WHEN I was a kid, I always dreamed of attending the AFL draft, of hearing my name being called out.
And I did it. I was standing there, jaw hitting the fl oor, surrounded by the game’s stars – and stars in waiting – and then my name was called.
I was in.
“We’ve found your media pass.”
And no I wasn’t.
Alright, yes I was, but I was a spectator, not the one being handed that fabled black jumper with the blood red sash.
And in the end, instead of a wannabe I could have been a couldabeen.
I could have been a contender. Because Essendon didn’t have a fi rst-round pick.
Obviously they didn’t realise I would be there, and available – even though I didn’t nominate for the draft (a few games in the Magoos for Girgarre is not an overwhelming eyecatcher for the scouts).
Well it’s their loss and Girgarre’s gain. But even if my dreams evaporated in front of my starstruck eyes I was there to see Brodie Kemp’s come true and become the latest footballer from the twin towns to reach the highest level of football in this country.
And he delivered his side of the bargain so I came back to earth with a thud and got on with my job.
When Brodie and his family arrived at Marvel Stadium, there would have been millions of thoughts running through their heads?
Where am I going to live? How am I going to survive? Will I fit in at my new club? Am I even going to be drafted on the first night like so many people have predicted?
Is my injured knee going to be a bigger setback than we thought?
My biggest problem as I drove from the Riv office to Melbourne was wondering how I would write my story.
And let me tell you, any idea I had felt like it changed every 10 seconds.
Simply, the pressure of draft night is unlike anything I’ve experienced in my life – and certainly in my nascent media career.
You read and hear about what these young men go through, but you have to see it to believe it.
See what’s happening off camera. Walking outside Marvel Stadium, you realise draft night is not for the little guy.
Within minutes of arriving, I had already laid eyes on Geelong coach Chris Scott sitting among a group of close to 10 Cats staff members.
I was honestly wondering how many people does it take to say: “we want you to play for our club.”
Even though these decisions could be the difference between a club’s success – and disaster.
Before the players have even started to arrive for the 7pm start, the TV cameras are rolling, capturing the arrival of all 18 clubs.
Reporters are producing their final stories for the 6pm news, while others are looking for the one big scoop which could be the story of the night.
And when 7pm rolled around, it felt like everyone in Australia already knew what was going to happen with the first four selections.
That gave me plenty of time to write up several different introductions but without a selection even being made, they could have simply been thrown to the scrap heap.
As expected, Matt Rowell and Noah Anderson joined the Gold Coast Suns via picks one and two, as Luke Jackson and Lachie Ash were drafted by Melbourne and GWS with the next two picks.
And then the drama really started. Sydney decided it was time to throw everything out the window with the selection of Dylan Stephens.
In the lead up, they were tipped to take Fischer McAsey (who joined Adelaide via pick six), but their decision completely reshaped the rest of the top 10.
Murmurs started, puzzled journalists questioning where the decision had come from.
Only minor drama had ensued to this point, then Carlton decided it was time to cause chaos – not just for the other clubs but for all us scribes as well.
Two bids on academy players (Tom Green at GWS and Liam Henry in Fremantle) came from the Blues and both were matched.
Then Blues list manager Stephen Silvagni went and traded down to pick 17 – no-one knew what was going on. Did he?
Everyone’s eyebrows were raised. Given where Carlton sit in their rebuilding phase, picking as early as possible should have been mandatory.
At the time I was beginning to think one of my story leads was gone, after all Brodie had been heavily linked with Carlton.
In the coming picks, Hawthorn (who he supported as a kid), Port Adelaide, the Western Bulldogs and Geelong all elected to pass.
Down to the final five picks for the night, I wondered whether Brodie would be finding his AFL home on Wednesday (or maybe wanting to hold talks with Girgarre on Thursday).
Having met Brodie personally in the months leading up to the night, I also started to wonder how much stress he would have been under.
But then the dream was complete when Carlton still managed to get their man at 17.
Brodie was relieved in the draft room, while I was working frantically to get my article online with the basic details of what had just unfolded.
And I was just getting started. Next I needed the man himself. So, apparently, did everyone else.
Brodie was whisked off as all players selected in the fi st round were, introduced to the media pack – far and away the biggest team there that night – for all in or one-on-one interview.
Soon, the AFL’s 21 newest players were surrounded by journalists, cameramen, photographers and club media staff – so many new faces, some familiar.
You could have forgiven the young men for feeling a little overawed but they were now paid up members of the AFL goldfish bowl and having been thrown in the deep end this was their first sink or swim moment.
Before the journalists stuck countless microphones in the faces of the baby faced generation of (maybe) stars, the photographers had their time to shine.
New club colours were worn with pride as each player’s smile shone brighter than the dazzling streaks of light from a battery of cameras.
Looking around the room, everyone was on their feet aiming to hear from the men of the hour.
Deadlines needed to be met, we needed to hear from the players.
When Brodie finally escaped from one of several photoshoots – they do say he loves a selfie – I pounced on Carlton staff for an interview.
They could only happily oblige. From the moment I finally spoke to Brodie, you could see he was floating, couldn’t keep the excitement out of his voice.
Every time we’ve spoken (in person or on the phone) he’s always had a bubbly personality – even when we discussed his devastating knee injury.
My stress levels were also replaced with a sense of triumph – I had the interview (and six texts from the editor demanding to know where the bloody hell was I).
Now my next goal was to put the story together – the sound of keyboards typing away was arguably louder than the voices in any interviews being completed.
Mixed between calls with my editor, I started to receive multiple messages from people I knew. What strange timing I thought. It quickly came to my attention I had been fi lmed by Carlton’s media team conducting the interview with Brodie (damn that dream, but if only it had been the other way around).
I guess I got my time in the limelight after all.
The words may have been written but my work was far from done.
I knew that because I now had seven new texts asking where the bloody hell were the pictures.
Slipping into snapper mode I needed the one shot – the family.
Echuca footballer Brodie Kemp celebrates his AFL Draft selection by Carlton with his family - brother Mitch (far left), dad Grant and mum Kathleen.
With Brodie in the media room and the family in the draft room it was obvious whichever one I went for first the other would be gone when I got back.
So I whistled up my new best buddies – Carlton’s media team of course.
They had to also field endless questions and more than enough complaints but they still had their hi-watt smiles turned on and were happy to be of assistance.
The photo proved to be the smoothest job of the night – and also the most satisfying (my text read: It’s in your bloody email).
No, not really (although it still felt pretty bloody good even though I couldn’t be there to see the look on his face).
But I did get to see the sheer elation on the faces of Brodie’s family, mingled with sheer relief.
Which suddenly revealed they had been on every up and down of this rollercoaster Brodie had chosen to ride.
If I thought my night was a wild ride it was nothing like the Kemp family had gone through to reach this moment.