IT’S quite apt that Tim Smith hails from Upper Ferntree Gully, in Melbourne’s outer eastern suburbs.
In many ways, his journey onto an AFL list must’ve felt like he was continually walking up the popular and testing Kokoda Track Memorial Walk – better known as 1000 steps – in ‘Upper Gully’.
And although he finally reached his destination – via Melbourne at No.25 in the November NAB AFL Rookie Draft – Smith’s journey, like the Steps, was a challenging one.
For the 25-year-old plumber, Smith had to bide his time before being given an opportunity at the highest level. Now he is determined to “dig in deep” and make the most of every opportunity.
“[My] aim is for round one or to be part of the team – I’ll be pushing as hard as I can and doing everything I can to get to that stage,” he told Melbourne TV.
Smith now resides in neighbouring suburb Ferntree Gully, with his girlfriend, who is a nurse close by at the Angliss Hospital.
He started his football with Upper Ferntree Gully, playing juniors and seniors, having won a premiership with the senior team as a 19-year-old.
“For a young kid, to play in a senior premiership was something I’ll live with [forever] and I love,” he said.
From there, Smith wanted to test himself and see how far he could take his footy.
This led him to his journey at Casey and now Melbourne.
But his outstanding 2016 with the Scorpions, which included a fine performance in a losing Grand Final, almost didn’t happen after he seriously considered his VFL future before the start of the season.
“At the end of last year, I was pretty close to actually leaving Casey. A lot of the guys that I’d been there with for a long time had left. I was really up in the air about what I was going to do and [coach] Plappy (Justin Plapp) got into me and said ‘we’ve got plenty to get out of you and I’ve got a lot of belief in you’,” he said.
“I went with that and I just thought ‘if this is going to be the year, then I’ll give it my all and leave nothing on the table’. It just started panning out in my favour.
“A lot of hard work went in and I got the results and had a fantastic year.”
Had he not kept at it in 2016, his draft dream wouldn’t have been realised.
And nor would’ve he found out the way he was drafted.
Smith had just got home from work, when he sat down with his partner in front of the computer and watched the names ticking over in the NAB AFL Rookie Draft.
“We were watching the names reel off quite quickly and my phone started going off and Plappy was on the phone going ‘mate, you’ve done it, you’re on the list’,” he said.
“I said ‘mate, my computer is only up to pick 23 and [my name] hasn’t come up yet’. Once I saw my name come up at [selection No.25], I was speechless and I couldn’t believe it.
“I was super excited to see that and for that to come to fruition.”
Smith said all of the hard work and draining moments to get onto an AFL list was worth it. Although he loved his job as a plumber, he said he couldn’t have been more grateful to be drafted by Melbourne.
But a typical day as a plumber is now far different to his new role as a full-time footballer.
“I would be up at 5:30am and start work at 7am. I usually finished work at 3:30 or 4pm. I’d drive straight to Casey and get all of the extras in that I’d have to before training started,” he said.
“Then you’d do the session, your recovery … then your review and then get out of there at 9 or 9:30pm.
“It was definitely challenging at times, but I wouldn’t have changed anything about it.”
Affectionately known as ‘Bull’, Smith said the fact that he and fellow rookie Declan Keilty was drafted from Melbourne’s VFL aligned side was a great example of how the ‘one club’ mentality had prospered.
And he was proud to become somewhat of a poster boy for fellow draft prospects eager to make the transfer from Casey to Melbourne.
“I’m absolutely rapt for Decs and myself,” he said.
“It’s unbelievable and it couldn’t have been a better outcome for both of us and Casey. The alignment this year was super strong and probably the strongest it’s ever been in my time at the club.
“I think for guys coming into Casey – it’s going to be a real focal point. There is a chance [that you can get drafted and play for Melbourne]. There is light at the end of the tunnel for guys that dig in and potentially be given an opportunity at AFL level.”