‘I can’t do this anymore’: Moment Bennell nearly quit footy
Rejuvenated Demon Harley Bennell has revealed how close he came to quitting AFL football, telling his partner Amy "I can't do this anymore" after he tore his troublesome calf 12 months ago.
In a revealing interview with the Sunday Herald Sun, Bennell felt mentally "done" at the time, but said a "fairytale" offered by Melbourne coach Simon Goodwin and Demons high performance manager Darren Burgess has reaped rewards.
The 27-year-old played his first AFL game in almost three years last weekend and was set play his first game at the MCG in five years on Sunday before the clash with Essendon was postponed because of Conor McKenna's positive test to COVID-19.
It's been an extraordinary comeback for a player who suffered 25 calf tears which took him to the brink of retirement.
Now, he couldn't be more thankful he opted to have one last shot at resurrecting his AFL career.
"Everything was doing my head in," Bennell said of the lowest moment he encountered from his injury woes.
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"I kept doing it … doing my calf, doing my calf.
"The last time I did it (seriously), I split the whole thing and thought I had snapped my Achilles.
"When I took my shoe off … my foot just dropped because nothing was working up the top.
"I actually thought I was done. That's what I said to my partner - 'I'm done'.
"I was mentally drained and thought it was all over."
Three weeks after that "significant" tear when playing for Peel Thunder in his fourth WAFL game in succession, it was confirmed Bennell would part ways with Fremantle. At around the same time he and his partner Amy had their first child, Carter-Ivy.
Then a chance breakthrough involving Geelong West physiotherapist Peter Stanton followed by surgery in Brisbane last July gave Bennell a glimmer of hope.
The combination of the two provided Harley and Amy with the motivation to shift across Australia on a rookie wage ($80,000 in minimum wages) in a last-ditch effort to play AFL football again.
"There were no guarantees," Bennell said of the opportunity Melbourne made him work for. "It wasn't about the money; it was about playing footy again."
An initial meeting with Goodwin in October provided the first spark. A medical assessment from the club offered hope.
A detailed plan set by Burgess provided Bennell with the tools with which to attack his pathway back to the game he still desperately loves.
Then a connection with the players - and for Amy, with the partners of the players - provided the balance the Bennells needed so far away from home.
"I just feel so comfortable at Melbourne," he said.
"I can't wait to go in there every day.
"The playing group has been massive for me. They have allowed me to be who I am and they haven't asked me to be something I am not."
He knew from the first meeting with Goodwin that the pair would have a rapport. "'Goody' is a loving and caring bloke," Bennell said.
"He's been amazing for me in the last seven or eight months, not just for my footy, but for my life.
"(Former Fremantle coach) Ross (Lyon) was great. But to get a fresh set of eyes and a fresh voice is always good for you."
Lyon was one of the first phone calls he took after making his successful AFL return last week after 1021 days. There was a small hurdle in late January when Bennell tweaked his calf again.
But he pushed on in the belief he could be ready to play by mid-year, a timeline that he reached, with the COVID-19 shutdown meaning he was back for Round 2.
"I didn't know I would be playing in Round 2," he said.
"Lockdown wasn't too hard for us as we have a little baby.
"We didn't go back (to Perth), the borders were locked.
"I got the program off 'Burgo'. He is the best in the world. It was a fairytale for me to come and work with him.
"To get a bloke like me who has been injured so much to come and work with Darren Burgess is just a fairytale and now I'm back playing again."
Bennell played only 50 per cent game time in his return last week - for 14 disposals in the win against Carlton - and will slowly increase his numbers in the coming weeks.
It was a moving return in more ways than one. Getting back to playing again was important, but so too was taking a knee for the support of Black Lives Matter.
"That was massive," he said. "There is obviously some stuff going on in the world and it is so sad.
"I think it is great that the players and the AFL have thrown their support behind it."
Bennell pulled up well after the Blues' win and while he is taking nothing for granted, he is now looking at how he can replay the Demons for their faith into the future.
The hunger is there, having seen his former Suns teammates Josh Caddy, Tom Lynch and Dion Prestia taste the ultimate success with the Tigers.
"I'm just happy to be back playing again," he said. "We're all the same page at the club, it's like one big family.
"It was good to have a win (last week). Now we need to keep winning."
Originally published as 'I can't do this anymore': Moment Bennell nearly quit footy