By JEFF STEPHENSON
MITCH Stallard – by anyone’s reasonable estimation – should have racked up something like 50 or 60 games with the Redland Bombers since playing his first match three years ago.
Yet, when he runs out at the Gabba against ladder leaders Brisbane Lions on Sunday, it will take his total number of games with the Bombers to just 23 – of which the last 15, including pre-season matches – have been consecutive.
“That’s a massive tick for me,” the unassuming carpenter said of putting so many games together in one formidable bracket.
Before this he had totalled just 12 Redland appearances in two years with injuries mostly to knees and feet rearing their ugly heads on more than one – well, way too many – occasions.
It’s why he has earned the plaudits and acclimation of his teammates as he continued to dig deep to overcome the frustration and the trauma of the injuries and then having to fight his way back into the team upon recovery.
It was getting to the stage where he was thinking about foregoing the game he loves.
“With my work, having an injury is bad for me,” he said. “I can’t afford having days off.
“So, it was like at the end of last season I sent messages to all my teammates telling them that I’d had enough.
“I’d decided I wasn’t going to play at the level anymore.”
While that was Mitch’s call it wasn’t exactly what club champion and at that stage the incoming coach Phil Carse had in mind upon his return from country Victoria.
“Yeah, Carsey got in my ear and that was that.”
Mitch quickly learned of Phil’s legendary persuasive powers and he’s glad he changed his mind now having played every game this season and fitting more and more comfortably into a hard-working Bombers’ defence.
He was initially apprehensive as he ploughed through the pre-season and then, when the first of the pre-season games arrived and he got through that, he became steadily and progressively more confident in his body and his performance.
Now, with 10 NEAFL games in succession, it’s testimony to his strength of character and mind that he has become an integral member of the team.
Nor does he just “fit in” he looks comfortable in his own skin and is back to enjoying football and rising to a new challenge each week.
But, really, why go through all the drama, the angst, the frustration, the ups and the downs?
Surely it would have been easy just to have gone with his initial gut feeling and give it away – to go back to Western Magpies and enjoy the footy at the lower level rather than slogging it out battling injury and trauma to keep priming himself for the bigger picture,
So why keep fighting on, when maybe he could have taken the easier step?
“There’s no actual single factor that drove me, to be honest,” he said.
“One would be my absolute love for the game, but another main one, would be the friendships that you create with, not only your teammates and coaches, but the people behind the scenes who give everything to the club.
“Redland obviously is a club on the lower end of the financial table in the NEAFL, but when you’ve got a core group and amazing support staff behind the scenes that do everything they can to help out and who also want to find success it makes it hard not to want to be a part of really.”
So, there we have it.
That’s the character of Mitch Stallard – the kid who, with his mate Jack Brown (“he’s like my brother”) decided they’d get together back in the day and have a go at this game they called AFL.
“It was being played down the road and my old man knew his old man and they agreed to us playing with the Jindalee Jaguars.”
From there it was on to Kenmore for a couple of years, winning an under-18 premiership and then came the natural progression to Western Magpies, where he impressed the Bombers’ Marty King, who made sure there was an invitation on the table for the talented youngster to have a shot at the next level.
Mitch gladly accepted.
As we’ve explained his Redland journey has not been lined with a bed of roses and, even last year, when he went to New Zealand following the death of his grandfather, it was again a case of having to start over.
“Yeah, I suppose I’ve had a tough run, but I’m sort of used to fighting my way back.”
That, my friends, is a gross under-statement.
The courage Mitch has shown over his journey and his dedication is well recognised by those around him.
He’s had to make one re-adjustment after another to check into the speed, the pressure and the increased skill level that is part and parcel of the NEAFL.
But he’s the type who listens steadfastly and who absorbs every bit of information that is directed his way and, then, transforms as much of that as possible into his football.
It has been shown this season that given half a chance he’s more than up to the task.
“I’ve loved the opportunity to play football with elite teammates and taking up the challenge against plenty of elite opposition as well.
“You know, I’m really comfortable with the way things have gone this year.
“I’m enjoying my football.”
Guess what Mitch?
We folk on the sidelines aware of the crushing obstacles that have presented themselves, one after the other, and which have failed to block your progress are enjoying it as much – well, nearly as much – as your good self.