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Determined Daniels

Brent Daniels at home in orange and charcoal. - Brent Daniels,GWS Giants,AFL
Brent Daniels at home in orange and charcoal.

Emma Quayle is an award-winning journalist and draft expert who spent 16 years covering AFL for The Age newspaper before joining the GIANTS’ recruiting team in February, 2017. As one of the industry’s most respected writers and talent spotters, Quayle has a unique perspective on the GIANTS’ recent crop of draftees. In the fifth of her insightful six-part series, Quayle sits down with selection 27, Brent Daniels.

Brent Daniels played cricket as well as football, right up until last summer. That’s just what you did, growing up in Swan Hill. When we were trying to find out what he was like, and how much he would care for our club if we were to draft him, two stories stood out. Both had more to do with cricket than footy, the sport he has always loved a little more.

The first happened last summer. Daniels was a wicket keeper, but good with the bat too. After making a duck for Geelong Grammar in their first game of the season, he went to see his coach in the rooms afterwards, to apologise for letting him down and promise that he would score a century in the next game. You don’t owe us anything, he was told, but Daniels was determined and true to his word; against Melbourne Grammar the next week he hit 108. 

The second story happened earlier than that. Daniels had just moved to Geelong to board, was in the middle of a football season and had had very little real cricket coaching when he was asked to try out for Victoria’s under-17 cricket team. He didn’t quite make the cut and was disappointed to miss out, but when the selectors rang with another idea – to go to the tournament, play for the Northern Territory and push his claims that way – it didn’t sit too well with him.

It didn’t really seem fair. “I didn’t really try out for it properly, I just went to the trial game and hadn’t played for ages because of footy,” he said. “They wanted me to go and play with NT but I didn’t really want to do that. I didn’t want to play for a different state and I didn’t want to take some other kid’s spot. I wasn’t trying to throw my chance away or anything like that but the more I thought about it, the more the whole thing didn’t seem right to me.” 

Daniels cares. He is desperately competitive, too, and both qualities were challenged during 2017 as he made his way towards the draft, and the GIANTS. He played for five teams last season: his school side in Geelong, where he moved ahead of Year 11, his Bendigo Pioneers team in the TAC Cup, and Vic Country in the under-18 championships. There was a one-off game for the Geelong VFL team, which he trained with one night each week, and another for a representative side at the MCG on grand final day. All up he played in just four wins for the season: one for the Cats, one in the MCG game, one for his state side and one for the Pioneers, kicking five goals in their round one match to help make sure it happened.

It was tough. And he got frustrated. But every time the Pioneers asked him to play when there was a gap in his school schedule Daniels made sure he was there, even when he was tired and due for a rest. And when his school side was being beaten week after week, he told himself that he couldn’t do everything and that he didn’t need to try to, that being himself, being reliable, doing his job and helping his teammates as much as he could would be enough.

“You have all these thoughts, of feeling like you need to do more or like you can’t play the way you want to play because the team’s losing,” he said. “It’s easy to start thinking about other things or having negative thoughts. A few times I got frustrated but you don’t want the other players to know that, you just have to be as positive as you can around them. I hate losing and I hated losing as much as we did, but it was just one of those years, something we had to go through. I suppose it was mostly disappointing to have such a bad year at school footy, to lose all those games with the boys.”

He felt entrenched among them, by then. Daniels grew up with two brothers, loved his home town and had enough talent at football and cricket to play both sports at senior level before moving away to school. He was only 13 when he played his first senior cricket match and not much older when he made the football team, but combining the two sports was tough and tiring at times. Some weekends it meant playing one junior footy game, then a senior match, then jumping in the car and getting to Melbourne at 9:30pm on Saturday night for a cricket trial the next day. The idea of being in one place and doing less travel appealed to him, as did the chance to experience life in the boarding house. Two of his friends from the Pioneers program – Paddy Dow and Jarrod Brander – were at Geelong Grammar too, which made him feel even more confident that he would fit in and thrive there. 

“We were travelling to Bendigo two times every week, which was a couple of hours each way, so I knew moving would make it easier for me and easier for my parents too,” he said. “I wanted to get the best out of my education as well, and just meet some new people. That was the best thing about it, meeting different people, people who you never would have come across if you’d stayed at home. I made some good friends there, and having everything there for you in one spot was good, too. Everything you needed was there, you just had to use it.”

Daniels didn’t necessarily choose football over cricket in one defining moment, like others have. He knew he was recruited to the school to play both sports, and wanted to keep playing both, while knowing football was what he would go with if he turned out to be good enough. “I was that usual country kid I suppose, playing footy in winter and cricket in summer,” he said. “No-one ever made me make a decision, I just kept playing both for as long as I could. But you’re always doing something in footy. There’s always the chance you can impact the game in some way. The thing with cricket is once you’re done, you’re done. If you go out first ball, you have to sit around all day.”

There was some family history to draw upon with football, too. Brent’s father Greg played five games for Collingwood in 1986; when he moved down he signed on for $400 a senior game, $100 a reserves game and had to line up his own job, working with the curator at the Magpies’ old home ground, to make sure he had enough to get by. “I’ve heard a bit about it, what it was like for him there, and it was just a different time,” Daniels said. “It was harder in some ways, but it’s still hard now. I think we get a lot more help now, more coaching and more facilities, things like that. But you still only get one chance, so it’s up to you to take it.”

He feels ready for his. Daniels missed the second half of the 2016 season with a knee injury, and his cricketing commitments meant he was never able to prepare fully for a football season. A new meniscus injury just before Christmas – during the second last session he picked the ball up, got tackled and twisted the wrong way – has held him up again, but his goals have not shifted too far. Before he got hurt he wanted to train as hard as he could and improve as much as possible. Since then he has done his hard work in rehab, learning plenty of new things in there.

“I was shattered when it happened, but after that it was easier. I’m not going to miss too much footy. It probably happened at a good time in the end, so not too much has changed,” said Daniels, who hopes to play his first game by the end of March. “I still have the same goals as when I got first here, but now it’s more about being diligent and doing everything right and getting better, trying to improve as much as I can even though I’m not out there on the track.  

“I’ve had that many things to do, it’s been full-on in the gym and in the pool and with everything else, but a few of    the boys have said it’s not a bad thing to go through rehab early on because you learn what it’s about. And the reality is that everyone has to be in there at some stage, because that’s just the way footy goes. I still just want to get fit, and improve everything in my game. That hasn’t changed at all. That’s the whole reason I’m here, to be as good as I can be.”