After joining the Gold Coast SUNS through the 2018 Supplemental Selection Period (SSP), Chris Burgess spoke to AFLPlayers.com.au about his first few months on the Gold Coast and his unique journey to the AFL.
It’s been a whirlwind six or so months for you. How have you settled into life at the elite level?
Everyone at the club is really welcoming so it’s made it really easy for all of the boys who arrived in the off-season to settle in. It’s been a big step-up compared to the SANFL in terms of the fitness levels, speed of the game and the size of the bodies. I think going through my pre-season program and doing my weights and all that has held me in good stead.
You’re from SA and have now moved to the Gold Coast and are settling in up here. How has that process been for you?
I lived with Callum Ah Chee for my first two months up here and so he was able to show me around and that really helped with getting settled in. I’ve since moved into an apartment with my girlfriend so I’ve had to learn to cook and fend for myself a bit more (laughs) but it hasn’t been too challenging.
Coming into an AFL environment, did you put any pressure or level of expectation on yourself to perform early on?
Not really, I was pretty happy to see where this season took me and take each day as it comes. Obviously, I trained as hard as I could and asked a lot of questions and met up with coaches but I didn’t have any expectation of making a Round 1 debut or playing those first five games in a row.
At what point last year did you begin discussions with Gold Coast? The SSP was new to the AFL and I imagine made it a little bit different in the way you went about meetings…
I had a few discussions with clubs and met with Gold Coast halfway through the year but didn’t mention the SSP during that time. I was really just thinking towards the draft or the rookie draft. Later on in the year they mentioned it and then it started from there. It was a huge relief to not have to sit and wait for my name to be called out at the draft. It was exciting to be able to tell my family and friends before the draft even happened that I was going to be on an AFL list.
Before moving to the SANFL you were playing in the amateurs. What do you think changed for you in terms of your football and own development to now find yourself playing for the Suns?
I probably never had being drafted in the back of my mind growing up. Being dropped when I was 14 from Woodville-West Torrens meant I just focussed on starting to enjoy football for what it was. I played Amateurs until I was 18 and then was able to go to West Adelaide for a session after a trial session. When I got there I wanted to see how far I could take my footy and it worked out pretty well in my favour!
Your road to the AFL hasn’t followed a typical pathway, how did you manage those setbacks? Did it become about not putting too much pressure on yourself?
I’m pretty hard on myself when it comes to footy if I underperform but I’m relaxed about most other things in my life and I think that’s probably helped me when it comes to dealing with pressure. I try and relax myself and that helps me through those moments.
You were a swingman in the SANFL but have settled more into a forward role at Gold Coast. Where do you feel you’re able to play your best football?
It’s a hard one but I played in the backline most of my career so I feel comfortable knowing how to play there but I’d love to play forward. I’m still learning where and when to lead but I think playing at either end of the ground has positives and negatives for me.
Has there been someone mentoring you in that role?
Not anyone specifically but I’ve been working closely with the forward coaches (Ashley Prescott) who have been giving me advice on leading patterns, where to go and what I’m doing right and areas I can improve. On game day, the senior players have been really helpful in setting up structures and sharing that advice.
Away from football, you were a teacher before joining the Suns. Can you tell me a little bit about your teaching career?
I really enjoy teaching and enjoyed it for the six months that I was able to do it last year. It’s definitely something I’d want to do after football. I had great teachers when I was younger and they left a great impression on me. It was always going to be teaching or physiotherapy and after trying some physio subjects at school it wasn’t something I really enjoyed so I moved to the teaching side of things. I was teaching Physical Education and Science to high school students, which was different given I’m still 23!
What does your life away from the football field and outside of your role as a teacher look like?
I haven’t been up to too much up here – it’s been more about settling in. I like to shoot hoops with a few of the boys and so we’ll often head down to the park and do that or go to the beach and enjoy the great weather that comes with it.