Nathan Vardy’s career once seemed over. Now he’ll play an AFL Grand Final. Pic: Getty Images
Nathan Vardy’s career once seemed over. Now he’ll play an AFL Grand Final. Pic: Getty Images

Vardy’s turn to taste the big time

NATHAN Vardy's cutlery started to clatter.

The West Coast ruckman sat down to eat breakfast last Saturday morning when his appetite failed him.

"I was just that nervous at the prospect of winning and playing in a Grand Final," Vardy told the Herald Sun.

 

"I tried to eat bacon and eggs - but didn't get a hell of a lot in. I was eating it like a rabbit.

"I wasn't getting any in and then I started to worry that I'm not going to have enough energy for the game."

It wasn't the first time Vardy has gone hungry.

The former Geelong big man has fasted before each of his surgeries … and this is where his path to the MCG becomes difficult to digest.

"I think it'd be close to 13 or 14 now," Vardy, 27, said.

"It'll take too long to run through all of my injuries - I'll just say the joints.

"I've had a foot, an ankle, done a knee, a shoulder, an elbow and I've had a heap of surgeries on my hip, where I've been told I'd never play again.

"I've gone through pretty much every joint. A few of those have only been 3-4 weeks, but a couple of those injuries have been nearly two years."

Vardy was drafted by Geelong at No.42 in 2009 and made his debut midway through 2011.

After just his third game, Cats coach Chris Scott declared: "His marking, I can see similarities to (Nick) Riewoldt.

"He is very different to Riewoldt in a lot of respects, but he's an exceptional mark. We are trying not to get carried away, but it's hard."

Two months later and Vardy was told it might be career over after nine games.

As the Cats rolled on to win the 2011 premiership without Vardy, Tasmanian surgeon Michael Pritchard delivered the fatalistic diagnosis.

"Being so close to finals they took me straight in for surgery to have a look at my hip," Vardy said.

"When I woke up (Pritchard) came in and said, 'Mate, it's a lot worse than we thought.

"'We don't think you'll play again. We'll get you to come back in two weeks and we'll have another operation'.

 

Vardy has endured more than his share of injuries. Picture: Nigel Hallett
Vardy has endured more than his share of injuries. Picture: Nigel Hallett

"I ended up having another four or five surgeries just to get back to playing."

Vardy's final three seasons at the Cats produced four games.

In February 2014 he suffered an ACL at training and most of 2015 was also wiped out amid ongoing complications which required another four operations.

"That was the one where I was like, 'This is getting hard mentally'," Vardy said.

Then, at the start of 2016, a bad foot sprain flared. By halfway through the season Vardy knew he had to get out of Kardinia Park.

"My partner actually said to me I don't care where we go as long as it's not Perth," Vardy said.

"She's one of six kids from (Warrnambool), so a very family-orientated person and she'd never been to Perth.

"Then West Coast came along and I thought I'll go over and do a medical and loved the place and the coaches.

"When I got to the airport on the way home I got a call from my manager saying they were putting an offer to me.

"I called my partner before I got on the plane and by the time I'd landed she'd talked it over with her family and decided 'yep, let's go'."

The fun-loving Yarram boy - who coach Adam Simpson describes as "a bit of a lad" - has had a golden run at the Eagles. Vardy played 22 games last season - after 25 in seven years at Geelong - and has played every game since Nic Naitanui's knee injury.

In Round 17 Vardy had 66 hit-outs for East Perth on the Saturday and was watching West Coast's win against Collingwood on TV on the Sunday with his WAFL teammates when Naitanui went down.

 

Vardy battles Brodie Grundy in the qualifying final. Pic: Getty Images
Vardy battles Brodie Grundy in the qualifying final. Pic: Getty Images

"It was devastating news, especially for me, doing a knee myself I know what they're like," Vardy said.

"To see him have to go through a second one it's never great to see. I can't replace Nic Naitanui, and I'm not expected to play like him.

"The way I've been playing has been really role-driven and Scott (Lycett) is in the same boat.

"In the past five weeks we've gone (Max) Gawn, Stefan Martin, (Brodie) Grundy, Gawn, Grundy.

"We've had our hands full."

Naitanui has taken over from ruck coach Jon Giles, who left for a job opportunity elsewhere, and the message this week is simple.

"I had a taste of (Grundy) in the qualifying final," Vardy said.

"He's going to get his hand on the ball in the ruck contest, but I've just got to make it as messy as possible to give our on-ballers a real chance.

"You don't want him flicking it around."

But how will Vardy go swallowing those bacon and eggs on Saturday morning?

"Hopefully I can get them down."



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