Tanner Bruhn was frustrated but not devastated when he had knee surgery for the first time two years ago, carving five months from his season, meaning he couldn’t play the game he loves.
As a 17-year-old he still had his draft year to come. There was lots of time left.
Then, 2020 came around. First, Bruhn needed more, minor surgery in January, to fix up his knee for good. Then, the season was put on pause for the coronavirus outbreak.
Then, it was shut down for good. So while the recruiting team set about reviewing every bit of vision we had on Bruhn – working out what exactly he had to offer and how he compared to kids who had played more footy as bottom-agers and, in the case of West and South Australians were able to keep playing in 2020 – he wondered what it all might mean for him.
“Usually in your bottom-age year you’re learning. If you get games it’s a bonus and if you play well it’s a bonus. It’s all about developing and getting ready for that top-age year, your draft year,” said Bruhn in the latest episode of Becoming GIANT.
His story opens the second season of the podcast series, presented by Bingo Industries, an introduction to the six players the club chose in last year’s national and rookie drafts.
The 18-year-old from Geelong was the GIANTS’ first selection, chosen at pick 12.
“I sort of got used to it and I thought, next year is my year and hopefully I’m going to build to that," he said.
“I didn’t dwell on missing my bottom age year very much but obviously when last year came around, and with the circumstances that happened early with COVID, that was pretty shattering for me because I was hoping it was my year to come out and play some good footy.
“I think I played five games in two years, which is not how I pictured it at all.”
Bruhn used his break – getting through Year 12 at Geelong Grammar and training with his brother and others when he could – as productively as he could have. He got fitter, and his knee even stronger.
Still, on the night he was nervous. The time he had spent speaking with various clubs gave him a fair idea of where he might slot into the draft order, but he couldn’t be sure until it actually happened.
He couldn't know that he was one of four players the recruiting team hoped to have access to with our first two picks – 12 and 15 – knowing there was a chance at least two of them could be gone.
Since getting to the club Bruhn has been able to train more often, more consistently and with more intensity than he has in a few years, working with both the forward and midfield groups and open to the challenge of finding a way into the senior side in either of those spots.
“It was a stressful night and you probably saw it in my reaction,” said Bruhn of his draft night: the tension and relief that led to a straight-faced reaction belying the emotion inside.
“The night was such a good night with my family and friends, and the next morning I woke up and all over the AFL (website) and Twitter it just says ‘sombre reaction from GIANTS draftee.’
“It was all over Facebook and these comments just kept coming up. People were just commenting and it got pretty bad at one stage, some things that were said weren’t pleasant to see for me, who’d just been picked up the night before.
“I just tried not to read too much into it. I was just hoping that the players – when I was going up to Sydney – didn’t read too much into it either and think ‘maybe this kid doesn’t want to be here.’
“I got a bit of scrutiny for that but that’s probably just me. I was very stressed and pretty emotional at the time as well, but very fortunate to get picked up by the GIANTS.”