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Sunday Herald Sun - - News -

EVERY­ONE plays foot­ball to win grand fi­nals. I was no dif­fer­ent, play­ing with Rich­mond and Essendon across my first 10 sea­sons, but while it was most def­i­nitely a goal, it wasn’t quite the burn­ing am­bi­tion oth­ers might have had.

I wanted to suc­ceed and win as of­ten as I could. I’ve al­ways been pas­sion­ate about giv­ing my best and per­form­ing to the high­est level.

But I also knew that there was more to life than foot­ball, in­clud­ing two of the most im­por­tant things in my life — my fam­ily and my faith.

Some­thing changed for me this year, though. My fam­ily and my faith were still as im­por­tant as al­ways, but the con­nec­tion, the bond, and the level of care built among the Rich­mond play­ing group meant it just felt right that we not only got the chance to play off in the Grand Fi­nal, but to also win the club’s first pre­mier­ship in 37 years.

It was an in­cred­i­ble ex­pe­ri­ence. I knew it would mean a lot to me, but I didn’t re­alise how much this next chap­ter in my life would have an im­pact on me per­son­ally.

Take a look at the 22 play­ers who won the Grand Fi­nal.

There are only a hand­ful of A-graders, the rest of us are B- and C-graders, but it is all about be­ing the heart and soul of this team.

Part of the spe­cial affin­ity we have as a group comes from the hon­est ses­sions we had in the pre-sea­son — they’ve been called the Triple Hs — where we talked about our hard­ships, our high­lights and our he­roes.

BACHAR HOULI

It gave us a per­sonal in­sight into what made the play­ers tick, and it wasn’t only about mo­ments, but also about cre­at­ing con­ver­sa­tions for a later time.

To see team­mates go into depth about their life away from foot­ball showed a vul­ner­a­bil­ity that led to a trust that we car­ried through un­til the Grand Fi­nal.

It wasn’t a nor­mal week lead­ing into the big game, but I tried to keep things as nor­mal as pos­si­ble, and in many ways, that pro­duced a calm­ness I still can’t quite ex­plain.

The Bachar Houli Academy was sched­uled for Grand Fi­nal week.

It is a week-long pro­gram for young Mus­lims who dream of play­ing AFL foot­ball. I’m such a be­liever in the academy I wasn’t go­ing to miss it.

I was there for a few hours in the af­ter­noon and in the evening, and I was also lucky enough to be there for one of the matches at Essendon’s ground on the Thurs­day.

The day before the Grand Fi­nal was al­ways go­ing to be a bit dif­fer­ent.

Train­ing at Punt Rd gave all the play­ers a very spe­cial mo­ment we won’t for­get. There was a mas­sive vibe there and the play­ers were pumped to see so many fans there.

The Grand Fi­nal pa­rade fol­lowed. All week I had been speak­ing with my three-and-a-half-yearold daugh­ter Sarah about how she was go­ing to be in a car with me wav­ing to all the peo­ple.

I wasn’t sure she was go­ing to go through with it. She had said: “I don’t want to wave to the peo­ple,” but once she got there she was a star.

She was so cool, calm and col­lected. I looked at her and she was so fo­cused I felt like she was a part of the team.

My other daugh­ter, 10week-old Maryan, was too young to be there, and she was with my wife, Rouba.

I al­ways spend Fri­day nights with my in-laws, with a bar­be­cue.

I wanted to stick to my rou­tine, ex­cept that I had my wife’s pasta in­stead. Some mates came around and we went out to a lo­cal restau­rant. I en­joyed the com­pany and, to be hon­est, it took my mind off the game.

I slept in the spare room that night to try to get some ex­tra sleep. But from the mo­ment I woke up very early — as I al­ways do — I felt re­laxed and calm. My dad and my four broth­ers came around that morn­ing to pick up their tickets, and they looked more ner­vous than me.

Some of the boys were ner­vous in the rooms, which is un­der­stand­able. But I wasn’t. I don’t know why, I just knew we would give 100 per cent, so I was de­ter­mined to soak up the vibe.

How could you not be re­laxed in the rooms before the big­gest game of your foot­ball ca­reer when Damien Hard­wick is crack­ing gags? Some of them were good; oth­ers were not. But you have to laugh be­cause he is the head coach. He has been great in al­low­ing us to em­brace the mo­ment.

I was proud of the way I went about my game. There are cer­tain things about the game that I don’t nec­es­sar­ily do — for ex­am­ple, tak­ing chop-out marks on the op­po­si­tion. I felt like I found a new gear. I was con­fi­dent and re­laxed.

At half­time, we led by nine points, and you could just tell that we were go­ing to come out and do well in the third quar­ter, which we did.

I felt as if we had the game

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