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'I didn't know how hard AFL footy was': Giant reveals mental health battle

Jeremy Finlayson needed a break from footy in the first half of last year. All pictures: AFL Photos - AFL,Exclusive,Tag-Exclusive,Jeremy Finlayson,GWS Giants
Jeremy Finlayson needed a break from footy in the first half of last year. All pictures: AFL Photos

IT TOOK Jeremy Finlayson a long time to crack it at AFL level but when he played the first nine games of last year, he thought he knew what was required to succeed.

He was wrong.

Finlayson, a GWS academy product taken with pick No.85 in the 2014 NAB AFL draft, took some time to adjust the life in the AFL, but played some outstanding footy in defence for the Giants in his fourth season at the club.

However, after a brilliant first month, his form slowly dropped away.

The 23-year-old looked solid on the big stage but a battle with himself was better described as shaky.

The grind of his first uninterrupted pre-season, combined the pressures of senior footy, meant that Finlayson's mental health was hindering his footy.

Finlayson told AFL.com.au that he stepped away from the club after the Giants' round nine win over North Melbourne in 2018 and spent some time in his hometown of Culcairn, a country town in the Riverina region of NSW.

Finlayson in action during last year's clash against North Melbourne. 

"I was fatigued and mentally worn down, and I didn't know how hard AFL footy was," he said.

"During the week I used to think about footy, footy, footy, which is why I was fried by round nine and I ended up heading home for a break."

Finlayson played five more games last season but never recaptured his best and failed to play in any of the club's finals.

This season he's been a revelation, kicking 37 goals from 19 games playing as a forward.

Just as a lack of awareness about looking after his mental health caused him some issues in 2018, a renewed focus on that area has helped Finlayson emerge as a potential star.

The athletic goalkicker credited his work with GWS sports psychologist Darren Everett as a major reason behind his form this year.

"I probably see Darren twice a week and he's been huge in helping me deal with the pressures of being a full-time footballer," he said.

"Without Darren I'd probably be struggling like I was this time last year.

"We've seen some of the best players in the comp taking some time off this year so it can affect anyone.

"Everyone thinks it’s a free ride playing in the AFL but it's pretty challenging sometimes."

In an effort to improve his work/life balance, Finlayson chose a different outlet than most other AFL players.

The proud indigenous man has become a mentor to indigenous youth at a juvenile detention centre, and has shown some of them through the Giants facility in western Sydney in an effort to be a positive influence.

"They get out and they end up going straight back in to detention because they've got no family support," Finlayson said.

"Some guys play golf, 'Jezza' (Cameron) goes fishing, and this is my outlet to freshen me up, and it's really good for me.

"You have to have something in your life outside of footy which I didn't understand until this season."

Finlayson (centre) with indigenous teammates Bobby Hill (left) and Zac Williams (right). 

Finlayson, Coleman Medal winner Cameron (67 goals) and Harry Himmelberg (35), have played a big role in helping the Giants back to the finals for the fourth straight season this year.

He said his fellow tall forwards have also played a part in his breakout season.

"The last couple of years I've had some self-doubts and they’ve just been massive for me this year, telling me to believe in myself," he said.

"I can't thank 'Jez' and Harry enough for their support."

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