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Dayle Garlett, and why AFL football isn't for everyone

Garlett quit football citing the sport's demands and homesickness.

Garlett quit football citing the sport's demands and homesickness.

Dayle Garlett wanted to be an AFL player. He found out what he needed to do to become one, and decided he didn’t want to do it. There is such a huge gap between the two things these days that it’s surprising more players haven’t decided it just isn’t for them.

Garlett has talent, though his talent has been a touch overstated. He is skilful, creative, kicks goals and he knows how to get the ball at stoppages. He’s never shown much of a taste for tackling and recruiters thought he either didn’t have the endurance to move from the forwards to the midfield, or did, and didn’t push himself to use it.He would never have been picked ahead of Dom Sheed, Ben Lennon, Christian Salem or Nathan Freeman in the top 10 of last year’s draft. But he can absolutely play.

People get perplexed when young people appear to throw away chances, particularly when they are opportunities that very few are given. So many thousands of boys desperately hope they will get their turn one day. So many men wish it could have been them. Many draftees are ready for it, and adapt quickly. Others aren't, then find the routine and rigour bring out good things in them. But it isn’t for everyone.

Not everyone wants to work seven days a week. Not everyone wants to have their skinfolds measured every Monday morning. Not everyone wants to have to register every single Panadol they take. Not everyone wants to be told what to eat, what time they have to be somewhere, what they can’t post on Twitter, what time they should go to sleep, who they shouldn't be friends with.

Not everyone wants to be told they can’t play unless they run two kilometres in a certain time, or lay so many tackles, or make so many repeat efforts. Plenty of kids are drawn to sport because they don’t like sitting in classrooms. They don’t necessarily want to go to five meetings every week.

You can't get drafted without talent, yet talent is just one of the things you need for it to happen: it takes desire, resilience, perseverance, an ability to absorb and process a lot of information, and many other qualities. It’s why clubs wanted clarification from the AFL last week when they were warned against over-interrogating potential draftees in interviews. None of them want to frighten anyone, but they need to know who will cut it.

Hawthorn and Garlett were as relieved as each other to part ways. It was best done now, before something happened that would have forced a more dramatic separation. The Hawks drafted him with the right pick, at the right time, and won’t be happy he has lasted just a few months. Every recruiter wants every player they pick to work out, and the club did all it could think of to make things work.

Garlett is 20. He hasn’t had the easiest upbringing, and deserves understanding. It’s hard to remember a second-round draft pick getting so much attention while having so much still to work on as a footballer. Sometimes it seems as if we push and push for the 'wayward' kid to get a chance, then almost sweat on them mucking it up, then talk about how sad the whole thing is. Still, his struggles emphasise why it’s frustrating to see players like Dustin Martin and Chris Yarran cut down as often as they are, when they have every reason not to be achieving what they currently are. As well as the many others who keep persisting.

Who knows whether Garlett will look back one day and wonder. For now, he’ll play for Swan Districts, kick goals, party afterwards and be happy. It’s a shame, but it’s up to him. It’s not an easy game and not everyone would do anything to play it, no matter how many people wish they wanted it more.

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