MITCH Robinson needed to find a hobby. He had football and a loving family, but the Brisbane Lions thought there was room for more in his life. So he became a gamer.
“I used to love skateboarding and riding motorbikes and we can’t do that with football, so I didn’t have a hobby,” Robinson told the Sunday Herald Sun.
“It was a bit concerning for them, so it’s actually good I’ve found this.
“It takes your mind off a lot of things; you need to have something outside of footy.”
The uncompromising Lion’s game of choice is Fortnite, and it’s turned into a bit more than a diversion.
In December he was signed by Chiefs Esports Club and during the Australia Day weekend he and hundreds of other gamers will feature at the Australian Open’s Fortnite Summer Smash tournament.
“I was actually really good at it,” Robinson said.
“It has just been really enjoyable to have something to relax me.”
Apart from being a digi whiz, Robinson has also set up a barber’s chair in his gaming room and now cuts his Lions teammates’ hair.
Now in his 11th AFL season and fifth with Brisbane, Robinson is a different person to the 25-year-old who was delisted by Carlton in 2014.
“He was always considered the hard nut. No one would take him seriously in football because he was always getting into trouble,” Robinson’s fiancee Emma MacNeill said.
“But at the Lions he’s really blossomed into a bit of a senior (figure). He’s taken the young fellas under his wing. He’s always someone people can turn to.
“That’s something that I’ve admired … he would give the shirt off his back if someone needed it.’’
Robinson, who signed a one-year deal after 19 games in 2018, met MacNeill through Facebook in 2011 and they have two children — Chance (four) and Charli (two).
Robinson says his partner deserves credit for his transformation.
“When I got delisted by Carlton, she really put it all in perspective,” Robinson said.
“I’ve got a family to provide for. We had a small child at the time, so it really hit home that I might not have a job in the AFL after that.
“I’ve been journalling everything since about my second or third year in footy, I always go back and look through. It’s so good to read to see where your head’s at. It’s pretty exciting to see where I’ve come from.”
MacNeill, a proud Martu woman from the Western Desert, is a role model for the Lions AFLW players and a surrogate mother to the younger AFL boys.
“It’s an open house really,” Robinson says of their family home.
“(The players) usually rock up unannounced, hang out with the kids and chill out, have a feed and get a haircut if they want.”
“We’ve been raised in a way to respect everyone and treat everyone like family,” MacNeill says.
“My children call all of the boys at the club Gugga, which means uncle.”
MacNeill, a premiership-winning ruck for QWAFL side Wilston Grange, is also a painter and her work adorns walls, footballs, jumpers and boots.
Her most recent creation was displayed on the bat of Melbourne Renegades Dan Christian, at his request. “I just started off really small … it wasn’t until we moved to Brisbane that I started taking it seriously,” MacNeill says of her artwork.
“I know now not to paint during the day only because I’ve done a painting and I’ve come back and my daughter has painted over it.”
With a big leap and plenty of aggression, she flirted with the idea of pursuing a rookie spot on the Lions AFLW list, but it wasn’t for her.
“I think if I was born 10 years earlier I would have excelled. It’s something I’m just so passionate about,” she said.
“Football for me is an outlet to be myself for an hour or two, away from my children and I just get to be Emma for a little bit.”
MacNeill and Robinson make a great team.
Last Thursday night, after a bit of Fortnite, Robinson had five of his teammates booked in for a trim. He was set for a busy night. MacNeill was there too, fussing over the lads.
Robinson now has a life filled with family, football and his passions.
The Lions would be proud.
Mitch Robinson with fiancee Emma MacNeill and kids Charli, 2, and Chance, 4. Picture: LIAM KIDSTON