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Blakely's passion

Tom Fee  September 7, 2017 4:27 PM

Connor Blakely opens up about his love for surfing.

In a year where Fremantle placed a high importance on youth and development, Connor Blakely emerged as a shining example of the club’s future.

The 21-year-old starred as he started the season in Freo’s midfield before moving to half-back. 

To many ambitious football players, a switch from a glorified inside midfield role to the backline may seem like a demotion - but Blakely didn’t just embrace the role, he excelled in it.

“Hopefully, I get to stay there for a while” was Blakely’s comment after matching a career-high 33 disposals against West Coast in round 17 - a game which also saw Blakely take 11 marks and lay six tackles.

Despite showing promise, Blakely’s season ended in brutal fashion – dislocating his left shoulder twice during Fremantle’s round 19 clash with GWS.

Blakely expects to return bigger and better in 2018, and few should doubt him. The Bunbury raised product has already proven his ability to find strength from disappointment.

On the back of one of his career-best performances in Freo’s two-point loss to Geelong in round 14, Blakely was omitted.

On the Wednesday leading into Freo’s round 15 clash with St Kilda, Blakely was given doctor’s approval to leave the club in the afternoon due to illness.

That night he continued with his plans for Thursday’s off day – driving to his parents’ house in Bunbury.

Blakely went for a surf at Yallingup on the Thursday, something that was cited as the reason for his omission by Fremantle’s leadership group.

“The leadership group sat me down and had a discussion about whether surfing coming out of an illness was the ideal preparation for an AFL match,” Blakely said.

The media latched onto the story – “Surf and Turfed” read the back page of the paper the following day.

“I think people just read the headline and assumed that ‘he skipped training to go surfing,’ which was totally not true,” Blakely said.

“I trained that day, I was sick during training and after it. I went home and missed out on the meetings that afternoon.”

While Blakely accepted the leadership group’s decision, some of the media and public reaction around the omission was hard to take.

Blakely showed maturity beyond his years to maintain his silence, instead using the incident as a motivator.

“I’ve learned a lot from it and I feel I handled it pretty well,” Blakely said.

“I just sat back and let it all play out, trying to understand that the emotions that I do feel are natural.

“I wanted to make sure that my footy would do the talking and I wouldn’t let the incident play out with my form.

“If I were to fluctuate in my form, people would think I was affected by what happened. I made a promise to myself to play as hard as I could and do what the team wanted me to do.

“I think for the next few games until I did my shoulder, I certainly did that.”

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Blakely celebrates a goal with Michael Walters

Blakely said he’s gained a new appreciation of the leadership group after the incident.

“Lee Spurr came over to my house a couple days after and we had a pretty honest conversation about what happened,” Blakely said.

“You don’t want the (issues) to bubble up and then it’s just the big elephant in the room.

“The way that we handled it was really good and in a way you’re stronger from those things. I have a new found respect for the leadership group and how they dealt with the issue." 

Ironically, Blakely’s ability to gain perspective about life in the limelight has come through his number one passion outside of the game – surfing.

“It’s a part of what I do, it’s just as important to me as training, meetings, recovery and all of those sorts of things,” Blakely said.

“It’s not only the mental escape I have when surfing but also the recovery aspect of being out in the cold water.

“Surfing’s the type of thing where I’m always happier after. If something makes you feel that way then why not do it as much as you can? I don’t think there’s too many other activities that do that.” 

After re-signing with Fremantle through to 2019, Blakely said WA’s surfing community was the cherry on top of his decision to commit with Freo. 

“I think having a coastline like this makes it pretty easy for myself, and a lot of other people, to sign on with Fremantle,” Blakely said.

“With the way that the club’s going, we’re building, but you don’t purely make it on a football decision.”

Surfing isn’t something Blakely does alone either, often joined by his teammates in what acts as a bonding exercise outside of the club.

“We have a bit of a crew that formed at the start of the year,” Blakely said.

“There’s the likes of Nat (Fyfe), Stephen Hill, Lachie Weller and then there’s Brad (Hill) who’s on the body board – I’m trying to get him on the surfboard.

“And then there’s other guys who are learning to surf like Sean Darcy and Griffin Logue.

“When we do go with the boys from the club, I don’t think footy gets mentioned once at all.

“Surfing’s the type of thing where you really have to be present most of the time, so you don’t really have many moments to just talk about footy. It doesn’t even cross your mind.”

Surfing may be off the cards as Blakely recovers from shoulder surgery, yet his love of the waves saw a return to Cottesloe Beach in support to the ICEA (Indigenous Communities Education & Awareness) Foundation.

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Blakely gets behind the ICEA Classic, held on Sunday 10 September at Cottesloe Beach

Blakely first heard of ICEA through its Yarn Program, when the organisation visited the club to promote advancing reconciliation among Australia’s youth.

When ICEA asked Blakely to lend a hand to promote the ICEA Classic, which is being staged at Cottesloe Beach on Sunday, he jumped at the chance.

“It’s a great initiative shown by ICEA,” Blakely said. 

“I think the surfing event will bring a lot of people down here and all the other activities they have planned, it will just bring a lot of people from Perth down to Cottesloe.

“I think coming down here and supporting a really good event like that just shows that surfing and cultural activities are really important for both Aboriginal people and non-Aboriginal people.

“For everyone to come down here on 10 September and support the event, it will be a pretty popular one. It’s just growing every year and hopefully, they have a really good event.”

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