Neck surgery, six teams and plenty of kit: Felix Flockart's unique 2021
Things were looking great for Felix Flockart last summer.
The 202cm forward/ruckman was training with the Sandringham Zebras’ VFL squad and making a real impression, looking likely to earn a contract for the upcoming season.
Then, in late January, he woke up with a stiff pain in his neck.
“I woke up with a small lump and I couldn’t turn my head, and where I work at the time I was lifting things, and I got to work at seven in the morning and I was trying to lift up some boxes and I thought ‘gee this doesn’t feel good’,” Flockart said. “I couldn’t turn my head.”
“When I was driving home from work, because I had to leave, I couldn’t turn to look into the mirror, and I thought, ‘this isn’t safe’.”
The next day, the lump had grown, and the pain had become “excruciating”, making basic tasks like sleeping and eating incredibly difficult.
“I went straight to the hospital, and was put on a drip for the day, and they were doing scans and everything on my neck and couldn’t figure out what it was.
“I ended up getting transferred to the Alfred, and I was in and out of hospital for two weeks there, and they couldn’t figure out my neck because it was just a massive lump, and it was so painful. I couldn’t even turn my head at all.
“It was pretty scary for a while.
“They ended up figuring out that it was a bit of a viral infection in my neck, and it got to the point where they cut me open and they had to drain all this infection bacteria that was inside of it, which was also pretty scary.”
What Flockart didn’t anticipate was that the arrival of the unexpected and unwanted upper body accessory would result in such a disjointed season.
His recovery time necessitated no running for six weeks and no weights for 10, and he was released from the Zebras’ training squad as a result. He wasn’t able to participate in full-contact training at the Dragons until the week before round one of the NAB League, meaning he had fallen behind Dante Visentini and mid-season draftees Max Heath and Jacob Edwards in the tall forward pecking order, forcing him to watch the come-from-behind win against Oakleigh from the sidelines.
He went back to his local side, Old Brighton in the VAFA under 19s competition, and started to climb his way through the ranks.
Having showcased his talents for the 19s, he was immediately called-up to play for the ‘Tonners’ senior side in the VAFA’s premier division. After a few impressive games against the bigger bodies he earned selection for Vic Metro, alongside six fellow Dragons in the U23 Colgate Young Guns Game, before making his Dragons debut the following week against the Western Jets.
His third game in a Dragons jumper was a breakout performance. Three goals, five marks and 13 hit-outs against Oakleigh in round 10 resulted in a spot in the Gold Coast Suns’ VFL side, who were in Melbourne due to a covid lockdown in Queensland and were short on numbers for their game against Box Hill, where Flockart went toe-to-toe with 208cm Hawthorn ruckman Ned Reeves.
The following week he donned the red and blue stripes for Port Melbourne, also in the VFL, and was named as one of their best players in a heavy loss to Frankston.
“It was at night, it was quite wet, so not many marks were being taken, and they had two big rucks that I was playing against, so I was trying to bring the ball to ground.
“I had 11/12 disposals. I like getting my hands on the footy and I didn’t kick a goal but I think what made me stand out was, I was able to compete and have a presence and I felt like I fit in against the bigger bodies.
“There was one big ruckman but he was a bit older, so he really did try to use his strength and was trying to be aggressive with me.
“I tried to tire him out and towards the last quarter, because he a bit older, he was a bit more tired. Although he had his strength, I just had to try and play my strengths and jump around him.“
All in all, he played for six different sides in 2021, experiencing the career of a journeyman ruckman in just the one shortened season, and he has the apparel to prove it.
“In my wardrobe I’ve got shorts from every team. I didn’t get to keep any Gold Coast shirts but I’ve got a lot of stuff to wear to the gym now, because I’ve got stuff from every club.”
It was a whirlwind experience for the 20-year-old, and certainly presented some difficulties.
“…I’m not very good at remembering names, so you’re on the field trying to tap it to these guys and you just tell them ‘yeah mate right here’, and the next week I was with another team and it was sort of the same situation,” Flockart said.
“With the ruck you learn what midfielders run where, where each tap and where the hit-outs are, and it was slightly different in those three different games.”
“That was a challenge, but it was also really fun, getting to meet new people and playing with a bunch of different teams in front of new people, so there were positives and negatives, but yeah. It was an interesting experience.”
Not only was it a challenge for Flockart to recall the names of new teammates, but he is still learning the craft of ruckwork.
He described himself as a “normal” height playing as a forward until late in his schooling when he experienced a six-inch growth spurt and began to play in the ruck, catching the eye of Dragons scouts in the process. His extra length also resulted in an additional 15 kilograms since starting with the Dragons.
It’s not dissimilar to Western Bulldogs’ ruckman Tim English, who grew 20 centimetres in the three years leading to his draft selection in 2016.
Despite the growth, he has maintained the athleticism that saw him compete at state competitions in high jump and on the track as a primary schooler against a couple of former Dragons.
“In my age group I was always running and jumping against Miles Bergman and Hugo Ralphsmith who have both been drafted. I had good battles in the high jump with Miles and good battles in the 800 metres with Hugo.”
High level sporting pedigree runs in Flockart DNA.
His old man, Peter was an elite K4 surf skis competitor, and was close to attending the Olympic games in the 90s. He and Felix’s mother, Katie, who has an athletics background, competed in many surf lifesaving and ironman events when Felix was growing up.
The athletics bug also reached Felix’s brother, Sam, who holds the under 10s national record for the 800 metres.
Having seen a couple of drafts go by, and with mates like Louis Butler and previous competitors like Jamarra Ugle-Hagan selected and realising their dream on the big stage, Flockart feels he’s ready to do the same. After limited exposure in 18th year and 2020 being a write-off, this is his best chance of breaking through and being selected.
Should all go to plan later this week, Flockart will find himself with yet another set of training gear to wear to the gym.