FOR A young man who never really considered football as a likely career growing up in Western Australia, Aaron Black certainly made a pretty good fist of it.
Black grew up playing for the Eaton Boomers in Bunbury’s South West Football League but was happy lining up for their Colts team and working as an apprentice – but a breakout year in 2008 saw him earn a handful of League games in WA’s strongest regional competition.
He decided to head up the road to Peel Thunder in the WAFL just to see what could be possible, playing as an overage player in the Colts and again breaking into the League team for three matches late in the season to draw the attention of AFL recruiting scouts.
Taken by North Melbourne at pick 25 in the 2009 NAB AFL Draft, he went on to play 57 AFL matches for the Kangaroos and Geelong, plus making 107 VFL appearances for the Roos’ aligned teams North Ballarat and Werribee as well as the Cats, where he spent the past three seasons as captain until his retirement at the end of last season.
Black, 31, said his body had told him it was time, but he was immensely proud of what he achieved at the game’s highest levels.
And although he had signed with fellow AFLW assistant coach Josh Finch's home club at Modewarre in the Bellarine league, the Cats won’t be rid of him that easily, given he was engrossed in his role as an assistant coach of the AFLW team.
“It has been very up and down with injuries and form dropping in and out, but I survived nine years in the AFL so I’ve been pretty fortunate,” Black said.
“Then the past three years at State league level – to get 100 games up at State league level is something I can hold pretty high to myself.
“I’m very fortunate to have been able to come across from WA to Victoria and be able to play for over a decade at that level.
“100 games at any level just shows consistency and that you love the game – it is a good achievement for anyone at any level, so I’m pretty happy and fortunate to have played 100 games of VFL footy and for the past few years captain a VFL side.
“It’s a pity it ended the way it did last season because I felt we were a good chance to have a run at a premiership, but that was the way it was.
“Playing wise I’m at that point of life where I’m ready to transition from playing into coaching (and) my wife and I have just opened a retail shop as well and my body was pulling up sore after each game, even when we were only playing one a month.
“But I love the Cats and I consider myself a Geelong person and I’ll be sticking around and annoying them from time to time when there’s a crossover between the AFLW and the VFL.”
Black said playing in North Melbourne’s elimination final against Essendon in 2014 was the highlight of his career.
“The first (AFL) game is always a big one and the first final I played in was 2014 back at North against the Bombers – I remember running out and there was 80,000 or 85,000 there,” he said.
“At North we didn’t usually get much more than 30-35,000 to a game and we only played one or two games at the ’G a year … we had a pretty average first half and we came back and won that game.
“I’ve never played in a Grand Final in my 12 years of senior footy so hopefully I can try to win a flag or two at local level to go out with a bit of a bang.”
As captain of the VFL Cats and his assistant coaching role with the women’s program, Black had a significant role in keeping two groups of players engaged throughout two tough COVID-affected seasons – something he acknowledged as a challenge.
“It was hard at times but we were kind of fortunate in that we are regional down in Geelong, so there were quite a few times we’d get put into a lockdown but then we’d be able to come out (before the other clubs),” he said.
“There was a lot of training for not playing much, and along with the coaches and the other leaders it was just about trying to keep the morale up around the group.
“As with a lot of State league clubs there’s a lot of young guys around who have an abundance of energy – so the main thing was keeping everyone up and about with “we might play this week, we might not” and staying positive no matter what the state of the season was.
“A lot of the AFLW players were ready to play in a VFLW Grand Final as well and never got to play, so it dragged on a bit for them too.
“I really enjoy getting around the players and building good player/coach relationships, which I feel is a strong point for me, and teaching them the technical side of things.
“I get a lot out of seeing players develop and it’s a good feeling to know that somewhere along the line you’ve had a bit of a hand in that.”
Black reserved special praise for the tireless workers behind the scenes that make every club tick.
“Sometimes as a player you don’t realise how much time and effort other people – coaches, staff, trainers etc – put into any football club,” he said.
“As a player you can get caught thinking I’ll just rock up, have a kick and head home, but I’m very appreciative of all the coaches, trainers, physios – I’ve spent a lot of time in physio rooms, so much work goes into running a footy club and there’s a lot of footy clubs around Australia so that’s a lot of people putting in a lot of time and effort.”