Late-bloomer Lee Spurr on hitting his straps with the Fremantle Dockers. By Richard Cooke.


Defence department: Lee Spurr, 28, Australian rules footballer

All the little things add up. There’s no one miraculous goal or one big tackle. It’s the little things, basics over the game. Having 22 contributors out there that consistently stick to the plan, and executing the game plan. That’s what makes the difference at the end of the game. And you’re not going to guarantee yourself a win, but that will give you the best chance.

There are no one-on-one contests anymore. You can’t just go out there, lock on one bloke and follow him around. You’ve got to be able to do every facet of the game; we need everyone to contribute both offensively and defensively. If you have one player who’s not able to kick, or who doesn’t have very good skills, they won’t make it in modern-day football. 

The mental side of the game, that’s probably the biggest difference from playing SANFL to AFL. You have no time – we call it ball watching, where you stand there and you’re watching the ball and you’re not thinking about your positioning or your opponent. You come off after a game – you’re physically exhausted and you’re mentally exhausted. Because you’re trying to concentrate for 120 minutes, and if you have a lapse, it can be the difference between them kicking a goal or not.

The AFL competition is so close this year. If you’re 5 per cent off, you very quickly get beat.

We’ve given ourselves the best chance to make the grand final. Once you get there it’s a 50-50 ball game.

The travel factor is definitely a part of it. From my point of view, I don’t mind travelling. I sort of like being able to travel all the time. I grew up in Queensland, I’ve lived in Adelaide and played there. You get to travel with 20 of your best mates, and it’s sort of a bonding exercise.

In the downtime, #mymatenick has become a phenomenon. Where people put up photos of Nick Suban sleeping, whether he’s asleep on the plane, or photos with his mask on and that sort of stuff. That’s one of the gags going around. A lot of players will do university work or that sort of stuff. We also play a lot of cards – rummy is big.

Study takes some of the pressure off. I’ve been doing a commerce/law degree. I was doing that full-time when I was playing in Adelaide and then I continued it part-time since I’ve been over here. 

To have something outside of football helps motivation. It does help you play better. But also you want to have something, because you’re only one injury away from having no career. A lot of players in the past have had a shock when they go out into the real world, and they have to get a job. There is a push for players to get an education and have something to fall back on, because the majority of your working life’s going to be post-footy.

I thought possibly I’d missed my window in the AFL. I thought “maybe it’s time to get my head out of the sky and stop dreaming and focus more on my university and my degree and the next phase of my life”. And then at that stage there were a few players such as Michael Barlow, who’s a mature-aged, who got the call-up, and that paves the way and opens the door for other players.

I went to Fremantle in Ross Lyon’s first year. Everyone sort of fell into line with him, and it became a really good place to go to work, so to speak. Everyone wanted to improve and get towards a common goal and really buy into Ross’s game plan. We’ve really built a strong culture there now over the four years.

Ross has obviously got a great football mind. That’s really publicised in the media. But he works extremely hard and, as a player, you can see how much time and effort he puts into vision and review and individuals and players. Everything. There’s nothing personal with Ross – all the feedback is constructive criticism.

When you go into finals there’s no thought of individual success. Honestly, I couldn’t care if I went out there and had one disposal. But if I played my role for the team, executed my role and we got the result that we wanted to go forward, I’d be over the moon. I think that’s the same for every other player on our list. If you went out there, and you had to sacrifice your own game to get that team success, that’s the ultimate dream.

1 . This week’s highlights…

• AFL: Preliminary final – West Coast Eagles v North Melbourne

Saturday, 5.45pm (AWST), Domain Stadium, Perth 

• NRL: Preliminary final – Melbourne Storm v North Qld Cowboys

Saturday, 7.40pm (AEST), AAMI Park, Melbourne

• Rugby: World Cup – Australia v Uruguay

Sunday, 9pm (AEST), Villa Park, Birmingham, England

• Soccer: FFA Cup quarter-finals – Heidelberg United v Melbourne City

Tuesday, 8pm (AEST), Olympic Park Village, Melbourne

Perth Glory v Western Sydney Wanderers

Tuesday, 6.30pm (AWST), Dorrien Gardens, Perth

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on September 26, 2015 as "Defence department".

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Richard Cooke is a contributing editor to The Monthly, and the 2018 Mumbrella Publish Award Columnist of the Year.

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