Alex Witherden can vividly remember the precise moment his 2016 season came to an abrupt end.
It was during the third quarter of Geelong College’s clash against St Kevins in early May.
“We were down by I reckon about 90 points, I was crook heading into the game, so I was just playing forward and then I decided I can’t cop this anymore, so I chucked myself into the midfield for a centre bounce,” the 186cm draft prospect explained.
“At that centre bounce I went to pick up the ball and feed off a handball but Tim Taranto (playing for St Kevin’s) tackled me and my leg bent and his body fell across, so I ended up breaking my fibula in four places, as well as cracking my tibia and my syndesmosis ligaments came apart. I did a fair job of it.
“I knew I was in a fair bit of trouble; I’d never experienced pain like that before. I was in absolute agony.
“When I was on the stretcher and the first thoughts going through my mind were, what’s this year going to become? Am I going to miss out? Now is all that hard work for nothing?
“It was more questions in my head than any real emotion.”
Witherden had a plate and screws inserted in his leg as well as screws through his ankle (since removed).
His rehab program included weights and conditioning in the Falcons’ gym, then after 12 weeks some light running.
Now he’s back running a few kilometres and kicking the footy, and aims to be right to resume full training prior to Christmas.
But it was the mental side of the injury that proved most challenging.
“Initially, you get a lot of support — overwhelming support – so you’re not too down in the dumps, because you realise you’ve got all these people that are willing to help you and you’ll have this support along the way,” he said.
“About four days after the injury it really dies down and you become really isolated and lonely again. It’s good of everyone to shoot you a message after it, but I think you find out that your true mates are the ones who stick around for the ride.
“The major turning point for me was when I spoke to (Geelong’s) Darcy Lang about his rehab and how he went. He did a similar injury.
“He was really good. (He said) the more thorough you are, the better you’re going to be in the long run.
“That really helped me reset my goals and work towards something.”
As captain of Geelong College’s 1st XVIII, he was involved at training and on the weekends at games and the Falcons gave him things to do around the club – ranging from speaking to the playing group during edits on Tuesday nights, or sitting behind the goals working the camera.
It also gave him the opportunity to continue to work on his leadership skills. He took time to help younger students at Geelong College and spent a few nights Leopold juniors, which he says gave him a bit of perspective seeing kids enjoying their footy.
“This year was really hard with Geelong College because throughout my whole junior career I’d been involved in successful teams, and the last two years we’ve won just one game in the 1st XVII,” he said.
“I spent a lot of my time trying to motivate the boys and lift their spirits, but also try and give them a bit of hope; I think hope goes a long way. I think we began to develop a bit of a losing culture and we accepted losing. Myself, I don’t accept that.
“When you’re younger everyone thinks the leader is just the loudest person that’s willing to talk a lot, but I think you develop different traits over the time and you begin to understand your peers on a more personal level and adapt to different personality types.
“I think it’s definitely a strength of mine.”
Having played midfield as a junior, Witherden has featured mostly across half back over the past 18 months – a role that he sees himself starting in at the next level – and hopes his absence won’t affect his drafts stocks.
“Half back probably suits my strengths with my kicking, decision-making and seeing the game unfold. After a few pre-seasons where I’ve been given the chance to develop my body and running capacity, then hopefully I can move into the midfield.
“A few people say when you’re not out there they only remember the good things. We’ll see what happens; I’m not too fussed, as long as I get an opportunity somewhere.”
Inside Football Draft Profile...
Alex WITHERDEN 10/9/98 | Ht: 186.2cm | Wt: 80.0kg | Geelong Falcons “Alex broke his leg early in the season so played only two games with us but there was significant improvement from his bottom-age year. Played midfield and pushed forward after improving his conditioning and he still needs to improve that to play at AFL level but his eyes are wide open to that. Good decision maker, doesn’t panic and thinks his way through things really well.” – Geelong Falcons coach Andy Allthorpe Strengths: composure, decision-making, drive NTI: endurance, physicality Draft Range: 11-25
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