The alarm goes off at 4:45am on Sunday. Time to get out of bed, have some breakfast and jump in the shower. For Gold Coast SUNS Academy players, this is the usual for an away match day.
The Gold Coast SUNS Academy Under 18M team recently travelled down to Melbourne to battle it out with the Victorian clubs in the Coates Talent League.
The most recent match against Northern Knights on Sunday was the SUNS Academy’s fourth consecutive away trip by the Under 18 team.
Being a part of the Academy is a great opportunity for the players to develop their skills and have a shot at achieving their dream of playing in the AFL.
But the match day schedule for the Academy teams is not an easy ride.
After waking up before sunrise and grabbing their SUNS Academy shirt from the dryer (only remembering it needed to be washed the night before), players hit the road by 6:30am.
Unless the player has their driver’s licence, mum and/or dad are the chauffeur to the airport.
Arriving at the airport before 7:30, it’s time to meet up with the rest of the team and the SUNS Academy staff.
Making their way through security after being checked in, there’s a small window of free time to grab some snacks, or a sandwich to keep in your bag for lunchtime.
The Virgin Australia boarding calls comes at 8:35.
The two hour and 25 minute flight to Melbourne gives the young guns a chance to settle the nerves by pumping their favourite tunes through their headphones, play video games, or chat with their mates.
For some, it is an opportunity to catch up on homework or study for school or university exams – such is the nature of being a young, aspiring footballer.
It’s not easy juggling full-time school and university with the demands of a high performance environment like the SUNS Academy, necessary to prepare players for what it’s like at the top level.
The plane arrives into Melbourne Airport at 11:20am, and once all of the Academy bags have been collected from the baggage claim, the Murray’s Coach is waiting just outside to take the team to the venue for the day’s match.
The bus arrives at the Highgate Recreating Reserve in Craigieburn at 12:45, and the nerves start to really kick in now.
NT Thunder have made the big trip down from Darwin and are facing off against home side Calder Cannons.
The players are very keen to see how the other prospects in the Coates Talent League are playing. The NT Thunder in particular, as they are the SUNS Academy’s next opponent.
There’s some time to tuck into the lunch you packed and try to keep warm in the 15 degree weather at the ground, before the team meeting.
Academy Coach Jarrod Cotton calls the boys for a team meeting at 1:00pm. Who’s playing in what position, the game plan for today and that all important inspirational speech to rev the team up.
Once the team meetings are done and dusted, the players begin their own preparations. Stretch, weigh-in, change into warm-up gear and get their strapping done by the team physio.
The final siren goes in the NT Thunder v Calder Cannons match. Now it’s the SUNS’ turn to head out on to the field for a warm up.
It’s also the first time the players and coaches get to have a look at their opposition for today, the Northern Knights.
Final changes are made to the line-up and the bench with the whole team including staff huddling on the field. It’s cold, but the players are keen to get moving and rip in to their opposition.
The first bounce goes off at 2:30pm and the match is underway.
Back in the shed, Coach Cotton debriefs the players. Then it’s time for a weigh-out.
Players can lose as much as two kilograms in games at this level. Academy player Jai Murray said he loses more weight after a game in the Queensland heat, but the talent down here is another thing all together.
Pizza is delivered for the team to get stuck into post-match. It’s the one meal during the week where players don’t have to worry about what food they are putting into their body. Replacing calories lost is the key here and Hawaiian and Super Supreme are the favourites amongst the players.
The team jump back on the bus at 5:30pm and head off to Melbourne Airport for the flight back home.
There’s a long wait for the flight home which leaves at 8:10pm, so many of the boys grab something extra for dinner and catch up with the coaches about their performance and any tips on improving their game.
Once on the plane, it’s another two hours and 15 minutes before touchdown in Coolangatta.
For debutant Ben O’Brien, it’s a chance to catch up on his uni notes. The country player has a law exam the next morning at 8:00am.
The plane lands on the Gold Coast at 10:15pm, and by 10:45 they’re in the car and heading home, finally getting to bed just before midnight.
For young players like Leo Lombard and Beau Addinsall, term 2 of school starts tomorrow, but for others they have work or uni.
SUNS Academy Manager Kath Newman said it’s a big commitment for all of the SUNS Academy players.
“Away trips are a great chance for us to measure ourselves against the Victorian teams and travel is a big part of being a professional footballer so it’s great to give our players that experience early on in their careers,” Newman said.
“For the players, it’s also a chance to prove themselves and put their names forward for selection for the Allies in the Under 18 National Championships later in the year.
“We have players who have relocated from north Queensland to be a part of the squad which shows there are pathways available for players across our entire Academy zone.
“It’s a big commitment from these young men and our volunteer staff to be involved in the SUNS Academy but we are striving to create the best possible program for them to pursue their footballing futures.”