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Eagles starting to hit his straps

INC Pre-Season Camp: Last on-field session It was the last on-field training session this morning in Tasmania.

Brisbane Lions defender Matt Eagles is often perceived as the everyday bloke’s hero.

The 27-year-old’s footy career was given a lifeline when he won Foxtel’s The Recruit in 2016. But really, the hard work had only just begun.

Eagles had to quickly try and fit in the professional football arena and earn the respect from his teammates.

“I probably had a slow start coming from The Recruit. You spend most of your time trying to fit in with the boys and getting to know everyone,” Eagles revealed.

“It took a while, but the boys have been really great along with the coaching staff.”

For the best part of his football career, Eagles had played in the forward line. Before being picked up for The Recruit he’d been booting goals for Yeronga at Leyshon Park. But when he came to the Gabba, he started to train in the defensive line.

After Jack Frost suffered an unfortunate concussion in a NEAFL game, Eagles realised he had to step up.

“When he went out there was really no real lock down defenders so it sort of put me under the pump. I sort of thought, I have to do this, no one else can do this,” he said.

Eagles was exceptional as fullback and looked as though he’d played that position for years. His performance in the NEAFL Grand Final was something else. The Lions held a strong lead heading into the final quarter, but the Sydney Swans retaliated and were relentless in their attack.

Eagles’ safe hands, which could be compared to the likes of West Coast’s Jeremy McGovern, ensured the Lions victory by just three points.

His performance under pressure was so great, it could not be ignored. He was justly rewarded with a contract for 2018.

“It’s given me a lot of confidence,” he said at the Lions pre-season camp in Launceston.

“Obviously coming from The Recruit, it’s a different lead way into playing AFL so it’s given me a lot of confidence and belief in myself really. It’s been good – amazing, really.”

The winner of The Recruit is only granted a one-year contract, so Eagles knew his future at the Club was not guaranteed after 2017.

“I tried not to think about it much, thinking about that takes you off footy, you can get caught up in it. I tried not to think about contracts and just tried to play my best footy,” he said.

“If I got another contract, great, but if not, I know I’ve given it my all.”

Now with another year at the Lions, he is still living the dream as a professional athlete.

“I’ve worked in the mines and I’ve done a lot of shift work and got paid a lot less money,” he said.

“It’s probably helped me a bit coming here. I know not to take it for granted and know how good we have it here. So just try and make the most of it every day and really enjoy it.”

Eagles has been no stranger to hard yakka over his young life. He’s worked as an excavator/operator at Olympic Dam mine in South Australia, did dredging work in Gladstone, regional Queensland and at one time owned a landscaping business.

His journey is a far cry from coming through the AFL pathways.

Eagles grew up in Port Lincoln and did not start playing footy until he was a teenager. A friend asked him to come down to his Club one afternoon. He’d hardly played footy before – he enjoyed playing mixed netball and cricket. His father had dabbled in footy but was better known for his surfing prowess.

It was quickly obvious at the club that Eagles had a gift. As he grew older, he started playing SANFL for the Port Adelaide Magpies.

People around the club said he would be drafted and that scouts from AFL clubs had been looking at him.

But he admits there was an opportunity missed. He never elected to the draft and becoming an AFL player didn’t “just happen.”

He had to make a choice: stay playing local footy or go to the mines and earn a decent wage.

Now his life has come full circle and he’s taken a different route to most to arrive at an AFL Club.

“When I think about all the jobs I’ve worked, it sort of puts in perspective how good we have it and how lucky I am,” he said.

In less than two years he’s gone from playing footy at Yeronga and working full-time to barking orders at a four-time premiership player and duel Norm Smith medallist at training.

“It’s weird for me playing back with [Luke] Hodge. My role is to be the voice of everyone in front of me. Hodgey is standing in front of me, it’s quite intimidating to tell him to ‘move here, move there.’ It’s good, it’s going to help me.”

This pre-season has felt less daunting than his first and he came back to the Club post off-season in great shape.

“I feel like I’m a lot fitter."

“I’m able to push myself a bit harder, a bit longer.”

In 2018 he’ll strive to be named in the 22 and make his AFL debut.


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