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Joel's journey home

aflplayers.com.au  April 6, 2017 2:31 PM

Joel Hamling opens up about his move home to play for the Freo Dockers.

Joel Hamling opens up about his move home to play for the Freo Dockers.

The decision to leave the Bulldogs and head to the Fremantle Dockers was really down to one thing. With my dad being sick, it was a family decision. I’d been in Victoria for five years and really enjoyed that opportunity, but the chance to come back home was too good to refuse. To be in Perth is great, it’s brilliant to be around the family again.

It was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made in my life. I’m a loyal person and I love all of my old teammates and coaches and everything involved in that football club. But at the end of the day, I don’t think I would have been able to live with myself if something happened with my dad and I was over in Melbourne. At the end of the day, I chose family over football because family comes first for me.

It’s been good to be back in my home state where I grew up. Dad is going OK, but he has an illness that is getting worse but right now he has a good quality of life and to be able to see him all the time and for him to come to games has been amazing. I didn’t see him a lot for five years, so I really appreciate having him around.

It gets hard when you’re in Victoria and away from your family. I went over there at 18 and being a country boy, it was daunting to go to the big smoke of Melbourne. I had some tough times there where training was difficult or I played poorly and I really needed my family around to support me. Now, having dad around me and my closest family it allows me to take my mind off football.

When I made the call to leave, I was at the airport and I was about to board a plane to Bali. I was weighing up the pros and cons of coming back to WA. I was having a chat to dad at the time and we both thought that I really had nothing to lose by leaving. 

So I made my decision before departure and got on the plane as a Western Bulldogs player and got to Bali as a Fremantle player, all after a conversation on the phone.

It was really difficult to inform the Bulldogs of my decision — I caught up with most of the boys before I announced the decision through the media.

They had a rough idea of what I would be doing and they were really supportive given the reason why I was heading back. They were actually excited to see me get the opportunity to go back to my home state, where I am the happiest.

The pre-season was tough and so have our first few games but it’s an exciting time ahead. The club is very optimistic about where we’re going.

Facing my old team this weekend will be very emotional. In this industry, it’s all about winning and I’m at a new club and will be out there going for the win, but I’m sure we’ll catch up after the game and tell a few stories. At the end of the day, we’re all brothers, we’re all mates.

I was close with everyone, so there won’t be any individuals who will differ from anyone else, but being a fullback, I’m sure I’ll line up on Tom Boyd or Jake Stringer.

I will send some text messages to my former teammates before the game. Footy can be so serious at times but it’s healthy to have a joke and take your mind off the serious nature. No doubt a few of the characters at the Bulldogs will send a bit back my way and we’ll all catch up afterwards.

It’s going to be hard but I’m sure there’ll be some funny moments, too, and plenty of banter. It’s actually exciting to face the Dogs. We’re a very positive bunch at Freo and we can’t wait to compete against a good side like the Bulldogs.

We’ve got new personnel and players coming back from injury, so it will take time, but we’re slowly starting to gel. We’re definitely going to see some improvement over the next few weeks.

The adjustment hasn’t been all smooth sailing, however. I got sick here in the pre-season — I got food poisoning and missed a chunk of training, so it took time to get back to full fitness. It’s a long year and that start didn’t help me, but I’m feeling good now both mentally and physically.

I think I missed about a month all up of training. I had a week at hospital, and then a week away from the club and after that I was on light duties. I was going really well prior to, but it took me a while to get back to that level.

While it was a disruption and a bad way to kick off proceedings at a new club, I’m used to transitioning into a new environment after stints Geelong and the Western Bulldogs, so it wasn’t something that I struggled with.

Most pre-seasons are similar, no matter which club you’re at. You’re still running plenty of kilometres and doing weights.

I put my head down and my bum up to earn the respect of my teammates and coaches, and I’m starting to get the reward now by playing in the first two games and I’ll only get better and better.

Fremantle is a really positive environment — it’s a good place to go and work every day.

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