GEELONG SUPERSTAR PATRICK DANGERFIELD IS AMONG THE MOST HEAVILY TAGGED PLAYERS IN THE AFL. HERE HE REVEALS THE SECRETS TO PERFORMING WHEN THE HEAT IS ALWAYS ON
Geelong’s Patrick Dangerfield on how to excel as a marked man.
PATRICK DANGERFIELD shields his eyes from the sun as he sits among the empty seats of the Premiership Stand at Kardinia Park in Geelong. It’s an uncharacteristically brilliant midwinter morning in Victoria’s famously sleepy coastal town and the Cats star jokes about getting sunburnt over the roar of a tractor mower that’s creeping ritually up and down the field below.
Dangerfield is in a suitably sunny mood although you suspect he’s the type of bloke who’s on the lookout for a self-effacing gag or a subtle dig. Partly this is deflection wrought from years humouring a football-hungry media, first in Adelaide and now here in Geelong. “I find if you answer things with a smile, people generally don’t go as hard as if you’re being serious,” he says. Partly it’s the influence of his club, which he says, boasts “a culture of piss-takers”. But mostly it’s just the way he is. “It’s sort of just my way. I like to have fun with things.”
He certainly has plenty to smile about. A Brownlow medallist and five-time All Australian, ‘Danger’ made a successful switch to the Cats in 2016 after eight years in Adelaide. He now lives in the coastal hamlet of Moggs Creek, a leisurely hour’s drive down the Surf
Coast, in a house just 250m or a handful of torpedo punts, from the one he grew up in. When he’s not playing footy, he surfs, fishes for trout or chases around his 14-monthold George.
It’s a good life . . . with a gaping hole in the middle. After three preliminary final losses Dangerfield eyes a premiership the way a seagull down on the town’s underrated pier stalks a family’s fish and chips. “It’s the success that you see one team achieve every season and everyone else misses out on,” he says. “I want a piece of that. Nothing else matters apart from that. It just doesn’t.” And just like that, as the roar of the mower fades into the distance, Patrick Dangerfield is no longer smiling.
FIND THE FIRE WITHIN
As you walk around the outside of Kardinia Park you’re stopped in your tracks by a window cabinet housing a remarkable display of silverware. The Cats’ nine premiership cups stand in rows three abreast in classic forwardline formation. The most recent of those premierships, in 2007, 2009 and 2011, fill the bottom row, a testament to the juggernaut that terrorised the AFL during a glorious five-year stretch. A handful of players remains from those great sides – among them captain Joel Selwood, defensive stalwart Harry Taylor and another one you might have heard of, Gary Ablett Jr., who returned to the club this year. If Dangerfield needed any reminding of what he
hopes to achieve it’s right here in this splendid window.
“Whether it’s because I’ve got teammates that have been good enough to have won it all, nothing matches that motivation,” he says. “The challenge is, the finals are a very short window of time, then it’s one specific game. That’s when you find out what you’re really made of. The pressure gets turned up and you see who survives and thrives and who doesn’t.”
Which is fine with Dangerfield. He’s always played like his next game could be his last. Go back to the 2016 season when he was the most talked about recruit in the competition. The hope among Cats supporters was that he could be the missing piece that would see the club return to premiership contention. Already among the most heavily tagged players in the league, going into that season no one in the AFL had a bigger cross on their back. His response in the face of such scrutiny couldn’t have been more emphatic. He won the Brownlow, polling a then-record 35 votes and finished best on ground nine times, equalling the record set by Carlton great Greg Williams in 1994 and Nat Fyfe in 2015.
“I think the key to being a good player is just to embrace that pressure rather than try and run from it,” he says of the hype that surrounded him that season. “Pressure is always there but I think external pressure will never match that which you put on yourself. That’s what separates the really good players. It’s not about what’s written in the Herald Sun, it’s about what you want to achieve.”
So, what happens if he gets to the end of his career and hasn’t sipped from the premiership cup? “There would be an element of not being fulfilled,” he admits. “The individual stuff is great but it pales into insignificance when you can’t share it with anyone. The reason the feeling of winning is so great is because you get to share it with your teammates. You get to share the stories.”
“External pressure can’t match what you put on yourself ”
MASTER YOUR DOMAINS
A funny thing happened to Dangerfield earlier this year – he suffered a soft tissue injury. An exceedingly common injury in a game as explosive as the modern AFL, what made it unusual was that it was the midfielder’s first. Given his game relies on a fine balance of ballistic speed, strength and agility – he won the grand final sprint three years running and boasts a 100m PB of 10.84 – it was an astonishing streak. “It was quite bizarre,” he says of the injury. “It hurts the ego to be honest.”
Jokes aside, he attributes his durability to solid genetics, reinforced by an intensive approach to training. “It’s training with the same intensity as you play because then it’s not a shock to the system when you set foot on the ground. Your body is adapted to play at that speed.”
Even so, Dangerfield hopes to extend his prime by adjusting his game to his body’s capabilities. “Whether that’s picking and choosing the contests that you go to or reading the game better,” he says. “You might be a few seconds quicker upstairs and although your body doesn’t quite match that, you might pick up cues better and be able to react earlier.”
The insight demonstrates a craftsman’s working knowledge of both his game and his body, an impression underlined by the way he marshals his mental resources. Take his twin passions of fishing and surfing, two pursuits that transport him mentally, he says, albeit by quite distinct means. “With surfing the only thing you’re worried about is the next wave, whereas with fishing you enjoy the chase of trying to catch something.”
They’re both lifelong passions. Indeed, it’s amazing how much Dangerfield’s life – footy, surfing and fishing in Moggs – resembles the one he enjoyed 20-odd years ago. But this finely calibrated, split-shift way of living is no accident. “It’s on purpose,” he confirms. “I think it’s crucial to elite performance. You’ve got to be able to take yourself away from being so entrenched in footy. There’s a time and a place for that. Early on in my career it was just footy. Now it’s about living a more balanced lifestyle. It works for me.”
It’s a rarefied form of the elusive work/life balance we’re all striving for. The key, Dangerfield says, is the clear demarcation between your two worlds. The cruisy beach retreat offered by Moggs means that when it does come time to focus on footy, he’s 100 per cent locked in. Perhaps that explains why this most easy-going of blokes rarely smiles on the field. “I think the biggest thing as an athlete is your attitude towards competition,” he says. “Never being satisfied with a result if it isn’t the one you really crave. Having the attitude that if you don’t play well your team won’t win. You’ve got to constantly keep yourself accountable to that. I think the best have this killer mentality that not everyone has.”
A moment passes before the smile returns to his face but make no mistake, when it comes to footy, Patrick Dangerfield has it.
“The best have a killer mentality that not everyone has”
STADIUM ROCKER: DANGERFIELD IS A FAN FAVOURITE AT ‘THE CATTERY’.
ROAR POWER: FEW CAN STOP DANGERFIELD IN FULL FLIGHT.