Mathew Stokes knows more than most the highs and lows of draft day.
The two-time premiership Cat was Geelong’s final selection at the 2005 NAB AFL Draft, making his way to the Cattery via pick 61 as a 21-year-old.
He had been overlooked in the previous three national drafts, and he wasn’t getting his hopes up heading into his fourth.
Having moved from the Northern Territory to South Australia to further his football career in the SANFL, Stokes was working his part-time job at Adelaide Zoo when his footballing future was being decided.
“I was pretty calm, actually, because I’d been overlooked in three drafts beforehand, so I knew what draft day meant and the empty promises clubs give,” Stokes said.
“At the very time I got the phone call (that Geelong had selected me), I was cleaning out the kangaroo exhibit, so I was picking up animal poo at the time – I was very relaxed that day.”
Stokes missed that call from player development manager Ron Watt, but was quick to get back to the club once a message from Geelong’s recruiting and list manager Stephen Wells came through.
“I got a message from Stephen Wells saying you should call Ron Watt back – welcome to the Geelong footy club,” he said.
“I rang them back and spoke to the football club that day within an hour. I was happy to walk into the office and resign from my work and went home and told Mum and Dad, which was great.”
Stokes said making his way onto an AFL list after years of hard work and sacrifices was a relief, but the significance of it started to sink in when he broke the news to his mum and dad, who had made the move from Darwin to Adelaide to support him as he transitioned to the SANFL.
“To be able to say that we actually got there and it finally happened, it was actually just a relief,” he said.
Stokes said he didn’t look back on the drafts he was overlooked with any regret or negativity: he said the years he had away from the AFL were valuable in his development as a person and footballer, as he gained other life experience.
“I think that helped me and taught me a lot of lessons that I still carry to this day about hard work, about commitment and seeing something through,” he said.
“I don’t think I would’ve lasted as long as I did if I got drafted as an 18-year-old.
“To be able to come here and use that motivation of missing out definitely held me in good stead.”