Sandringham Dragons pair Archie Roberts and Ryley Sanders were fortunate enough to spend a week with an AFL club as a part of their AFL Academy experience, gaining an insight into what life is like at the top level.
“It was a really enjoyable experience; I took a lot out of it, and it was a great week,” said Roberts.
“I loved getting an insight into the life of an AFL player, it was a bit more lowkey than I expected. You have a lot of spare time, but it was a great week to live the life of an AFL player."
The AFL Academy consists of some of the most talented footballers across the country.
Roberts spent the week at RSEA Park with St Kilda, whilst Sanders was with Collingwood.
“Something that jumped out at me was how much an AFL club does for you. Each player gets their own protein shake at the end of a gym session, lunch is made and ready for you.
“On the track it’s tough and pretty hard but off the track it’s really lowkey and chilled. It seems like a great life.
“You’re getting paid to do what you love and play footy with your best mates.
“It really reaffirmed to me that I want to live this life, it’s pretty unreal.”
Sanders said that his experience at the AIA Centre was unbelievable.
“It was an awesome experience, Collingwood is a great club and they’ve got so many great players, especially in the midfield which was cool for me to see what they do,” said Sanders.
“I was able to tag along with the best players, Tommy Mitchell, Pendles, the Daicos boys and see what they do day-in day-out. You can see why they are so good, they put in so much extra work.
The Tasmanian relished the opportunity to learn from some of the game’s best.
“I did the reviews and trainings with the mids, they’ve got half a dozen elite midfielders so there was so much I could learn.”
But what were the key takeaways from the week?
“There are so many reviews, there’s a reason their system is so good. When they’re out there, if one player isn’t pulling their weight the rest of the group are onto them pretty quickly.
“The best players are the hardest workers. They’re the ones spending the extra 15 minutes on the track after training, doing the extra gym, there’s no secret as to why they’re the best players.
“Training was super competitive. They’re all mates with each other but they’re trying to make each other better. Hopefully I can try and bring that into training here this year.
“I’ve been trying to implement that here and hopefully a few of the boys tag along.”
For Roberts, he’s hoping to continue to play a role in developing the culture at the Dragons.
“The Saints have a great culture, it’s something I’m focussed on trying to help build both at Haileybury and at Dragons this year. If you have a healthy culture, then you’re in for a great year.
A DAY IN THE LIFE
What does a day in the life of an AFL player look like?
“I woke up at 6.30am every Monday Wednesday Friday. I’d have my brekky and an Up&Go at home, rock up at RSEA at 7.45, get strapped and changed,” said Roberts.
“We’d then hit the gym and warm up, do some activations and then go out on the track.
“We have a big three-hour session, get off the track and straight into lunch. Then there’s three rotations, gym, recovery, and nutrition. Gym for an hour, then into the Danny Frawley Centre for recovery, get a massage and looked at by the physios and then head home at 4.30, it’s a pretty long day.
There’s a growing Dragons presence at St Kilda, Roberts joining fellow 2022 Premiership players Olli Hotton and Angus McLennan at Linton Street.
“It was good to have someone there that I knew. It made fitting in so much easier. It made my week so much better, knowing I had someone there who could help me out.”
Roberts also has a connection with Haileybury alumni Marcus Windhager, who was a former Dragons player himself.
“I’ve had a connection with Marcus for a long time, we’ve been family friends forever, he picked me up on the first day. That was really good to have someone like that to guide me on the first day.”
The day-to-day structure was similar at the Pies for Sanders, who said that the most taxing part of the week was more mental than physical.
“The body was pretty good because we train hard here, but mentally I was a bit gassed. On the day off I just slept most of the day,” he laughed.
“I’d get there at about 7-7.30am, do some touch and some pre-training stuff to get the body warm.
“We’d then do a 2-2.5-hour session and do roughly 10kms, then have lunch, gym, more meetings and recovery. It was full on, the week after I was wrecked, more tired mentally than anything.”
With both boys having been established members of last season’s side, they are looking to share their knowledge of the game and competition with the other members of the Dragons set-up.
“Leadership is something I want to aspire to work towards. I want to continue to be a leader at school and here and I think I’m on my way there,” said Roberts.
“It’s definitely something I’m really interested in; I enjoy trying to be a leader.”
“I’m a bit of a mix as a leader, I like to lead by example but also give a bit of yap and help blokes on field. I try to be constructive as I can.”
Sanders hopes to draw on his experience and learnings from last year, where he played under the leadership of the likes of Will Ashcroft, Harry Sheezel and Jakob Anderson.
“I was lucky enough to play last year so I know what it takes to win a flag and be a part of a really successful team,” he said.
“I try to be myself, I’m pretty quiet off the field but on the field, I try to be a good leader for the boys. I’ve played some Coates Talent League and National Champs, I want to help the boys as much as I can so we can win as many games as we can.
“I’m a lead by example type, when I’m on the field I try to be pretty vocal, I’m super competitive, when I’m out there I just want to win.
“At training if I train hard and give it my all in the running and tackling drills, then hopefully the other boys will follow.”
The pair will partake in the AFL Academy camp in South Australia during round five of the AFL season, with a feature of that camp being an exhibition match as a curtain-closer to Brisbane v North Melbourne.