Tom Hunter has described a three-year grieving period that followed his frightening exit as an AFL listed player before a happy rebirth as a head AFLW coach.
Forced into playing retirement at age 20, when he was on Collingwood’s list, Hunter – now 29 – still feels like he could play. But a congenital spinal condition extinguished that proposition after a first on-field collision, and red flag moment, saw him flown to hospital in physical agony.
Expert advice that playing football was too dangerous for him, ultimately set Hunter on a path to coaching. Though not before a period of private turmoil that he has detailed in the fourth episode of The Originals podcast.
“I think my grief period went for about three years…initially I tried just to deny it,” Hunter says.
“I still find myself incredibly lucky; that I’m able to walk, I’m able to still be involved in football and that I can have a normal life. Just without playing football.”
Hunter reflects how, in early transition from playing life, he resented a life less ordinary.
“You’re going from a 20-year-old AFL footballer to a uni student that’s having to do his plan B,” he says.
“I remember days crying to Mum just saying ‘I’m not going to uni’ because I hated it.”
Gaining a teaching degree, however, has seen Hunter fuse dual passions of education and football - through coaching.
Hunter details physical pain he experienced in the initial aftermath of what were career-ending collisions when he was a Collingwood player.
He also discusses the fulfilling experience of coaching women - something of a personal and professional revelation given he originally envisaged himself pursuing work developing male footballers.