Melbourne Demons midfielder Aaron Vandenberg on the benefits of his late start in the big league. By Richard Cooke.


Wanting it more: Aaron Vandenberg, 24, Australian rules footballer

I really like the look of the new logo. I think they tried to modernise it this time, to connect with the younger football fans of Australia, I guess. But I reckon it looks really good. We’re trying very hard to connect our brand with the city – and what better way to do that than go with the Melbourne hipster look. 

As soon as you miss that under-18s draft then they start classing you as a mature-age pick-up. I thought that possibly the way I was playing, I might get a chance to get drafted to a footy club. And as every year went past, my hopes got slimmer and slimmer. I probably would have given it one more crack after 2014, and if it didn’t go well would have started looking toward a career in something else. But thankfully I got the nod.

I don’t think I would have tried as hard as I did for another couple of years. It just took a toll on my body with full-time work and trying to train as hard as I was.

I didn’t have very many keen footballing mates. I was probably just uneducated on how hard you have to work to play AFL football, and it wasn’t until moving up to the ACT that I realised how hard. If I was going to make it, it meant sacrificing a lot of things. I was fully committed to it.

No more party time. No more eating pizza; running every day. It wasn’t too hard actually. It’s like a muscle and the more you do it the easier it becomes.

There were two seasons where I was dislocating my shoulder almost every game. In 2013 it got pretty bad, and when I got to the end of that season I was contemplating whether to get a reconstruction or not. But I felt that if I had to do that, there was a chance I might sit out the ’14 season. So I thought the best option was to try and play through it as best I could, and then get it fixed at the end of that year [depending on] if I was or wasn’t to get drafted. It’s very lucky I played my cards right.

I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. And I certainly don’t want to play with that ever again.

I feel more motivated to come in to the AFL now. Not every 17- or 18-year-old kid is going to have the motivation or the drive to become an AFL footballer. It’s just not in their DNA at that age. And in my case, it took me a good two or three years after that until I was in my early 20s to really actually put the hard yards in and work hard.

If I had been picked up at 18 I would have squandered my chance. Thrown it away. I’m actually quite grateful that I started working hard at a bit of an older age and came in and made an impact.

Having full-time work and playing football outside of that gives you a good perspective of how hard it can be to get places. Not to take the opportunity for granted when I got it.

People think we’ve got it a lot easier than we do. A lot of people think you just sort of roll up, kick a ball, go home. But that’s not really the case at all. It’s definitely nine-to-five most days, and you’re always trying to better yourself. Unfortunately you can’t sit at the same level all the time.

Roosy [Demons coach Paul Roos] was really driven on providing a good culture around the place. Even since I’ve been here we’ve had a lot of people come and go, and I think it’s all about settling ourselves, getting ourselves in a position to perform week in, week out at the same level. Just having the good leadership and people around the place to sort of keep the club driven in the right direction.

And everyone has their distinct kind of input. But I’d love to see the club make finals this year. I think it’d be fantastic and I reckon we’re really on the right path.

I’d be happy to be a tagger if they wanted. But I think we’re almost past the stage of that happening in footy these days. No one really plays the hard tag anymore, it pretty much puts your team one down, and I think blokes who are getting tagged are getting smarter at creating two-on-ones and really making it a disadvantage.

The culture is really positive at Melbourne. The vibe around the club is really positive. We can get a really good year out of this season.


1 . This week’s highlights…

• AFL: Western Bulldogs v Geelong Cats

Saturday, 7.25pm (AEST), Etihad Stadium, Melbourne

• NRL: St George Illawarra Dragons v Melbourne Storm

Saturday, 7.30pm (AEST), WIN Stadium, Wollongong

• Rugby Union: Wallabies v England

Saturday, 8pm (AEST), AAMI Park, Melbourne

• Hockey: 2016 Women’s Champions Trophy: Hockeyroos v United States

Saturday, 9pm (AEST), Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, London

• Netball: Melbourne Vixens v Queensland Firebirds

Sunday, midday (AEST), Hisense Arena, Melbourne

• Rugby League: State of Origin II – NSW Blues v Queensland Maroons

Wednesday, 8pm (AEST), Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on June 18, 2016 as "Wanting it more".

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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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