Shillington reveals demons plaguing retired stars AFTER FULLTIME
DAVID Shillington was standing in front of a room full of young kids, when one harmless statement left his head spinning.
The former Queensland and Australian forward was doing a presentation as part of the NRL State of Mind program and he was introduced as “Gold Coast Titans player David Shillington”.
For a man who had retired four months beforehand, in February this year, it was a simple mistake, but it was also a moment when Shillington realised how tough life could be post-football.
“It was only the weeks leading into that (moment) that I had just got my head around the fact that I worked for the NRL in the State of Mind program and I wasn’t a football player anymore,” he said.
“I had only just got my head around that and started developing my new identity and becoming comfortable with that.
“(A woman) introduced me to everyone as this football player and it had my head in a spin trying to process all that. It really hit home how much it affected me to try to change identities.”
The transition to retirement is never easy for any athlete.
For Shillington, he did not face any mental health battles nor did he struggle to find work, even though his retirement came unexpectedly because of a continual battle with injuries.
The hardest aspects he faced was the loss of identity, an erosion of confidence and a loss of purpose.
Like many rugby league players, Shillington started playing first grade at a young age and did not know a life any different to the one he had spent playing for the Roosters, Raiders and Titans.
While he did everything he could to set himself up for life after football, he said the struggles around his identity were something no one had warned him about as he went into retirement this year.
“I was going to training every day and would have my gear bag ready next to my bed,” he said.
“But then all of a sudden my release was sorted and I was officially retired.
“The next morning you wake up and you don’t need to grab your gear bag and go anywhere.
“All of a sudden I wasn’t part of a team anymore.
“I was moving into a new job where I wasn’t a football player anymore, which I had been since I left school.
‘‘You’re used to being confident because you’re preparing all week for games.
“You’re full of confidence and then all of a sudden you’re hoping they don’t send you home from work because you’ve been useless all day.”
Shillington said despite these battles, he has been lucky to have the support of his family and the NRL – who gave him his first job postfootball – and now Men of League, who he works for as their Queensland manager.
With his job now about supporting the men, women and children of league, he thought it was vital to speak out about this one area that footballers aren’t prepared for when their careers end.
While the game is doing plenty to set players up for retirement, he said the more people talk about it, the better it would be.
“Players, including myself, are ignorant and selfish when they play,” he said.
“We’re that well taken care of that you’re in a bit of a bubble and you try not to look at life after football.’’
GO FORWARD: David Shillington in retirement; and (above) playing for the Gold Coast Titans and the Maroons. Main picture: Mark Cranitch