SACRIFICES come hand-in-hand with a professional sporting career as Andrew Walker explained to young footballers on Sunday last week.
The former Carlton AFL player visited Moama Junior Football Club for a clinic involving its under 12s and 14s.
He drummed home the importance of staying dedicated and disciplined if they wanted to reach the highest level.
‘‘You’ve really got to love the sport if you want to play AFL footy,’’ Walker said.
‘‘Hopefully giving a bit of background on my own story can spark something that makes them want to succeed and play AFL footy.’’
He was at the clinic to discuss with the junior players his own pathway into AFL and to inform them of the commitments needed to make it a career.
And the 31-year-old had done it all when it came to football.
His career started as a junior at Echuca Football Club before going on to play for the Bendigo Pioneers in the TAC Cup.
He was drafted to Carlton in 2003 as pick number two and only retired from AFL last season having played 202 games with the club.
‘‘It was hard at the time,’’ he said.
‘‘But in the long run I look back at those things I’ve sacrificed 13 years later and all the experiences I’ve had along the way have completely outweighed those little moments I had to give up when I was 16, or 17 or 18.
‘‘It’s something I wouldn’t have done had I stayed back in the country and grew up just being a teenager.’’
He is now employed by Carlton full-time as a development and integration coach, looking after first and second year footballers.
He’d recently returned from the Gold Coast in a coaching capacity and said it was those experiences he was most grateful for.
‘‘All the support of people you meet along the way, the coaches I’ve had, have been incredible,’’ he said.
‘‘It’s taken me to great places all around Australia and the world.
‘‘At the end of the day, those little sacrifices and challenges are outweighed by the amount of things you get to do if you end up in AFL footy.’’
Walker has been living in Melbourne for 13 years, but still enjoyed getting back to Echuca-Moama when he can.
‘‘It’s always really enjoyable whenever I get an opportunity to get back here,’’ he said.
‘‘It’s something I really look forward to.
‘‘There’s a lot of good kids here and I have a lot of little cousins running around as well so it’s always good to see those guys progressing with their football.’’
He tried to impart as much wisdom on the young footballer at Moama before jumping back into the car to get to the Carlton and Western Bulldogs game that afternoon.
‘‘I’ve got a function there I’m going to with my kids so I’m really looking forward to that,’’ he said.
‘‘If the kids at Moama are tough enough to get out here in five degree weather, they’re tough enough to make get out on an AFL field.
‘‘They look talented and it’s always good to see so many kids getting out and playing footy.’’
Pro Programs creator and former TAC Cup coach Brett Henderson and AFL Goulburn Murray development manager Trevor Mellington were also a part of the clinic.
Henderson ran a training session to develop players’ skills, while Mellington provided more information on pathways and the academy program.
It coincided with the club’s family fun day which included Auskick in the morning followed by an under 10s practice match and a parents v kids game.
There was also plenty of activities available and a free barbecue.
President Wade Hipwell said the day highlighted the strength of the club which continued to grow each year.
‘‘We’ve now got teams across every age group from Auskick through to under 14s,’’ he said.
‘‘We’re a strong family club.
‘‘Hopefully next year we can look at getting an under 16 side up and running to give more kids an opportunity to play.’’