BRISBANE Lions footballer Tom Bell returned to his old school, Iona College, to deliver a stirring message to young athletes.
Be determined, be committed and don’t let knockbacks stop you, he told Iona boys preparing for AIC cross-country championships.
And Bell should know.
He held a dream of playing AFL football but was knocked back three times from the rookie draft – enough for most young men to give the game away.
“To finish the draft and not get picked up, to be honest, it fuelled a fire in my belly,” Bell told the young Iona athletes.
“The first year it happened I thought that’s it. The second year same thing happened, I was talking to a Melbourne club but didn’t get picked up.
“After that I said I’m just going to give it everything so I had to make a lot of sacrifices.
“That next year I really knuckled down with my diet, wasn’t going out as much with my friends, just focused on my football. And I think determination is what got me to an AFL list.”
Bell attended Iona College in Lindum throughout his schooling and graduated with future AFL players Tom Hickey and Josh Thomas in 2008.
But Bell said while football was a passion, he really questioned his abilities.
“Growing up I didn’t make any rep teams so I never really thought I could play football,” he said.
He was however an outstanding middle-distance and cross-country athlete for Iona College.
As an under-13 athlete he won the AIC 3km cross-country, finishing 45 seconds clear of his nearest rival. It’s a win imprinted in college memories.
“To be honest I didn’t think I was going to win by that much,” he said.
“It was a privilege to represent Iona … my main memory is probably coming down that finishing line and everyone from the team and the school was cheering me on.”
After school, Bell joined the NEAFL’s Morningside Australian Football Club in 2010, and was a regular senior player by 2011; in that season, he played 20 games for the club, and made his name as a wing and halfback player.
While playing in the NEAFL, Bell was selected in the Queensland under-21 team, and also played a handful of games for the Brisbane Lions reserves.
Outside of football, he undertook an apprenticeship as a refrigeration mechanic.
After three draft knockbacks, Bell, by now a big-bodied midfielder standing 187cm tall, was recruited to Carlton through the 2012 rookie draft.
He had to adapt to the Victorian winter, and again, his hard work and commitment paid off.
He made his debut in Round 17, 2012, against the Western Bulldogs, and went on to earn the Blues’ Best First Year Player Award.
In 2014, Tom Bell played 13 games and had a season highlight in Round 20 vs Gold Coast when he amassed 19 disposals and booted four goals to earn his first Brownlow Medal vote.
He also broke his finger, which became a complicated injury.
“To be honest I didn’t really listen to the doctors. I thought I was invincible and come back in two weeks and play,” he said.
“I played with stitches and a plate in my finger and it ended up getting infected and I was out for seven weeks.
“From now on I listen to my physios and doctors and if I am not right to train or run, I sit down and listen to the physios and doctors.”
At the end of the 2015 season, Bell was traded to the Brisbane Lions – a move which he described as “really good”.
“It’s nice to come home and finally don the colours,” he said.
Despite his hard-work ethic, Bell, like most players, does not enjoy the rigour of pre-season training.
“It’s quite tough. A lot of people think footballers will train in the morning and get the afternoon off to go surfing or play Xbox,” he said.
“Pre-season is not like that.”
This year Bell said he would arrive at the club at seven in the morning, have two-hour prep for strapping, physio and massage, and then join a five-hour skills session, covering about 14km in running.
That pre-season training would be repeated three times a week.
Each afternoon would be a discussion of game tactics, followed by cross-training for an hour with a high-performance coach watching closely, and finally a weights session.
Other days would concentrate on developing football skills.
Bell is recovering from injury after tearing his knee cartilage.
He’s had surgery, putting him out from playing for an expected 12 weeks.
He hopes to be back with the Lions for the past two games of this year.
Iona College won the 2016 AIC Cross Country championship.
By Mark Bowling