Matthew Suckling: ‘I’m very excited and expecting boos’

Round three brings a match-up against my old side for the first time.

I’m very excited – and somewhat nervous.

My time so far at the Bulldogs has been as expected. I have enjoyed being part of a wonderful club with so many great people and I couldn’t have asked for a smoother transition.

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At the start of pre-season, in late 2014 at Hawthorn, free agency wasn’t on my mind. I had won my first premiership just months before and I was focused on regaining fitness after minor knee surgery in the off-season.

Throughout that summer, several people asked if I would explore the prospect. I seriously didn’t think I’d leave Hawthorn. I was very happy and I had a great group of mates.

Suckling enjoys the celebrations after the 2015 Grand Final. Photo: Getty

Suckling enjoys the celebrations after the 2015 Grand Final. Photo: Getty

Leading into the 2015 season, I sat down with my manager and we decided that free agency talks would be put on hold until mid-season. I was focused on playing good footy.

But the morning before our huge Anzac Day game against Port Adelaide at Adelaide Oval, I woke to a missed call from Chris Fagan, the general manager of football operations at Hawthorn.

I called Chris back and he said an article had been written about me that speculated my management had received offers from other clubs, of which I was unaware.

We discussed the fact that holding talks would invite speculation and he asked if I was comfortable with that. I thought it would be fine.

‘I felt guilty’

I have always put a high price on my relationships with people and I remember feeling guilty that night, after talking to Chris.

I began to think about the ramifications of this speculation. I started asking myself questions like: What do the boys think of me? What about the coaches? Will the supporters understand?

I played poorly against Port Adelaide. And, for the next month, I struggled for form.

I don’t know if I was playing poorly because of the external noise but I did learn that I should have sought guidance about how to deal with it instead of losing sleep over it.

A mid-season discussion with coach Alastair Clarkson, two of my great mates in Luke Breust and Jack Gunston, and Sam Mitchell, who has been fantastic over my career, was pivotal in kick-starting my 2015.

Suckling is mobbed following his famous goal after the three-quarter-time siren in the 2015 preliminary final. Photo: Getty

Suckling is mobbed following his famous goal after the three-quarter-time siren in the 2015 preliminary final. Photo: Getty

We spoke very openly about the whole situation and said whatever was going to happen was going to happen.

Everything I had been worrying about was now cleared up.

It was time to forget the ordinary form and remember that I shouldn’t have these feelings of guilt – as this was now a part of the AFL landscape.

From that point on, I had a very consistent season, arguably playing my best two games in a semi-final and preliminary final.

All of Grand Final week, the day itself and the celebrations were just simply amazing. They will always be some of the sweetest memories in my life.

‘I had to decide’

The Peter Crimmins Medal night (Hawthorn’s best & fairest) was a week after our premiership win – and also the day I had to make a decision on where I would play my football in 2016.

After meeting with the Western Bulldogs that week, I decided I was going to move there. It’s hopefully going to be my home for many years.

It was such a hard decision, but I saw an opportunity to enjoy more success and grow as a player and a person.

I was so fortunate to play under a coach like Alastair Clarkson. Calling ‘Clarko’ with the news of my departure was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.

Fortunately, he and the club were very supportive. I’m so glad I was able to leave on good terms.

Now, to Sunday. I’m expecting a few hellos at Etihad Stadium, some choice words and plenty of boos – but hopefully a win.

Matthew Suckling currently plays for the Western Bulldogs, having crossed from Hawthorn in the off-season. He played 102 matches for the Hawks and won two premierships.


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