It was at the end of January in 2010. I was living in Melbourne at the time and consulting to a number of individuals and teams. I was also employed as an Exercise Physiologist at Olympic Park Sports Medicine Centre and on my booking sheet on this particular day, I noted the name of a new patient – Dylan Shiel. He was 16 years of age at the time of our first meeting. He was a confident young man with dreams of playing AFL at the highest level. He was on his way to realising this dream, when a significant injury intervened: a navicular stress fracture to his right foot. The injury occurred in September 2009 but was not diagnosed until October of that year. This is a fairly common injury to the foot especially in sprinting and jumping. I had rehabilitated a number of track athletes and AFL players with this type of injury in the past and some of these had been well documented. It was for this reason that Dylan had sought me out after his initial stage of non weight bearing and physiotherapist based rehabilitation..
I explained to Dylan that an injury such as his came about for a number of reasons. These primarily were running mechanics, excessive loads and/or inadequate recovery. He told me that he was prepared to do whatever it took to get himself ready for the upcoming season and the subsequent AFL draft.
I set up the rehabilitation and conditioning program for him and we met at least twice per week over the next several months. I got to know Dylan very well with these one on on sessions. They included strength and mobility (especially around the ankle joint); postural correction; a lot of pool running and water strength work; non weight bearing aerobic work such as grinder and bike; movement and gait analysis and ultimate correction. He was restricted to just doing football skills with his hands in the early months. We eventually got to running and acceleration and ultimately agility. This concluded with agility, change of direction and then resumption of football skills (kicking). Dylan ultimately returned to competition that year with the Dandenong Stingrays.
Little did either of us know that we would both be “drafted” later that year to the Australian Football League’s (AFL) newest team, the Greater Western Sydney Giants. The Club was part of an expansion for the AFL into the east coast of Australia and along with the Gold Coast Suns took the number of teams in Queensland and New South Wales to 2 for each state.
Essendon Football Club
I had previously worked at Essendon Bombers Football Club (EFC). In fact, I was the head of performance at EFC for 10 years and experienced the great highs of a Premiership to the agony of defeat in my time at the Club. Before starting at the Club I had never seen one game of AFL. Once I started, I immersed myself in every aspect of the game so I could deliver the best program possible. This included understanding the history of the game. Fortunately for me, EFC had a Hall of Fame (HOF) – a museum dedicated to the history of this great Club. Whenever I had the chance I would slip into the HOF and learn as much as I could that was associated with the Club. The ghosts of Essendon’s past became as real to me as the players I was working with day to day. From Dick Reynolds to James Hird – they were all great athletes aspiring to be the best that they could be. I loved working at the Bombers. When I resigned at the end of 2009 I never thought I would ever work in a meaningful role with any other Club into the future.
GWS Giants Football Club
When the AFL called me during 2010 to ask if I would be interested in a role in the new team, I was torn. I loved living in Victoria and had established a good life in this great sporting city. But the opportunity to be a part of staring at a Club from the ground up – to develop a history such as that of the Bombers – was a massive lure for me. Also, the fact that Sydney was really my home city and the region of NSW where the Giants would represent included my home town of Yass – just 30 minutes outside the capital city of Canberra.
I have always thought if you are going to grow, you have to take risks. These are often disguised as opportunities! Ultimately, I decided along with my young family, to relocate some 1000km north to establish the Giants in the Western suburbs of Sydney!
I was beyond happy when I learned that Kevin Sheedy – the long time former coach of the Bombers whom I had worked with for 9 years at Essendon – was to be the inaugural coach of the Giants. I have learned so much from Kevin over the years. He is the true definition of hope, opportunity, potential and positivity all rolled up into one! Just prior to my relocation to Sydney, the AFL draft took place (November 2010). Amongst the leading picks of the GWS Giants was one Dylan Shiel. By mid November, we were reunited at the Giants and training together once again.
The links that bind:
We continued working together at GWS until the winds of change came for both of us – I left to develop my own business. Dylan was squeezed out due to salary cap issues at the Club. Whether it was my influence or not, Dylan did talk to me about his options of Clubs. Whilst I may have been at the Giants for the best part of a decade, I never did lose my passion for the Bombers. It’s a bit like having a first love I guess! I thought that not only would Dylan be a great fit for the Bombers, he would thrive in the environment that the EFC could provide to him. And so it came to be – the links between Quinn and Shiel are strongly linked to two football clubs. One is the youngest team in the AFL. The other, one of the oldest. Both have a tendency to allow excellence to thrive. The exciting thing for AFL is that Dylan Shiel is just finding his groove.