Robbie Fox during Sydney's match against Collingwood in round 22, 2022. Picture: AFL Photos

WHEN Robbie Fox went back to Burnie, his hometown on Tasmania's north coast, during the mid-season bye in early June, he had a thought about moving there permanently.

He hadn't lived in his home state for almost a decade, but the first half of the season hadn't panned out the way he planned. Now was the time, he thought, to start thinking about life after footy.

Just three months later and those plans have been completely abandoned, at least for now.

After being included in Sydney's 23 only twice before round 15 – once as an unused medi-sub – Fox has played the past 10 games for John Longmire's side, compiling the best patch of his 65-game career to seal new a two-year deal last week.

The 29-year-old was unlucky not to be picked in round one or two – he was named in the extended squad – after a strong summer. But when he strained his hamstring against Footscray in the first game of the VFL season, it set back his season and put him under pressure to earn another contract beyond October.

Robbie Fox during Sydney's match against Fremantle in round 18, 2022. Picture: AFL Photos

But Fox was never going to pack up his life in Sydney and return to Tasmania without forcing Sydney list boss Kinnear Beatson and head of football Charlie Gardiner to think long and hard about putting another contract in front of him.

"I was coming off a good pre-season, actually, and coming off a good season last year where I played 15 games," Fox tells ahead of Sydney's preliminary final against Collingwood.

"I was improving and playing pretty well in the pre-season but didn't get picked in the side, so I was disappointed. Then to do my hammy was quite annoying.

DONE DEAL Fantastic Mr Fox signs contract extension

"To be honest, I was back home and talking to a mate who coaches the local club back there and he said, 'I hope for the best but if footy doesn't work out, we'd love to have you'.

"Me and my partner thought it could be quite nice to move back home (and) get a job. Three months later, I'm playing in a prelim final. It's pretty crazy.

"It is nice to go into a pre-season knowing this isn't going to be my last. I attack every pre-season thinking this is my last, and throughout the year when you have injuries or your form slumps. To sign for two years is huge for me. It shows the coaches have faith in me, which gives me a lot of confidence."


While Fox was recovering from that hamstring strain, when his AFL future was up in the air, he spent time working as a substitute teacher at Paddington Primary School, where he completed his training late last year. With the school looking for extra help in April, Mr Fox returned to the classroom, located on the famous Oxford Street in the city's inner suburbs.

Education has been an integral part of Fox's path from the northern tip of the Apple Isle to the Harbour City via Melbourne. After focusing on basketball as a junior – he played for Tasmania at under-16 and under-20 level – he headed to the mainland to study teaching and continue his footy journey.

Much like Collingwood key forward Brody Mihocek, his good mate and fellow Burnie Dockers product, Fox started in the Essendon District Football League before a VFL side approached him. While Mihocek joined Maribyrnong Park before landing at Werribee and then the top level, Fox headed to Aberfeldie, another western suburbs powerhouse.

"Getting drafted wasn't on my radar at all," he says.

"It's actually quite funny; I was living on college at La Trobe Uni and I was driving to Abers training every Tuesday and Thursday, and all my mates at uni were hitting the piss and I was getting quite jealous. Every time I'd get home at nine o’clock, they would be heading out in a party mood and I'm getting home to shower.

Robbie Fox during Sydney's match against Collingwood in round 22, 2022. Picture: AFL Photos

"I wasn't even playing that well and I was contemplating stopping footy next year so I could have a proper uni experience the following year.

"As it turned out, I didn't get back onto college the next year because there were too many people on college, so I stuck with footy. I got dropped to the twos both years at Abers, but to think I would be playing AFL from there is something I never contemplated."

Enter Peter German. The former North Melbourne midfielder, a former assistant coach at Hawthorn, West Coast, Fremantle and the Western Bulldogs and a long-time WAFL and VFL coach, spotted Fox playing for Aberfeldie and wanted him at Coburg in the VFL.

Fox was apprehensive at first. He wasn't even the best player in his local side and was unsure he could cut it at the next level. But when West Coast great Matt Priddis mentioned German in his 2014 Brownlow Medal acceptance speech, Fox realised he would be foolish to not accept the opportunity.

Robbie Fox on his AFL debut, against the Western Bulldogs in 2017. Picture: AFL Photos

"We'd just come off two Grand Final losses (at Aberfeldie) and I was pretty hesitant to leave," he recalls. "But it was the year Priddis won the Brownlow and he gave 'Germo' a shoutout in his speech, talking about how he helped his development. I remember being on the phone to my dad and he said, 'You have to go, even if it is just for a year to play under Peter German'.

"I had a few injury concerns in my first year (at Coburg) and played seven or eight games in the seniors and didn't set the world on fire. But it was enough to get some interest from an Essendon recruiter who said, 'What's the deal with Robbie Fox?'. It was enough for me to put my head down, train really hard and head into next year trying to get drafted after that one phone call."

Two other clubs showed interest in Fox at the end of the following season, including Sydney. Beatson sat down with Fox in the office of his manager, Anthony McConville, at the end of 2016. The meeting lasted 20 minutes and Fox thought nothing of it before the phone rang the night before that year's rookie draft. The Swans were going to take him so he packed up his life and made the nine-hour drive to Sydney alongside Ben Ronke, who was taken in the same draft.

Fox has had to fight to earn every game and every contract extension since and no one moment summed up that commitment quite like that passage of play against Melbourne in the qualifying final, one of the most talked about moments of this finals series.

At a pivotal point in the final term, Fox sprinted from the centre of the ground to smother two shots at goal - the first from Jake Melksham, the second from Charlie Spargo - before the Swans swept the ball forward to all but end any hopes the Demons had of securing a come-from-behind win.


"I've never heard anything like it after we got the ball out of defensive 50," he says. "The crowd just went absolutely crazy.

"That's just what we do in our backline; we just keep fighting to the end. A few things went wrong to get the ball into the Melbourne forward line, but we just fight to the death.

"I remember I was running so hard to get to Melksham and I smothered his ball, then the ball just trickled down to Spargo and I thought, 'You're kidding me, here's a certain goal'. Then I made the smother."

Sydney is now one victory away from a fourth Grand Final appearance under Longmire's watch and two wins from a second flag since he replaced Paul Roos in 2011.

Fox's long slog – he has been recalled to the senior side 12 times in his career – has ensured he always stops to take stock, knowing life seemed unlikely to turn out this way when he was grinding away in the twos at Aberfeldie.

"I think I really appreciate every game I get and every contract I get," he says.

"You see some boys come in and they don't appreciate what's been given to them for whatever reason by not working hard or whatever it is.

"Doing it the long way, you really appreciate how good it is to be on an AFL list and be at a footy club."