Football has given Nathan Freeman every possible obstacle to overcome, but the ex-Magpie and Saint has recently signed with the Frankston Dolphins on a path back to the highest level.
At 23, Freeman has dealt with his fair share of setbacks, two major hamstring injuries and other small reoccurring niggles throughout his five years in the AFL system.
Those five seasons – which consisted of only two senior matches – came to a head after being delisted by St Kilda in August of this year due to his excessive soft tissue injuries.
Several minor soft tissue setbacks also prevented Freeman from having an illustrious career at his first attempt at the top level.
However, he is grateful of those who helped him through those dark times in recovery, and, modestly says it could have been worse.
“2014 against Geelong, that was my first soft tissue injury and I just knew because it just felt like it was an explosion in my hammy,” he said.
“I thought I was going to get back in three to four weeks for round one but it just never got right and then one thing led to another.
“I don’t even know how many I’ve had (injuries), I’ve lost count now, but they were all really minor, one or two weeks.
“Early days I never had an injury so I didn’t know what to do rehab wise, so I was lucky enough to have blokes like Ben Reid who I got quite close with at Collingwood.
“He was a good shoulder to lean on (Reid) and footy clubs are a great thing where you have so much support from the playing group and the fans as well.
“There was some dark times where I would keep doing little ones, little two-three week ones and it does take its toll.
“But we are pretty privileged to be playing footy and you could definitely be doing worse things, that was my full-time job so there’s blokes playing VFL that have to go to work the next day.”
The Dingley junior says he understood the decision made by the Saints and if he is to make it back to an AFL list, it is up to him.
“Footy is a business really, and at the end of the day, St Kilda had to improve and improve quickly,” he said.
“I’m a pretty keen footy follower so I know decisions like that have to be made, but I would have liked to keep playing because that’s what I love to do.
“They (St Kilda) went in and drafted four mature agers so that just solidified the facts they needed to improve quickly.
“They obviously had questions on my durability and hopefully this year I can get through and play good footy.
“(But) its still the dream, I’d kill to be on an AFL list.”
“The question on me is just my durability and getting my weapons back that I was drafted for.”
“Hopefully I can get through, play 20 games, play the elite footy I know I can and hopefully that’s enough to dispel those questions on my durability.”
In season 2018, the Dolphins collected the two victories, however, have recruited well under new senior coach Danny Ryan and are eyeing a large improvement in 2019.
The 10th pick in the 2013 national draft says the Dolphins are looking to show progress and to do so have to trust in the new game styles introduced by the new coach
“The 22 is not going to look anything like it did last year,” he said.
“(Hopefully) win more games than last year and hopefully push up towards the mid-table, and who says finals is out of the question, you never know, there is no such thing as a premiership window really anymore in footy.”
“You just got to get it right at the right time so as long as the boys keep improving, gelling as a team and having fun whilst we are doing it, the sky is the limit.”
A tight relationship with Danny Ryan that was built when they were both at the Sandringham Dragons was vital in the Dolphins securing Freeman’s prized signature.
Freeman says his relationship with Ryan and Frankston being a stand alone club, were the main attractions that lured him to the Dolphins.
“It was major factor in coming, I grew a great relationship with Danny at Sandringham, he was coming out of an AFL system at St Kilda, so coming into the Dragons he was highly skilled and had a wealth of knowledge to teach to us,” he said.
“We have kept in contact the past five years I’ve been in the system.”
“When I was delisted I wanted to continue my career at a stand alone club, and then Danny getting the gig at Frankston, it became an easy decision.”
As he is determined to get back on an AFL list himself, Freeman is also looking forward to get the best out of his teammates.
With his knowledge of the system, Freeman is eager to work with those who have been overlooked or suffered injuries, and spark inspiration within them to not give up on their AFL dream.
“No one is going to get drafted playing by themselves,” he said.
“We have to play as a 22.”
“The better our team plays together the better the individuals are going to look, that’s our thinking.”
The Dolphins coaching staff are working determinedly to ensure they get the best out of each individual and find the right mix to move the club forward in 2019.
With the AFL offering clubs a new mid-season rookie draft in addition to the end of season rookie draft; consecutive elite performances for the Dolphins could place Freeman in contention for a return to an AFL list.
ARTICLE BY TYLER LEWIS
Dolphins Digital Media