AFL has been a monumental part of Joel Crocker’s life. From a young age, Crocker has been exposed to the rigours of life at the elite level, learning from his dad former-North Melbourne player and current assistant coach Darren Crocker.
Crocker says his dad’s involvement in the AFL has provided him with unparalleled experience of what it takes as he approaches the National Draft.
“I have been around AFL players from a young age and getting to see what the environment is like … it has been a good experience,” he said.
Similar to his father’s career, Crocker’s footballing journey has been injury-ravelled.
After enjoying a strong bottom-age season with the Sandringham Dragons in the TAC Cup, Crocker sustained a serious syndesmosis injury in the Dragons 2017 elimination final which required season-ending surgery.
“I had surgery and that put me out all of preseason,” he said.
“I was in rehab all of preseason and missed the first month of footy this year to make it right. I was nearly good to go but I really wanted to make sure it was 100 per cent.”
After just his second game back and at training for Brighton Grammar, Crocker injured himself again.
“I was kicking the ball and my foot landed in a bit of a ditch … there was no contact or anything just me kicking and there was a bit of a hole that I tripped into,” he explained.
“I wasn’t sure of the damage at first but I got scans and it revealed I had done the same thing but on the other ankle.”
It was an injury that would stop him playing his top-age year of TAC Cup football.
Sandringham Dragons assistant coach Jackson Kornberg reflected on the moments following Crocker’s second syndesmosis surgery, describing his outlook on the situation as “incredible”.
“When he reinjured himself, his resilience had really been tested, but I still remember sitting on the couch with him at his house after surgery and Joel said, ‘nothing I can do, so just have to move on and make the best of an average situation',” Kornberg explained.
“For someone who had just been dealt a poor hand it was an incredible mindset to have.”
Despite missing the season, in Crocker’s limited game time at both TAC Cup and APS football AFL recruiters saw a shining light and he was recognised with a National Combine invite.
Crocker said the invitation came as a relief.
“I was hoping that I had done enough in my games last year and at school footy this year but I wasn’t too sure so it was good to see that there is still a bit of interest in me but I will have to wait and see at draft time if my name gets called out.”
Kornberg agreed that Crocker had shown enough in his bottom-age year to impress recruiting staff.
“The games he played last year we were really excited about the attribute he was showing,” he said.
“His aerial marking and quick decision making, particularly without the ball (was really promising).
“Regardless of injury, Joel’s footy strengths haven’t changed so if a club takes a chance on him then they’re getting someone who I have no doubt can get back to his best which was on the way to showing us last year.”
Although he loves North Melbourne and said it would be “pretty special” to hear his named called out by them come draft night, Crocker said he simply “hopes” to find himself on an AFL list.