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The season has finished but Allen Christensen is just getting started

Christensen back to full health Allen Christensen is back training with the NEAFL team as they prepare for the grand final this weekend.

It’s a blazing hot morning at Coorparoo’s Giffin Park.

It’s one of the first days of spring, but it feels like the middle of summer. The NEAFL Brisbane Lions boys have just finished their training session, as they prepare for Saturday’s Grand Final against the Sydney Swans.

As they start to exit the oval, one person remains.

It’s Allen Christensen, an AFL premiership player who has been robbed of playing the game he loves for almost two years.

With Senior Physio Clint Frazer, he starts to engage in shoulder bumps. With every crunch, his back and collarbone are tested. It’s the troublesome part of his body that’s kept him sidelined for too long.

“After you’ve had four surgeries on the one area you start to doubt about the durability of it. But I know that I’ve done everything and put everything in place to ensure that I’ll be right from this moment onwards,” Christensen says.

The midfielder has been absent from the AFL stage since Round 11, 2016, after breaking his collarbone.

He played one NEAFL game in April before scans revealed a crack had developed in the plate that was strengthening his collarbone. He was heartbroken to learn he would miss the entire 2017 season.

“I just have to cop it on the chin. It’s frustrating though. You see Jesse Hogan [Melbourne Demons] breaks his collarbone and he’s back in two or three weeks. I think ‘why can’t that be me’? But it’s just a completely different kettle of fish.”

Christensen believes there’s a misconception about professional athletes and their long-term injuries. People don’t understand how emotionally draining they can be.

“You hear things like I hadn’t done everything right in my last rehab,” he says.

“And I just think, you’ve got no idea. Three times I’ve worked my arse off to get back to where I want to be and then it all just crumbles. It takes so much out of you, not only physically but emotionally.”

"Then in rehabilitation, you are separated from the rest of the team, which can feel isolating.

“That can eat away at you a little bit…I’m lucky that I’m really good friends with our rehab coach Selwyn Griffith. He looks after me really well.”

With the knowledge he wouldn’t play for an entire year, the 26 year-old seriously started to picture what life after AFL would look like.

“Every footballer wants to go, ‘oh look I can make it back’, but after the fourth surgery in the same area you have to be realistic about where you want your footballing career to go.”

After April’s disappointment, he started working with the Club’s NEAFL side. Christensen sits on the bench as an assistant coach to Mitch Hahn.

“That’s the thing I’ve kind of worked out. You never know what’s going to happen. Your career could be over ‘like that.’ Once I worked that out, I realised what do I want to do,” he says.

The transition from player to coach has been a learning curve to say the least.

“I’ve been to Fages’ [Senior Coach Chris Fagan] office a few times and asked how he handles different situations,” he says.

“I’m one of the first people they see when they’re on the bench. If I’m frustrated it can filter down the bench. If I’m a cool, calm head on the bench then the boys can relax a little bit.”

As he’s become older he’s realised the opportunity and influence he has as a professional athlete. 

The time away from the game has strengthened causes he deeply cares about.

Christensen is an Indigenous man and originally hails from a town called Lara, just outside of Geelong.

“I think there’s a lack of understanding about the indigenous community. I’m pretty passionate about it. It comes from my Mum and my family.”

His mother Helen works as an indigenous lawyer down in Victoria. When she graduated in 2010 she was amongst just a handful of Indigenous lawyers practising in the state. She also happened to be raising five children including Allen, his two brothers and twin sisters.

“The thing with my Mum, Dad works away in the mines, Mum was doing a law degree while she was raising twins. Back then I didn’t have a clue how hard it would have been.” he says.

“That’s why she’s such a role model to me.

“If you stick it out long enough, you’ll get to where you want to go.”

Christensen says he had a lucky and happy childhood. Blessed with an ambitious mother and hardworking father who sacrificed time with his family to work in the mines, which ensured there was always food on the table.

“Some Indigenous communities aren’t getting that. Like your water, your healthy eating, all that sort of stuff.”

Christensen is desperate for this to change. Following his mother’s lead, he wants the Brisbane Lions to engage with the Indigenous community more.

“We don’t want to be a box-ticking club and rock up every Indigenous round and say ‘we’ve got a jumper.’ I want year round to feel like let’s get an agenda.”

Establishing a partnership with Deadly Choices this year was a huge step in the right direction.

“The Club’s really bought into what I want to do and what Cedric [Cox] wants to do and what we can actually bring to the Club and what the actual indigenous community can bring,” he says.

“If that’s getting kids to drink water instead of soft drink…that’s a little pat on the back to keep moving forward.”

Speaking up is also core to his beliefs. Unbeknownst to most, he regular catches up with players for a coffee, who might be struggling with the constant pressure attached when playing professional sport.

“In terms of welfare stuff I think I’ve had enough life experience and s*** go wrong in my life I can really help people when they feel like they don’t have anyone to talk to.”

He is the first to admit he’s not perfect. But since his arrival in Brisbane in late 2014, he’s outgrown the boy from Geelong.

It’s hard to believe Christensen was just 20 years old when he toasted a premiership with the Cats in 2011.

“I’m very lucky. I understand that some people play 200, 250 games and never play in a Grand Final so for me to be able to do that in my 19th game of AFL is something I’ll never take for granted,” he says.

“I think that’s why I’m so hungry and driven, to just get this Club to play finals again.”

As we watch Christensen continue to push through the shoulder bumps at Coorparoo anyone can see a clear, steel resolve in his eyes. He’ll be back next year.

“On field I just feel like I’ve got so much more to offer, which is a good thing,” he says.

If the Lions had a game tomorrow, he’d have been knocking Fagan’s door down but he ran out of rounds.

Brisbane hasn’t seen the best football he knows he’s capable of producing. 

“I feel like I’ve come up here, along with Dayne Beams and Mitch Robinson and I guess we’ve promised so much. Dayne and Mitch have been really good and I feel like at times I just haven’t delivered at what I delivered at Geelong.”

Christensen flies down with the NEAFL team tomorrow as they fight from a premiership against the Swans.

Technically, he’s supposed to be on holidays, but he’s committed to their cause.

There couldn’t be anyone at the Brisbane Lions more excited about November’s pre-season

“With the peace of mind knowing that I’m leaving this season, knowing that I’m ready to rock and roll for day 1 of pre-season next year is pretty comforting.”



The views in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of the AFL or its clubs