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.
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