FOR all the lessons that have shaped Jordan Roughead’s successful AFL journey so far, it was one nugget from Bob Murphy in a time of need that stands out to him the most.
It came a few years ago when Roughead was in a form slump at the same time as his passion for the game began to wane.
What followed was a coffee, a discussion which proved “instrumental” to Roughead’s career, and another example of Murphy’s influence off the field as much as his importance on it.
Roughead recalled the moment this week just moments before his captain and good friend announced he would retire at the end of the Bulldogs’ season.
“I kind of realised I was not a regular footballer, and not cut from the same cloth as lot of others, a bit in a similar way to ‘Murph’,” Roughead explained.
“I remember three or four years ago we went and got a coffee together because I was struggling for form and, I guess, with the desire to keep being (an AFL) footballer.
“He said ‘You don’t have to love the game, it is such a hard game that you can’t love every aspect of it. But what you have to be able to do is find the bits you do love and focus on them.’
“That was a phenomenal lesson. What Murph was saying was you had to find the thing you are most passionate about, and to make that your focus. It couldn’t have been a better lesson.”
So much has changed for both since that conversation and coffee, but the subject matter has become the mantra upon which the Bulldogs’ ruckman now bases his football on.
“It is all about the 21 guys you run out with each week,” he said of the focus that he centred on.
“As an extension, it is the 45 guys you are here with for 12 months and that obviously changes at the end of every year.
“But it is like a family and a brotherhood, that’s the thing that I love the most about this game.”
Speaking ahead of tomorrow’s must-win match against Port Adelaide in his hometown of Ballarat, Roughead admits that as much as loves what he does, basketball remains his favourite sport, but the well-rounded big man is grateful for the opportunities AFL football has provided him.
He predominantly played basketball as a kid growing up in Ballarat, crossing paths briefly with Maryborough’s future NBA star Matthew Dellavedova.
He played some junior football with Lake Wendouree before taking the game up again with North Ballarat Rebels in the TAC Cup.
His talent was evident, and as he explained: “When your coach and regional manager sort of sit you down and say we think you are a chance to be drafted, you pretty quickly make the decision (to stick with football).”
Now he considers himself “the luckiest footballer in the world”.
The reasons are twofold. He was drafted in 2008 to the team he barracked for as a kid — thanks to the fact his dad, Paul, played 13 reserves games in the mid-1970s before his knee “blew out”.
Then last year he got to play in last year’s drought-breaking first Bulldogs’ flag in 62 years — sadly, minus one of his mentors in Murphy — after overcoming a nasty bleed to his eye suffered during the thrilling preliminary final victory over Greater Western Sydney the week before.
Roughead recalled this week: “I hadn’t had much of a conversation (with the Bulldogs) before the draft, but I just said (to his dad) ‘I would love to hear from them and I would love to go and help them win a premiership that they haven’t won for so long’.
“I know that a premiership is something that you will remember for the rest of your life … (but) even now it still makes the hairs on my neck stick up.”
That depth of feeling still sits with him, and always will. He can barely grasp the commentary that the young Bulldogs are already satisfied with their flag, and haven’t worked as hard as a collective to back it up this year.
“It is ridiculous to say that because once you have done it and know how good it is, you want to experience again,” he said. “We are probably working harder (than last year) because we are not performing at the level we want to.”
The club has faced considerable hurdles this year with the next two games to determine if they will even get the chance to defend their flag in the finals.
Roughead had his own challenge, overcoming one of the rarest hamstring tears in his first pre-season game — an injury which kept him out until Round 10.
“I don’t think it has ever happened before, not just in the AFL,” he said of the injury. “It’s (so rare) that it is going to be in a medical journal.
“It is where three tendons — the hamstring, the adductor and the quad tendon attach below your knee, and I somehow tore it off the bone.
“Any time you feel a pop in your leg, it isn’t good. If you are going to injure yourself, I suppose, you might as well make it an interesting one.”
He has played every game since his return and while he thinks his form has mirrored the inconsistency of his team, he looms large in importance over he next fortnight.
“We showed last year that all you need to do is to give yourself a chance,” he said. “We are in a position where we have to win our last two games (against Port Adelaide and Hawthorn) to give ourselves that chance.
“(But) we definitely think our best is good enough.”