Michael Hurley with the fam — and the hair-lightening spray.
Michael Hurley with the fam — and the hair-lightening spray.

Hurley: ‘I looked a bit ridiculous’ as a rookie

I've been scrolling through Twitter a bit more than usual lately for obvious reasons.

I've noticed a lot of lists are doing the rounds and it got me thinking about the top five opponents I've played on in my time in the AFL.

The first player to spring to mind was Nick Riewoldt. He was a nightmare opponent.

He would always kick goals on me and just wear me out and so would Matthew Pavlich.

 

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Essendon defender Michael Hurley says St Kilda great Nick Riewoldt was his toughest opponent. Picture: Colleen Petch
Essendon defender Michael Hurley says St Kilda great Nick Riewoldt was his toughest opponent. Picture: Colleen Petch

 

 

Knowing I had "Pav" the next day would always ensure a sleepless night. I've always thought had he played for a Melbourne club he'd be held in even higher regard.

Then there is Jonathan Brown. I got him towards the end of his career but he was still so hard to play on.

Lance Franklin and Josh Kennedy are the other two that stick out for me. Those five are the standouts.

 

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But if you asked me which of them I would most not want to play on when they're at their best, I'd say "Buddy". He's just magic and constantly makes something out of nothing.

And he's got that swagger about him. He'll never get lippy, he doesn't need to. He'll just sort of give you a look after he's done something special, almost like, "You see that?"

In our battles over the years, I've got Buddy's measure only once by my count.

There have been days when you think you've gone all right, then realised he's still had 10 shots on goal.

That's what makes those players great.

 

 

Hurley is arguably Essendon’s best player.
Hurley is arguably Essendon’s best player.

 

 

EARLY DAYS AND THE DRAFT

There was never any doubt I would grow up a big St Kilda fan.

My whole family supported the Saints and there is even a family connection to the club's only premiership in 1966.

My grandmother's cousin is Bob Murray, who is famous for his game-saving mark in defence in the dying seconds of the Grand Final.

He had the final kick of the game and in the commentary he is the one Ted Whitten famously instructs to "hit the boundary line".

I grew up in Rosanna and my first junior club was Ivanhoe.

When I was older I then jumped to Banyule and finally Macleod, where my brother played and my dad was involved.

As a kid I always loved footy, but I probably loved cricket even more until the age of about 15.

 

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Hurley in action for the Big V as a teen. Picture: Norm Oorloff
Hurley in action for the Big V as a teen. Picture: Norm Oorloff

 

Everything changed when I just snuck into the Vic Metro under-16 side and then had a decent carnival. That's when it all got a bit more serious.

Before I knew it, the AFL draft was upon me.

The day before the 2008 draft, then Essendon coach Matty Knights and recruiting boss Adrian Dodoro came around to my house.

"If you get to pick five, we're taking you," Dodoro said.

I wanted to stay in Victoria and the three clubs before Essendon's pick were all interstate clubs, which ensured a few stressful moments.

But I was quietly confident I would get to the Dons because I didn't have much to do with the interstate clubs beforehand.

And so I did.

 

 

 

DEBUT AND WINDY HILL DAYS

Turning up to Windy Hill in the early days was daunting.

You'd walk about and see Matty Lloyd and then Scotty Lucas around the next corridor.

I arrived at the club knowing very little and also looking a bit ridiculous. Some old photos reminded me I was using a hair lightening spray at the time.

At 18 you think it's all right, but looking back now it was shocking.

After my first pre-season I got told I would make my debut in Round 1 against Port Adelaide.

My memory of the game is pretty hazy, but I'll never forget who I was playing on.

"You've got Warren Tredrea," 'Knighta' told me.

Talk about a tough initiation. Here I was this 18-year-old kid trying to lock down this huge brute of a man. You go from under-18 level where you think you're one of the bigger blokes to the AFL and it's a whole different level.

A few weeks later I had Barry Hall and it was the same thing.

"Gee, I've got a bit to learn," I thought.

 

 

 

Michael Hurley and David Zaharakis, pictured with former coach Matthew Knights, have been teammates since TAC Cup.
Michael Hurley and David Zaharakis, pictured with former coach Matthew Knights, have been teammates since TAC Cup.

 

 

FROM RUCK DUELS TO TEAMMATES

Believe it or not, but David Zaharakis used to be a ruckman.

I know because I actually rucked against him in a game when we were no older than 11.

We were opponents back then in a zone footy competition. Later on we played together at the Northern Knights and were then drafted to Essendon the same year.

Michael Still was the third Knights boy who was part of that crop.

What you see is what you get with Dave. He's his own man and doesn't conform to what others think.

If he wants to do something he'll just go do it. If he wants to climb a mountain in Colorado, he'll just pack his games and go. I respect that about him.

He's a good family man and a real straight shooter.

 

Hurley says Essendon owes John Worsfold a lot for his work in resurrecting it from the ashes of the supplements saga. Picture: Michael Klein
Hurley says Essendon owes John Worsfold a lot for his work in resurrecting it from the ashes of the supplements saga. Picture: Michael Klein

 

FOUR OF A KIND

I've had four senior coaches in my time at Essendon.

The first was Knighta and the thing I remember most about him was just his energy.

He had so much of it all the time.

He always had a lot of faith in the younger players as well so I was lucky he didn't discriminate on age. I remember him reinforcing to me that he had the faith in me to play senior footy.

Then there was James Hird, who has a really in-depth knowledge of the game and is a great communicator

I was lucky to have a fair bit of freedom when I was playing forward under him. "Hirdy" would allow me to play my own game and take myself up around the ball and to get involved in ways that would help him when he was playing.

He's clearly an intelligent man and would always put his point across really clearly.

 

Hurley is grateful to Bomber Thompson for giving him a clearly defined role. Picture: Colleen Petch
Hurley is grateful to Bomber Thompson for giving him a clearly defined role. Picture: Colleen Petch

 

Then came "Bomber" Thompson, who I'll always be grateful to.

On one of his first days after being appointed senior coach, he came to me and said: "You're going to be our centre half-back."

He told me to wrap my head around that because I wouldn't be moving back and forward anymore. I was grateful he saw that and gave me the opportunity to play one role,

In my first few years there was a bit of frustration about being moved back and forward and not being settled, So I always appreciated that he did that.

Then it was John Worsfold, who has been fantastic.

When "Woosha" came to the club we were on our knees, for want of a better term.

The way in which he's been able to build it back up has been superb.

He's extremely level headed and knows what he wants to achieve, and he doesn't budge from that. The way he's held us through the last few years, I believe the club owes him a lot.

 

Michael Hurley says his former captain Jobe Watson inspires him as a leader today.
Michael Hurley says his former captain Jobe Watson inspires him as a leader today.

 

THE WAY JOBE LED US

Being in the leadership group these days, I often think back to Jobe Watson.

And specifically the way he led the players during the supplement saga.

My respect for Jobe is enormous and always will be. He wore the brunt of it all for a long time.

He's an unbelievable leader and a great person.

Our win in Round 1 in 2017 (against Hawthorn) would probably standout as the most memorable win of my career.

It was our first game after the suspension lifted and it just felt so good to play again after so long.

 

Hurley said when it came to the crunch, he couldn’t leave his clubmates. Picture: Getty Images
Hurley said when it came to the crunch, he couldn’t leave his clubmates. Picture: Getty Images

 

WHY I STAYED AT DONS

In 2016 I had a big decision to make on my future.

We had all of that year off and that gave me a fair bit of time to assess my options.

A big part of that was whether or not I'd be able to go back to the club after what had happened and not have any sort of ill feelings about it.

It was an interesting period. I reflected on what had happened and, of course, the good things as well.

When I reflected on all the relationships I'd built with players, staff members and fans along the way, that was the tipping point for me.

I realised I'd be leaving more than the club, I'd be leaving my friends and the people that meant a lot to me.

That's why I decided to stay and I've never regretted it.

 

 

Hurley grew a bushy beard in 2016. Picture: Getty Images
Hurley grew a bushy beard in 2016. Picture: Getty Images

 

 

LIFE AWAY FROM THE CLUB

I love footy and I watch a fair bit of it. I get that from dad.

He'd watch every game of the weekend if you let him.

After most Essendon games he'll text me if I've had an all-right day.

If I've had a stinker he knows to give me some space.

In my free time, when I'm not spending time with my partner, Chelsea, I love working with the MAD Foundation.

 

 

 

It's a charity that exists to make a difference in the lives of disabled and disadvantaged children and young people. My connection with the MAD Foundation started when I was asked to play in a charity cricket game, which I did for about five years before getting more involved.

It led to me growing my beard to raise money and awareness among a few other crazy things.

I saw a photo of the beard the other day and I can't believe how long it was. I looked about 50 years old.

And I had it when I wasn't playing in 2016, so I was a bit overweight as well.

They're great people doing great things, but I don't think I'll be rushing to do the beard challenge again.

 

 

 

 

Originally published as Hurley: 'I looked a bit ridiculous' as a rookie

Matthew Pavlich always gave Hurley the run around. Picture: AFL Media/Getty Images
Matthew Pavlich always gave Hurley the run around. Picture: AFL Media/Getty Images
And he raised over $35,000 for charity. Picture: Getty Images
And he raised over $35,000 for charity. Picture: Getty Images


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