GWS draftees bond amid isolated induction

GWS rookie Jake Riccardi in pre-season training at Giants Stadium.
GWS rookie Jake Riccardi in pre-season training at Giants Stadium.

The go-home factor is inevitably raised in discussions about AFL draftees at some point, but this season it has become the reality for so many youngsters with careers spanning a tick over three months.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a dislocating effect throughout Australia and that rings particularly true for AFL players recruited in the 2019 draft.

Many were fresh out of school when they left support networks and family homes for the first time, shifting interstate with high hopes, a two-year contract and base wage stipulated by the league.

After a brief taste of the routines and demands of full-time football they are now learning in isolation for an unspecified period of time, plenty having hurriedly packed a bag and returned home for the shutdown.

GWS's four-strong class of 2019 provide a striking snapshot.

Tom Green, Lachie Ash and Jake Riccardi had become teammates, housemates and mates in quick succession, shifting into a Breakfast Point apartment after being drafted from Canberra, Katandra and Melbourne respectively.

"Tom is pretty messy and doesn't do too much cooking. Jake and I, we call him our child," Ash laughs.

On March 23, soon after Giants football manager Jason McCartney addressed players and outlined their options, the trio locked up the unit and headed their separate ways.

Tom Hutchesson, who hails from the South Australian town of Millicent and was on a plane heading home from Europe when he was taken with the overall final pick in last year's draft, opted to stay in Sydney.

Hutchesson's girlfriend Natalie had just moved and started work as a theatre nurse at Concord Hospital.

"I couldn't really leave. She's working 10-hour days at the moment, pretty flat out. I've been staying at home, cooking and cleaning," The 25-year-old former carpenter told AAP.

"She moved over about five weeks ago. Basically she got here and the s*** has hit the fan.

"Everything happened so quickly that you couldn't really process it. It wasn't until the Monday when they were like 'you have to get your stuff and go' that it really sunk in."

Green, Ash and Riccardi - aged 19, 18 and 20 respectively - recall the final few days prior to shutdown vividly.

"It was all reasonably quick ...bit of a rollercoaster," Green said, having signed a contract extension and locked horns with Patrick Dangerfield on debut in round one.

"It's a really weird time isn't it? Our first season is probably one of the weirdest ever in AFL history.

"But there's no point getting down about that. There's people losing their jobs, even at the club, so we're in a fortunate position. We're still employed, we'll all live."

Ash, whose coach Leon Cameron last month said he was on the cusp of an AFL debut, is likewise upbeat amid the unprecedented stoppage.

"It is weird. Not what we expected. The benefit for us as draftees is that we don't really know what an AFL season is like anyway," Ash said.

"It almost feels like I was just on a footy camp and now I'm back home. The hardest thing is the uncertainty.

"It'd probably be a bit daunting if I was up in Sydney by myself.

"You watch the news and see how bad it is in parts of the world, but it's relatively normal here. The farm is still in full swing. The only difference is I'd normally see people when I come home and I'm obviously not doing that."

Ash spends his days keeping fit, but also fruit picking and tractor work at the family farm on the outskirts of Shepparton.

Hutchesson suggested if the shutdown drags on he would likely look for carpentry work.

Green, having deferred university studies in 2020 to pour all his energy into football, is keeping busy training with his two younger brothers - both AFL aspirants.

"My brother Josh, this is his draft year and hopefully it all goes well and he's picked up," he said.

Riccardi, having also put his tertiary studies on hold, is enjoying backyard cricket with his younger brother and viewing it as a chance to show some initiative without anybody at the club "there to spoon feed you anything".

"We can't complain, people are going through worse," he said.

"It is weird. It's your first extended period of time away from the club, I'm kind of thinking of it like a mini off-season."

The quartet were all full of praise for GWS welfare staff Brett Hand and Dylan Addison plus teammates for helping, both with the initial transition then the isolation.

Ash admitted he found shifting to Sydney a challenge.

"Struggled a little bit. Not so much homesickness or anything, but just trying to find a routine and coping with the differences. Once I got into a routine I was fine," he said.

"I enjoy living with Tom and Jake. They're good company, good fellas. Both want to explore and have a look at Sydney, same as me.

"In the early days we ended up eating dinner at 9pm a few times ... but we were getting our heads around living away from home. All the things our mothers had told us we'd need to do, we were actually starting to do them.

"This has put a dent in things, but you can't dwell on the negatives. You have to focus on the positives."

Australian Associated Press