minutes.”

“My dad’s picking me up. We’re going shopping for some things I didn’t bring up, and then I’m having dinner at his place before heading back to the Kennedys’.” Deon made a face. “I’m going to have to make sure I’m back at a reasonable time. At least the Kennedys only live ten minutes from here.” Deon was pleased with the host family where the club had placed him, but he and Kevin were already discussing the option of finding a two-bedroom apartment to share.

Jeremy frowned. “I thought you were from Melbourne?”

“I am, but my parents divorced ten years ago. My dad lives here.” Deon grinned. “He’s told me that he’s going to get to as many of our games as he can.”

“Cool.” Caleb cocked his head, waited a moment and then said: “There’s something I’ve been curious about. You can tell me to mind my own business, but you played with Jim Henderson during the year. What was that like? Was it weird at times?”

“I not only played with him, but I shared a house with him.” Deon shrugged. “He’s a great guy and someone I could turn to if I had problems. He helped me a lot earlier in the year when I had issues with my dad.”

“But you said your dad’s here in Sydney…” Jack glanced at the others who seemed equally perplexed.

Deon chuckled as they entered the foyer. The club already knew, and his teammates would find out sooner or later, so he didn’t try to hide the truth. “My dad’s gay. That’s why he divorced my mum and moved up here. I hated him for a long time because of what he did, but Jim got me sorted out. My dad and I get along well now, and Jim had a major part to play in that.”

All three guys appeared stunned. Caleb was the first to recover. “You’re joking, right?”

“Nope.” Deon saw his father getting out of a chair on the other side of the room. He smiled and beckoned him forward. “Dad, this is Jack, Jeremy, and Caleb. Guys, this is Sam, my dad.” Deon grinned as he draped an arm across his father’s shoulders. “You’ll be seeing a lot more of him and Marcus, his partner. They signed up as members immediately after I was drafted.”

Deon was pleased when his teammates showed little hesitation in greeting Sam. While the club had informed him that they wouldn’t tolerate homophobic behaviour, it was a comfort to see his fellow draftees handle the situation with respect and maturity.

* * *

“Dave Islington?”

“Yes?” Dave thought the voice sounded familiar, but the caller came up on his phone as a private number.

“This is Isaac Long from the Hawthorn Football Club. Sorry to bother you on a Sunday afternoon, but do you have a few minutes to talk?”

“Sure.” Dave walked over and closed his bedroom door. “What’s it about?”

“We’ve been discussing things here at the club, and before we do anything more, we wanted to check to see if you’ve changed your mind about being drafted by us in Wednesday’s rookie draft.”

Dave swallowed. “I’m still ready to play for the Hawks, if that’s what you want.”

“And the rest?” Isaac’s tone was sympathetic. “Information we’ve received indicates you’ll probably need to appear in court in late January. If you do that as someone on an AFL club’s list, it’s going to attract a lot of attention. No one wants to cause you more problems, Dave. We’ll give you whatever support you require, but if you would prefer to back off, we understand.”

Dave’s hands started to shake. No one had contacted him recently, but he knew that sooner or later he would need to testify against the man who had raped him as a child. It bothered him that an AFL team would know the dates before he did, but he also knew that Hawthorn had a lot more influence than he did.

“Dave? Are you okay?”

Dave firmed his resolve. “I’m still willing to be a Hawk.” He knew that if he decided to decline the draft that year, his chances of being drafted in the future would be significantly lower.

“Thanks, Dave. In that case, there’s one more thing we need to ask of you.”

“What is it?”

There was pause before Isaac continued. “We’ve made a tentative appointment between our head doctor and your psychologist for Tuesday morning. We’d like you to attend, too.”

“Why?” Dave’s next scheduled appointment with his psychologist was the following week.

“Because we want everyone to be sure that this is a good thing for you. No one wants to make your condition worse.” Isaac’s tone was gentle. “While our doc and your psychologist have been talking, the three of you have never been together at the same time. It was suggested to us that it might be a good idea, just to make sure everyone understands what is going to happen.”

“What is going to happen?” Dave was trying hard not to get his hopes up too high.

“Have any of the other AFL clubs been speaking to you?”

Dave was thrown off balance by the unexpected question. “A couple, but only Geelong has contacted me recently.”

“What did they want?”

“They just wanted to chat. They were telling me about what facilities they had available as well as about their player-welfare program. They put a lot of emphasis on that part as well as talking about Simon Hogan’s experiences.” Dave knew the former Geelong midfielder had retired at the end of 2012 after suffering from a depressive disorder. “They also talked about the Read-the-Play mental-health-awareness initiative for junior football in their region.”

“I see…” Isaac didn’t sound pleased.

“They didn’t come out and say it explicitly, but they knew what’s wrong with me.”

“There’s nothing wrong with you, Dave!” Isaac was emphatic. “You’ve been hurt, but you’re recovering. That’s what our doctor’s told us, and I believe him.”

“Do you still want me to attend this appointment on Tuesday?”

“Yes, we would. We don’t want to take any chances, Dave. That’s for your benefit—as well as ours.”

“Okay, I’ll be there. Can you send me the details?”

“I’ll text you the time as soon as we’re finished. It’ll be at your psychologist’s office.”

A couple of minutes later, Dave added the details of the appointment to his phone’s calendar. Isaac had never answered the question about what was going to happen, but Dave was struggling to keep his hopes under control. He had the distinct impression that Hawthorn wanted to draft him but that the Geelong Football Club were also interested. He didn’t care where he went; both clubs had emphasised that they would be looking after his mental health.

* * *

“So we go through all of that again on Wednesday for the rookie draft?” Lauren asked.

“Sort of, but I think it’ll be a longshot.” Ross waved a hand at his laptop sitting on the kitchen table. “That’s why Alastair’s sent me a draft contract with the Leopards to review. He wants to make sure I’ll be able to play in the TAC Cup next season if we can convince Eastern Ranges to give me one of the nineteen-year-old spots on the team, and that means changes to the Leopards’ standard contract.”

Wu frowned. “If you sign up with them, does that mean you pull out of the rookie draft?”

Ross shook his head. “Julie’s told me that she doesn’t want to see a signed contract until Wednesday afternoon at the earliest. She said I could wait until Friday if I wanted to. That way there’s no conflict.”

“That sounds good.” Wu smiled at Ross. “So what time is the rookie draft, and on what stations is it broadcast?”

“Wednesday morning a bit after ten, and it’s not…” Ross chuckled as the surprise on Lauren’s and Wu’s faces. “It’s not a big thing like the main draft. The recruiting managers get on the phone, and it’s all done in less than half an hour. The results will be on the AFL website, so that’s where I’ll be checking to see if I’m drafted.” He shrugged. “I’m thinking of going to Lilydale and working out in their gym while it’s on. I’m sure someone will tell me if there’s good news.”

“You seem pretty blasé about it.” Wu reached over and put a hand on Ross’s arm. “Are you okay?”

Ross grimaced. “As I said, I think being picked up in the rookie draft is a longshot. My focus is now on playing next season and trying to make sure I don’t make the same mistakes I did this year.” He gave his friends a weak smile. “Alastair is working hard to maximise my chances, but it still comes back to me. I have to prove I can put in the effort required and then get the results needed.”

Wu nodded slowly. “What are your plans for the next few days?” He grinned. “Do you need us to keep you distracted so you don’t worry yourself sick?”

“No, that won’t be necessary.” Ross grinned back. “I’m going to see Warwick tonight, I’ve got training with the Leopards tomorrow night, and Ty wants to catch up with me at lunchtime on Tuesday.”

“That still leaves a lot of spare time.” Wu smiled. “Let us know if you want some company and we’ll be there.”

“Thanks, Wu, Lauren, but I’ll be fine.” Ross sighed. “I’m refocusing on next year, not Wednesday.” He chuckled. “That gives me twelve months to stress out.”

Alastair had been working to rebuild his confidence. Ross knew he had another tough year ahead of him, but Ty and Deon had shown what was possible. The next steps were up to him.

* * *

Marcus handed Deon the tray of roast vegetables. “Have you settled in yet, or are things still chaotic?”

Deon chuckled. “Do you mean football-wise or simply the move up here to Sydney?”

“Either? Both?” Marcus grinned. “Since you had to ask, I take it that things are still chaotic.”

“Yeah…” Deon gave himself half a plate of vegetables before handing the tray to his father. “The trip up here was so rushed that it was only today that I realised I’ve stuffed up.”

“In what way?” Sam asked.

Deon grabbed some crackling before serving himself some roast pork. “Neil gave me a large suitcase to help me bring up everything I need and told me I could give it back when I go back to Melbourne for Christmas. It was only today that I remembered everyone’s coming up here for Christmas this year.”

Sam grinned. “If that’s the limit of your stuff-ups, I think you’ve done well.”

Deon bit his lower lip. “Actually, since the club’s paying for the tickets, I wouldn’t mind going back to Melbourne even if it’s only for a day or two. I’m looking forward to having Christmas here,” he added quickly, “but there are some things I’d like to do back home.”

Marcus’s forehead wrinkled and a faint frown appeared on his face. Sam, however, chuckled. “Is that something—or someone?” His grin was broad. “I know Clarissa’s coming up here in January, but you want to see her before then, don’t you?”

Deon knew his face was red. He dropped his gaze to the roast dinner in front of him. “Yeah…”

His life was still split between Melbourne and Sydney. It would be for a long time to come. Though Clarissa was going to be in Sydney with him in about six weeks’ time, his mum, brother, and sister would remain in Melbourne. It was going to take time to get used to the idea, but at least he had his dad and Marcus with him while he adjusted to all the changes.

* * *

On Monday morning Patrick shuffled into his office to find Shane waiting for him. Patrick frowned as he made his way slowly to his desk. “What’s wrong?”

Shane closed the door. “I’m just nervous.” He chuckled, though with little pleasure. “Every year I make a number of draft choices, and every year I worry that I’ve made a mistake. Each draftee costs us a lot of money, and if we don’t get value out of them, that’s money down the toilet.” He sat in one of Patrick’s visitor chairs. “How’s Flanders settling in?”

Patrick grinned. “His nickname, the brat, is well earned. He’s already making life difficult for me at home.”

Shane stiffened. “What’s he done?”

“Saturday night, he and his girlfriend insisted on taking me out for dinner even though I was quite happy to have something simple at home. They also wouldn’t let me pay for my meal, saying it was the least they could do since I’m giving the brat somewhere to stay.”

“Paddy…” Shane shook his head and let out a long sigh. “You shouldn’t do that to me. You know I’m worried that his attitude is going to return. Give me a few months before you joke about it.”

“Sorry, Shane.” Patrick’s tone showed he wasn’t sorry at all. “Any concerns from the other staff or players?”

“They all say he’s doing great. Better than most kids who come through the door, in fact. That year in the VFL appears to have given him an extra portion of maturity over most of our draftees.” Shane fixed Patrick with a hard stare. “When are you going to talk to him about the Henderson kid?”

“Tomorrow afternoon.” Patrick shrugged. “I don’t think he’ll have a problem with what we’re going to propose.” Patrick smiled. “I know it wasn’t part of our original proposal, but I expect the brat will ask to be beside Henderson for all of the MidSumma Festival activities. I would suggest we stay flexible with that. The more I get to know him, the more I’m sure the brat will be a great representative for the club.”

Shane stood up. “As long as it all goes well. While this gay-and-lesbian-festival thing is good for the club and good for the community, I’m very much aware of how much we’re doing to keep Flanders happy.”

Patrick waved a hand dismissively. “Don’t worry about it, Shane. The young lad will do us proud.”

* * *

Julie frowned at the gathered group of players that night. They had just completed ninety minutes of training, but there were enough players showing signs of fatigue that she didn’t want to risk an injury through one of them making a silly mistake. “That’s enough for now. We’re getting there, guys, but there’s still a lot of work required. Go clean up and we’ll have a team meeting in thirty minutes. I want to do a general review as well as let you all know where we’re headed.”

“To another premiership,” Oliver yelled.

Julie chuckled as the Leopards echoed Oliver’s sentiment. “That’s what we all want, Ollie, but there’s a lot of work needed before we get there.” She gave Oliver a hard stare. “And some of us will need to lift our game. Everyone needs to be focused during training so what each player learns becomes automatic during a game. No wondering what Deon and the brat are up to or what’s going to happen on Wednesday night. Got it?”

Oliver winced. “Got it.”

Julie scowled indiscriminately at the rest of the players. “That goes for all of you, too.” A smile played on her lips. “But you’ve got thirty minutes to relax and gossip while you clean up. I’ll see you all in the meeting room when you’re done. You too, Roscoe.”

Oliver slapped Ross on the back. “I saw your look just now. You weren’t sure if you were invited.” He chuckled when Ross gave him a sheepish grin. “Just because the paperwork’s not signed, that doesn’t mean you’re not a Leopard. Unless something happens that indicates otherwise, consider yourself to be part of the team.”

Roger grinned. “He’s right, Roscoe. You did well tonight, so don’t stress.”

Ross tried to smile at the captain’s compliment, but he knew he had a long way to go before he could be considered not only a Leopard but also a replacement for Deon. He listened as the guys chatted on the way to the locker room and only contributed when he was asked a direct question. He noticed that Dave didn’t stop, but picked up his gear and headed out of the room and further into the building.

“It’s about time you know what’s going on there.” Ross spun around to see Roger standing behind him. The rest of the team started moving away. Roger nodded his head in the direction that Dave had gone. “We don’t talk about it, but Dave has some mental-health issues.”

Ross grimaced. “I know. One of the guys at the combine was telling everyone.”

“We heard.” Roger scowled. “That cockroach is going to find life tough if we ever meet him on the football field. We’re not going to break any rules,” he added quickly, “but most of us will be running through him, not around him.”

Ross nodded but didn’t say anything. He had already heard the Leopards nickname for Craig Roach from both Dave and Ty.

“Anyway,” Roger continued. “Dave’s condition wasn’t treated for a long time. One of the consequences of that is he can’t shower with other people. He has to have a private shower. The coaches have arranged for him to use the facilities in their change room, and during away matches he has his shower first, and no one else enters until he comes out.”

“What caused his problems?” Ross asked.

Roger flinched. “You don’t want to know.” He put a hand on each of Ross’s shoulder and stared into Ross’s eyes. “Trust me on this one. I had nightmares for a few nights after I found out what had happened. It still scares me from time to time. I have no idea how Dave coped for as long as he did.”

Ross swallowed. He could see the pain in Roger’s eyes. If it was something to scare the Leopards captain and former AFL player, Ross didn’t need to know the details.

Roger stepped back and smiled. “It’s time to get clean.” He glanced at the clock at one end of the change room. “We’ve got just over twenty minutes before Julie starts getting upset, and that’s something we want to avoid.” He grinned. “Trust me on that one, too. No one wants to disappoint her.”

Ross knew what he meant. While the Leopards senior coach was very approachable, she was also as hard as nails when she needed to be. If he wasn’t picked in the rookie draft, Ross knew he would be spending a lot of time trying to meet her exacting standards.

* * *

“Thanks for inviting me.” Ross rose from the lounge in the Carlton Football Club foyer where he had been waiting. It was late Tuesday morning, and Ty had just arrived to give him a guided tour of the football club before they headed out for lunch. “The Blues never approached me, but I wouldn’t’ve minded playing for them.”

Ty laughed as he escorted Ross further into the building. “Let’s be honest; you wouldn’t’ve minded playing for any of the AFL clubs.” His tone softened. “How are you coping?”

Ross sighed. “I’m doing okay. I know it was my own fault. At least the Leopards have offered me a contract, and Alastair’s doing his best to maximise my chance of being drafted next year. I’ve got another year to wait, but this time I know what I have to do.”

“That’s good. You’re already one up on me. Until Dad came along, I didn’t have anyone looking out for me. My old man abandoned me, and while the Leopards took me on, I was still aimless for a couple of months.” Ty slapped Ross on his back. “Listen to Alastair. I’ve heard a lot of good things about him from Kev.”

“Thanks.” Ross cocked his head as they strolled along the corridor. “Who’s your agent?”

Ty snorted. “I don’t have one. Not yet. I’ve had a number of calls, but I’ve told them all to call back in February. Until then, I don’t want to be distracted.” He grinned at Ross. “He doesn’t know it yet, but I’m thinking of making Dad my agent. I’ve been told that I need to trust whoever I pick, and there’s no one I trust more than Dad.”

“Does he want the job?”

Ty chuckled. “What’s that got to do with anything?” His expression became serious. “I don’t know. I don’t think it’ll be an onerous job, but then I’m not earning huge amounts for the first couple of years. If he doesn’t do it, I’ll probably go with Alastair, too, but that’s more because I know he’s also managing you, Deon, and Kev. I don’t really know what I need to be looking for, which is another reason I want to wait before I sign up with any of the management companies.”

They spent the next thirty minutes touring Carlton’s training facilities. Ross stared in awe at the state-of-the-art gym as well as the recovery area. “Does this stuff get a lot of use?” Ross asked as he waved a hand at the various pools and tubs.

Ty shuddered. “Yeah…” He gave Ross a wry grin. “One of the players told me that the trainers swear that the ice baths are one of the most effective recovery methods they have. The players just swear. He’s right, because that’s exactly what I did yesterday when I was told to get in one. It wasn’t the first time—I used one when I was here for a week at the start of last year as part of my academy training—but it was worse than I remembered.”

Ross chuckled. “Cold water is supposed to be good for you.”

“Supposedly…” Ty shrugged. “We don’t get given a choice. Like so many things here, we get told what we need to do, and it’s up to us to do them. If we don’t, we don’t stay as AFL players.” He winked at Ross. “And we all want to be AFL players. It’s hard work, Roscoe, but it’s what we want, right?”

Ross nodded. He didn’t really need the added incentive, but having Ty show him around an AFL football club just made him even more determined to do well the next year. He was still keeping his fingers crossed for the rookie draft, but he wasn’t getting his hopes up. He was sure the odds there were stacked against him.

* * *

“Thanks for the dinner invitation, Mr. and Mrs. Silverton. I really appreciate it,” Deon said.

“It was our pleasure, Deon. You and Kevin are welcome anytime.” Mrs. Silverton smiled. “It sometimes gets a little quiet with just us and Daphne.”

Kevin grinned. “That means I’m probably going to get into trouble when I take Daphne out at night. Something I’m planning on doing regularly.”

“Not at all!” Mr. Silverton smiled. “She doesn’t get out a lot so it’s good to see her enjoying herself again.”

Dad!” Daphne glared at her father as Kevin reached over and put an arm across her shoulders. She immediately leant into him.

Deon frowned for a moment and then smiled. It sounded like Daphne had some bad experiences in the past, but if he needed to know the details, he was sure Kevin would tell him. He also sensed that a change of topic was in order. “Just so you know, I’m not sure how many times I’ll be able to come here. I had my first meeting with the club dietitian today, and I’ve been told what I should be eating.” Deon winked. “I’m starting tomorrow.”

Mrs. Silverton gave Kevin a look of concern. “Does that apply to you, too?”

Kevin shrugged apologetically. “It does, but I’ve been making adjustments. One off-diet meal every so often doesn’t hurt as long as I let the dietitian know so my meal plan can be adjusted accordingly.” He smiled at Deon. “Talk to him again when you get the chance and explain the situation. He shouldn’t be unreasonable.”

“Her, in my case. Our dietitian’s a she.” Deon grinned. “I’ll do that, though. I’m still not sure when I need to shut up and listen and when I can ask for changes.”

“You’ll learn.” Kevin shrugged. “Most people will listen if you’ve got a reason for wanting to do something differently. They won’t treat all the players the same; everything will be tailored to each individual to maximise the benefits.”

The conversation continued with the Silvertons asking Deon how he was finding Sydney. Daphne told him that she was looking forward to when Clarissa, Neil, and Liam would arrive and hoping that they would all be able to go to the same university. The topic then moved on to how Liam and Clarissa would cope, living by themselves, and then onto how Deon liked staying with a host family. Kevin joined in with some anecdotes of his time with the Wembleys.

“They’re great people, and I don’t think I would’ve coped initially without them, but I’m looking forward to getting a place of my own,” Kevin said.

“Daphne’s told us that you and Deon are going to try to find a place to move in together.” Mr. Silverton frowned. “Is that going to work out since you’re on rival teams?”

“It’s actually not uncommon.” Kevin grinned at Deon before returning his attention to Daphne’s father. “We’re all professionals—at least we’re supposed to be. It’s a job, not a life choice. Because a lot of new players grew up playing football together, there are a lot of friendships that cross clubs. Everyone knows it, and as long as it doesn’t affect our on-field performance, it’s not a problem.”

“He’s right,” Deon said. “I’ve heard of situations where there’s been three or four AFL players, all from different clubs, sharing a house.” He grinned at Daphne. “In our case, the biggest hassle is going to be finding somewhere in the right location. Kev wants to be near you, and I want to be near where Clarissa’s going to be living when she arrives in January, and both of us need to be close to where we’ll be training.”

Daphne raised an eyebrow. “I know the Sydney Swans have their training ground near the SCG, but where do GWS train?”

“Olympic Park.” Deon grinned at Kevin. “We’ve got one of the sporting fields at the site of the 2000 Olympics, as well as nice, new training facilities.”

Kevin shrugged. “We’re constantly updating our facilities, too.” He grinned. “And the SCG is only a short walk to where Daphne—and hopefully Clarissa, Liam, and Neil—will be going to university next year. I think the Swans win when it comes to having the better training location.”

Deon gave him a mock-frown and then laughed. “Okay, I’ll concede that one. The old Olympic grounds are too far away to drop in to see Clarissa at uni.”

Despite that inconvenience, Deon was happy with how things were turning out. Clarissa would be living not too far from his father, which, in turn, wasn’t too far away by public transport from the Greater Western Sydney training facilities. He mightn’t get to see her during the day, but it wasn’t going to be difficult to see her regularly.

* * *

It was almost ten on the Wednesday morning and Charlie had his computer on the kitchen table monitoring the AFL website. He knew the rookie draft was about to commence, and while he had some faint hopes for himself, he was more interested in whether Hawthorn or Geelong would follow through and draft Dave.

“Has it started?” Jarrod asked as he entered the room.

“It shouldn’t be long.” Charlie hit the function key to refresh the website again. It would refresh automatically after a period of time, but he was too impatient to wait. “And, yes, it’s on.” He quickly scanned the five names that had already appeared but didn’t see anyone he knew. “GWS aren’t taking any rookies. They’ve already passed, and it’s only round one.”

“A pity. I was hoping someone would join Deon up there.”

“Based on the draftees’ former teams being listed, it looks like the clubs are starting with guys who missed out on last week’s draft.” Charlie refreshed the screen.

“Has anyone taken Roscoe?” Jarrod moved so he could peer over Charlie’s shoulder.

“Not yet, but we’re only halfway through the first round.” Charlie looked up at his housemate. “And if they do, I’ll tell you. You don’t have to stand behind me.”

“Sorry.” Jarrod grabbed a chair and sat next to Charlie. “We’re watching Hawthorn, Geelong, Richmond, Brisbane, and St. Kilda, right?”

Charlie snorted. “I’m watching all the teams. I don’t care who drafts who; I just want to be ready if it happens.”

“Fair enough.”

A few minutes later, Charlie frowned. The first round of the rookie draft was complete, and they’d started on the second round. “I think they’re starting to pick up older players. St. Kilda and the Bulldogs have just picked up ex-AFL players.”

“That doesn’t look good for Roscoe.”

“Brisbane picked up someone from the TAC Cup, so he’s still got a chance.”

Jarrod grimaced. “But that’s one of the clubs he was hoping to pick him. If they’ve picked a young player in rounds one and two, they’re not likely to pick a young player in round three.”

“They might, and there’s still Richmond.” Charlie hit the refresh key. “And they’ve picked up another young player, too.”

“Damn. I think Roscoe will do great as a Leopard, but I remember what it was like to miss out.” Jarrod sighed. “We both do, don’t we, Charlie?”

Charlie didn’t answer. He didn’t think he needed to. Slightly depressed from remembering that time from a year prior, he refreshed the webpage and read the new set of names. He stiffened. “Yes!”

Jarrod and Charlie stared at each other and then both grinned and grabbed their phones. “I’ll ring him,” Charlie said. “You let everyone else know.”

“On it.” Jarrod was already bringing up his contact list.

Charlie hit the speed dial. He was disappointed but not overly surprised when it went to voice mail. He left a message. “Dave, it’s Charlie. I’ve been monitoring the rookie draft. Hawthorn drafted you with their second-round pick! Congratulations!”

Charlie knew that Dave was working and probably had his phone on silent. He opened a new browser page and did a quick search for the menswear store in Lilydale where Dave worked three days a week. He then rang the number listed. He wasn’t going to wait for Dave to notice he had a missed call.

* * *

It was shortly before ten when Jim settled into the chair opposite Patrick O’Malley. “G’day, Paddy. I thought I was going to be speaking with Shane, but I was told to come here, instead.”

“Shane’s about to get onto a conference call, but once that’s done he’ll be joining us. In the meantime, we can discuss the options we’ve come up with for the club’s involvement in next year’s MidSumma Festival.” Patrick glanced past Jim to the door of his office. “Christopher, could you please get me a tea?” He smiled at Jim. “What would you like?”

Jim looked over his shoulder to where Patrick’s assistant was standing in the doorway. “Can I have a coffee, please?”

Christopher smiled. “We have real coffee available. What sort would you prefer?”

Jim raised an eyebrow at Patrick, who chuckled. “You may have forgotten, but there’s a barista downstairs. Some people around here are fussy and want their coffees made properly. Go ahead, order what you want.”

“In that case I’ll have a skinny latte.”

“I’ll be back with the drinks shortly.” Christopher left Patrick’s office, closing the door behind him.

Patrick and Jim discussed what Carlton could do for Melbourne’s premier, gay-and-lesbian festival until Christopher returned with their drinks. Jim took a sip of his café latte and smiled. “You weren’t joking when you talked about properly made coffees. It would be too easy to get used to something like this.”

“On that subject…” Patrick cocked his head. “Jim—or should I say Dad?—a number of people have raised a concern regarding the brat.”

Jim cringed. “What’s he done?”

“Nothing…so far.” Patrick leant forward. “However, given his attitude last year, a few people are worried that he may revert. Shane and I are very much aware that you had a major role to play in his development of a new attitude.” He smiled. “Jim, you’re a very good midfielder. I would rate your teammate Dave above you, but not by a large amount. Personally, I consider Dave to be one of the top five midfielders in the VFL, and you’re in the top ten.”

Jim was struggling to connect the Patrick’s opening comments about Ty with the later comments about himself. “What are you saying?”

“I’m saying that we’d like you to transfer to our VFL team. You qualify on your football skills alone, but we also want you because it’ll help ensure that the brat lives up to his potential to be one of the AFL elite.” Patrick paused, but when Jim frowned in thought, he continued. “You’ll have full access to all our facilities, including trainers, doctors, physiotherapists, and dietitians. In fact, everything our AFL players have access to.”

“The offer sounds great, Paddy, but I’m a Leopard. It wouldn’t be right for me to transfer to the Northern Blues.” Jim smiled. “And you don’t really need me. The brat will be fine. He’s not going to fuck this up.”

Patrick nodded slowly as he glanced at his computer screen. “I thought that might be the case. However, given the brat’s little temper tantrum last Friday when he found out what that so-called father of his had been up to, we’re desperate to have you here. He might be fine, as you’ve said, but we’ve invested a first-round draft pick in selecting him, and we don’t want to take any risks. We need you to manage him, so we’re offering to make you a full-time employee of the Carlton Football club and a member of our VFL team. You and I both want the brat to succeed in the AFL, Jim. You can help make that happen.”

Jim considered the offer for a few seconds and then shook his head. “The offer’s really tempting, but if it means leaving the Leopards in the lurch, I don’t want to do it. I think the school clinics we’re running are important, as are the regular radio broadcasts on Pride FM. The money from a full-time job would be nice, but I’m comfortable with what I’m on at the moment. Sorry, Paddy.”

A slow smile appeared on the old Irishman’s face. “We thought you’d say that. While I’m disappointed that you don’t want to transfer, you wouldn’t be a Leopard—or the person that the brat looks up to—if you were the sort of person to accept.”

“So the offer wasn’t serious?” Jim asked. He felt his phone buzz to indicate the arrival of a message, but he left it in his pocket. He’d check it later.

“It was deadly serious.” Patrick glanced past Jim and waved a hand in a beckoning motion.

Jim turned around to see a grinning Ty enter the office. He had a small bundle in his hand. “Brat!”

“G’day, Dad.” Ty’s smile broadened even further. “Paddy, have you told him yet?”

“Told me what?” Jim’s gaze flicked from Ty to Patrick. “What’s going on?”

Patrick smiled as his eyes flicked to his computer and back again. “You don’t appreciate how concerned we are about the brat. We’ve discussed the issue with him, and we’ve come up with what we believe is a mutually satisfactory solution. Brat, if you would…?”

Ty chuckled. “This is for you, Dad. You might want to put it on.” He handed over the bundle.

Jim saw that it was a tightly folded piece of navy-blue cloth. His eyes widened when he shook it out. It was a Carlton training top. “I don’t understand.”

Patrick chuckled while Ty gave Jim a slap on the back. Ty grinned as he dropped into the chair next to Jim. “We didn’t think you’d transfer, so Paddy and Shane decided to not give you a choice. As of now, you’re an official member of the Carlton Football Club. Congratulations, Dad!”

Jim’s phone started to ring, but he ignored it. “What are you talking about?”

“Today’s the day of the rookie draft.” Ty winked. “Guess who just got drafted?”

Patrick nodded. “That’s the conference call Shane’s on. Welcome to the AFL, Jim.”

Jim stared while he tried to work out what had just happened. “This is a joke, right?”

Ty shrugged. “You’re on the rookie list. That means you can’t play in the senior team unless someone gets hurt or they promote you at next year’s draft, but it still counts as the AFL.”

“He’s correct, Jim. You’re officially an AFL player.” Patrick chuckled. “You might want to take a few moments to gather yourself together and then start answering your phone. I suspect you’ll have a lot of people wanting to congratulate you. You’ll then need to get yourself ready, because we’ve got an interview with our media unit lined up for you in about an hour’s time.” He winked. “I wouldn’t be surprised if we’ll also have a press conference for you later today. It’s not every day that an AFL club drafts a player like you.”

Jim shook his head in disbelief. He stared first at Patrick and then at the jubilant Ty. He then looked down at the training top in his hands. He stood up, stripped off his shirt, and then pulled on the top.

His dreams of the AFL had finally come true.

* * *

“Julie! Julie!” Henry stared at his computer screen and then at the open door to his office. “Get the hell in here now. It’s urgent!” Under the circumstances, he didn’t think she’d mind either the language or the yelling.

It was a long few seconds before she appeared, almost skidding around the corner. “What’s wrong?”

Henry smiled at her. “We’ve got work to do. The rookie draft is on, and we’ve just lost some more players.”

Julie rolled her eyes. “Jarrod’s already texted me about Dave. It wasn’t unexpected.” She smiled. “Good for him, though.”

Henry snorted. “That was at the end of round two. That’s old news.” He grinned. “Two more players went at the start of round three. Your brother’s been drafted by the Bulldogs, and Jim’s joining Ty at Carlton.”

Julie blinked. “Are you serious?”

“Absolutely!” Henry turned his screen around so she could see for herself. “Paul was selected with Pick 40 and Jim with Pick 41.”

“I don’t believe it.” Julie collapsed into the chair opposite Henry. “I don’t fucking believe it!”

“Five players drafted. Two in the main draft and three in the rookie draft, and it’s not even finished. I don’t think that’s ever happened before!” Henry cocked his head while still grinning. “Do you want to see if you can be the first to let your brother know?”

Julie laughed as she pulled out her phone. “Thanks, Henry!”

Henry settled back in his chair to see if any more players would make the leap to the AFL. Regardless if there were more or not, the Leopards would be a very different club in 2015. Henry was looking forward to learning if, under Julie’s guidance, they could achieve the same, or better, the following year.

* * *

After he finished his solo workout in the gym and had a shower, Ross checked Julie’s office, but it was empty. He could hear noises down the corridor, so he headed down to the main reception area. There, he saw about a dozen happy people chatting to each other while sipping from plastic champagne flutes. Tony and Julie seemed to be in the middle of the celebrations.

“Roscoe!” Tony beckoned. “Have you heard the news?”

Ross smiled. It didn’t take much effort to work out what was going on “No, but I’m sure someone is about to tell me. Who got drafted?”

“Jim, Paul, and Dave.” Tony looked around and then raised his voice. “Glenda, we need another glass over here!”

“Jim? Jim’s been drafted?”

Tony laughed. “Third round, to Carlton, immediately after Paul was picked up by the Bulldogs. Dave went to Hawthorn in round two.”

Ross hesitated before deciding he didn’t need to ask if his name had been called. If it were, he was sure someone would’ve contacted him.

“Here,” Julie said, handing him a bubbling drink. “One glass only, because you’ve got training tonight.” She rested a hand on his shoulder for a moment and then cocked her head. “You’ll be there, won’t you?”

Ross nodded. “I will.” He reached into his bag. “This is for you.”

Julie narrowed her eyes as she took the envelope. “Is this your contract?”

“All signed and dated. I had it ready when I arrived this morning.” Ross took a deep breath. “If you still want me, that is.”

Julie didn’t answer immediately. She tapped the envelope in the palm of her spare hand a few times while giving him a critical stare. She then smiled. “Training’s at six. Don’t be late or you’ll be running laps. We’ve got a lot of hard work ahead of us.”

“Yes, coach!”

Julie laughed. “The name’s Julie, Roscoe. You’re a Leopard now, and that means we’re family.” She turned to the others in the room and held the envelope high. “Five of our family may have moved on to bigger things, but we’ve also found ourselves a new Leopard today. Everyone make Roscoe welcome!”

Ross couldn’t keep a grin off his face as he was congratulated. His dreams of playing in the AFL would need to go on hold, but he was happy with where he had ended up. If he couldn’t be an AFL player, an openly gay VFL player with a team that supported him was a good alternative. He still needed to come out publicly, but he would speak to Alastair later to work out the details. He didn’t want to be hiding in the closet anymore.

* * *

Michelle grinned across the desk as she spoke into her microphone. “Welcome back, listeners. We have a couple of special guests with us this beautiful Thursday morning. After yesterday’s dramatic AFL rookie draft, our Facebook page was inundated with messages of congratulations for the AFL’s first openly gay football player: Jim Henderson. As a proud sponsor of the Lilydale Leopards and Jim in particular, we here at Pride FM are over the moon with what has occurred. Even though he’s no longer a Leopard, we’ve asked Jim to come in today for a chat. Jim, how are you feeling?”

Jim grinned. “I’m still in shock. While I trained with Carlton earlier in the year, I never seriously expected that they would draft me.”

“Everyone here will be waiting anxiously for your debut AFL match,” Maria said, “though I understand that it may be some time before that occurs.”

“That’s right. Being on Carlton’s rookie list means I’m not automatically eligible to play in the AFL team. I’m only a chance to play if one of the existing players retires or has a serious injury. To be honest, I don’t want either to happen even if that means I won’t get to play an AFL match.”

“Injuries are, unfortunately, part and parcel of the modern game,” Michelle said. “We equally don’t want anyone to end up seriously hurt, but if it happens, we’ll be keeping our fingers crossed that you’re the one they elevate to take that player’s place.”

“On a more personal note,” Maria said, “there’s been speculation here at Pride FM as to what this means for next season’s AFL reviews. You and Paul have done a great job all year, but both of you have been drafted—you to Carlton and Paul to the Western Bulldogs. Does that mean you won’t be able to continue to do that for us?”

Jim smiled. “I’ve already spoken to the media people at Carlton, and they’re happy for me to continue to come in and review the AFL rounds. I’ll be back next season.”

Maria grinned. “That’s excellent news, Jim. We look forward to seeing a lot more of you in the new year. But what about Paul? Even though he’s no longer single, we have a long list of staff members here who want to drool over him.”

“Sorry, but I don’t know.” Jim shrugged. “You’ll need to speak to him or the Bulldogs to see if they’re willing to let him continue. However, the Leopards have told me that they’ve found someone to replace him as a regular Friday morning commentator if he’s not available.”

Michelle smiled and winked at Ross. “And that brings us to our second guest this morning. Ross Munroe—though he prefers to be called Roscoe—is the Leopards’ newest player. Only eighteen, he played for the Eastern Ranges in the TAC Cup during the year and signed to play for the Lilydale Leopards Football Club yesterday after the rookie draft.”

Under the table, Ross wiped his sweaty palms on his pants. “Thanks, Michelle, Maria. It’s great to be here.”

“Now, we have lots of questions for Roscoe, but we know our listeners.” Maria gave Ross an encouraging smile. “For all those looking for someone, if you like the tall, thin, fit look, Roscoe is the one for you. However, before we get anyone’s hopes up too high, Roscoe, are you single?”

Ross glanced across at the studio window where Alastair, Tony, and Warwick were watching. All three were smiling encouragingly. When Ross caught his eye, Warwick gave him a thumbs-up.

Ross took a deep breath. “Sorry, no. I’ve got a boyfriend.”

Michelle grinned. “And so another attractive young male is taken off the market. Sorry, listeners. It’s great news, however, that even though Jim has moved up to the AFL, the Leopards still have a gay football player in the team. We’d all prefer it if that wasn’t such a big deal, but elite gay athletes are still rare. Welcome, Roscoe.”

Ross smiled as the radio interview continued. It was done. He was out, he knew his teammates would support him, and Pride FM had already agreed to sponsor him for the following year. He still had a long road ahead of him if he wanted to make it into the AFL, but he was on his way. He wasn’t hiding anymore.



AUTHOR’S NOTE: To have five players drafted from the same second-tier club is exceptional, but in 2015, six players from the South Australian West Adelaide team were drafted into the AFL; three in the main draft (rounds one, two, and five) and three in the rookie draft (two in the first round and one in the second). Like the Leopards in the VFL, West Adelaide had won the 2015 SANFL grand final after finishing 9th the year before.
Here is a little bit about Simon Hogan and his battles with mental health, and also on the Kempe Read The Play mental-health-awareness program that the Geelong Football Club is associated with.

Copyright Notice - Copyright © October 2016 by Graeme.

The author copyrights this story and retains all rights. This work may not be duplicated in any form – physical, electronic, audio, or otherwise – without the author's expressed permission. All applicable copyright laws apply.

Disclaimer: Some public figures have been included in this story for effect. This is fiction, and the words and actions of those characters are mine and not those of the real person. All other individuals depicted are fictional, and any resemblance to real persons is purely coincidental.


I would like to thank C James and MikeL for the advice they gave on early versions, rec and ken84050 for editing this story for me, and a special thank you to ricky for that crucial final review before publication.