Oct 9 2019

Monfries’ September surprise

Angus Monfries certainly would not have picked it. That, when he said goodbye to Essendon and all the close friends he had made at the club over eight years, he would be the one still playing football in September and not any of them.

When Port Adelaide wooed him back to his home town with the promise of a four-year contract and a more responsible playing role, Monfries hoped he would help fast-track his new club’s rebuilding process, but he did not believe that process would lead to him lining up against Collingwood in a final.

Nor could he have imagined the horrific mess he would unknowingly leave behind. But all that began to come clear on the Tuesday in early February when he noticed on Twitter an ominous notification of an Essendon media conference at AFL headquarters.

”I was a bit surprised,” said Monfries, in something of an understatement. ”I’m still not sure this whole thing is over for me or any of us, but my motto through the whole thing is to worry about what things I can control and not stress about the things I can’t.

”I didn’t think what was being done was much different to what other clubs were doing. The whole program and all the things that have come out … I was surprised at some things.

”There’s not really too much more I want to say about it, to be honest. I’m not going to talk down Essendon. I spent eight good years there and I made some great friends. I played a lot of footy with them and they’re pretty flat about the whole thing now. It’s been

tough on them. I really feel for them not playing finals. I think they deserved to play.”

And where his own situation is concerned, Monfries, who has played all 22 games for Port this season and averaged almost two goals a game, admits this season, on the whole, has been a lot easier for him. He loves being home in Adelaide and he knew the first time he spoke to coach Ken Hinkley – just days before Hinkley signed on to Port – that he was more than ready to step up to the senior job.

Monfries agreed that he had learnt valuable lessons from his experiences at Essendon in 2012. He said he could understand why people would question how players so willingly allowed themselves to be part of the ”pharmacologically experimental environment”.

”I think, in hindsight, every one of us would have done things differently,” he said. ”But I’d been there for eight years and I wouldn’t have seen any reason to question what people asked me to do.

”I’m the sort of person who wants to get the best out of myself and you put your faith and trust in people to do the right thing.”

Hinkley, Monfries’ fourth coach in nine seasons, has a mantra he often repeats to his players which is that: ”You get what you deserve.” If the 26-year-old would beg to differ where his old teammates are concerned, he does manage to lighten the conversation and have a laugh at his own expense.

The laugh concerned his famous mis-kick, which proved to be one of the more bizarre goals of the season, in early August at AAMI Stadium’s last Showdown. ”Looking back, I shouldn’t have turned the way I did,” he said, ”and when I saw what happened, I didn’t know whether to pump my fist in the air or cover my face in my hands. I was so embarrassed. I certainly didn’t deserve that.”

Having moved to Melbourne as a 17-year-old who didn’t know how to put petrol in a car, Monfries has found himself in the unusual situation of moving back in with his parents after owning his own home in Ascot Vale – he lived there during his Windy Hill years with various teammates such as Cale Hooker, Andrew Welsh and Mark McVeigh and in his final year alone – and had enjoyed the experience.

He is not planning on moving out in a hurry while he renovates a house in Adelaide he bought recently, pointing out he paid his parents’ last electricity bill but had enjoyed being looked after again and eating his mother’s cooking.

In Melbourne, Monfries’ elder brother Lachlan has represented the family at the meetings held by Essendon for its player parents, and while Monfries said it had been tough in a sense not being part of the stress his former teammates went through, it had also been much easier for him than others.

He said he had received plenty of good wishes from his former Bomber teammates, most of whom he said would have headed overseas on post-season trips by the time he lined up at the MCG on Saturday against Collingwood.

His former coach, James Hird had called him, he said, on a couple of occasions during the season to keep him up to date on the Essendon situation and Monfries sent Hird a text message last week after the AFL penalties were handed down. Like many former Essendon people he seems most sympathetic to club doctor Bruce Reid.

Hinkley has quietly monitored Monfries’ state of mind during regular private chats during the year and and said he remained confident that Monfries had handled his unusual situation with a pragmatism that has become his trademark. ”Angus was very much under control all through the season,” said Hinkley. ”It would have been much more difficult had he been living through the thick of it and not coming into a completely new environment and new experience as he has. The club showed great faith in offering him a four-year contract, but I think he’s repaid that faith. If you didn’t know, you would have thought he’d been at the club for years. We lost 600 games of experience at the end of last year and to gain his experience has been invaluable.”

Hinkley would not put a number to his assessment but others at the club placed Monfries in the top six in Port’s best-and-fairest. And Hinkley stressed that while Monfries has attracted more attention in the second half of the year, his whole season has been solid. ”To come into a club as an older player with so many young blokes and do what he has done … I think he should be very proud of what he’s achieved.”

Monfries has played only two finals in his AFL career and in both those Essendon was humiliated – first by Adelaide in 2009 and second by Carlton in 2011. He goes into his third elimination final with his side the underdog again but off the back of a career-best season and against the biggest team in the competition. ”We’re definitely looking forward to it,” he said.

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