As Sam Kerridge sits by the pool basking in the Phuket sunshine, he finally gets the chance to reflect on the biggest year of his life.
The 19 year-old has just completed his first season in the AFL and while it only produced one senior game for the Adelaide Crows, coming on as a substitute against Hawthorn in Round 3, Kerridge is satisfied the lessons learned in 2012 will hold him in good stead for the future.
‘The trip away (to Phuket) has been amazing. It has been really good to spend some time with a few of the boys and get away from the club so we are fresh and ready to take on 2013,’ Kerridge says.
‘My first year was an eye opener and something that I’ll never forget. It was one of the toughest years of my life thus far but also one that I have enjoyed the most.’
Originally from Ouyen in North Western Victoria, Kerridge’s path towards a career as an elite footballer is not as straight forward as it may seem.
The first big shift was with his family to Mildura at the age of 12, a town which Kerridge now calls home. Four years later in 2010 he moved away from his family and friends to chase his AFL dream with the Bendigo Pioneers in the TAC Cup.
Kerridge admits the path towards the elite level was anything but easy but he is thankful that he has arrived in Adelaide, a city he plans to make his home for many years to come.
‘Moving to Bendigo as a 16 year-old was one of the toughest things I have done,’ he says.
‘However I convinced myself that if I was going to pursue a career in this sport, this was something that I had to do.’
Kerridge first started turning heads at the age of 15 when he became one of the youngest ever to make his debut at senior level for Mildura.
His star continued to rise as he progressed through the ranks and making an impression with Victoria Country League at Under 16 level in 2009, Kerridge was selected to represent the Australian Institute of Sport on its South Africa tour early the following year.
Everything seemed to be falling into place perfectly until Kerridge was struck down by the dreaded osteitis pubis and was restricted to just four games in the 2010 TAC Cup season.
The recovery process was long and arduous and at times Kerridge concedes he felt his AFL career slipping away.
‘Not being able to run let alone play was defiantly having an impact on how I was thinking mentally,’ he says.
‘The thought of potentially having all the hard work gone to waste was painful.’
But what Kerridge lost in game time, he made up for by learning to confront adversity and build mental toughness.
Any doubts over his future were dispelled by a magnificent 2011 in which he played every game and averaged 24 disposals, often standing out in a disappointing Pioneers outfit.
His tremendous year was capped off with three games for VFL side Bendigo Bombers, which saw his draft stocks rise considerably in the eyes of recruiters.
‘Having the opportunity to play against some senior and more mature bodies allowed me to develop an understanding of what was required to play at a higher level,’ Kerridge says.
‘It’s something I would recommend to any young footballer aspiring to take the next step.’
Nevertheless, despite having some contact with AFL clubs leading up to the 2011 AFL draft Kerridge knew that nothing was assured. His nerves were compounded by the fact he almost missed the draft telecast on the day.
Hiring out a motel room with his Mum and Dad just to watch the draft, Kerridge says it was a surreal experience.
‘I went into the day feeling somewhat confident, however as the draft started some doubts started to come into my head.’
‘When my name was finally read out by Adelaide (selection no.27) the feeling was so surreal and a rush of emotions hit me. It is a day I’ll never forget.’
After the initial flood of congratulatory text messages and phone calls, Kerridge set about getting stuck into business.
He immediately put his stamp on the club by running the best time in the pre-season time trial, which earned him a spot in the Crows’ successful NAB Cup campaign.
While Kerridge says he took plenty from that experience, the biggest thrill came in his debut match against eventual grand finalists Hawthorn at the MCG.
‘It was about 8:30 on the morning of the game when Sando (coach Brenton Sanderson) called me and said we’re going to play you.’
‘It was very intimidating walking into the room filled with legends and role models knowing what they had already achieved.’
But after having a small taste of senior football Kerridge is determined to secure a permanent place in an Adelaide midfield, fast establishing itself as one of the most dominant in the competition.
‘Sando and I haven’t yet had the discussion on what my role will be but I certainly know what I have to work on,’ Kerridge says.
‘All I can do is make the most of every opportunity I get, big or small, and bide my time.’
Ben Rowles is a first-year student studying a Bachelor of Sports Journalism at La Trobe University. Follow him on Twitter: @benrowles