Circular Head local Ryan Gardner booted his first AFL goal in Perth, Western Australia on Sunday, after just six days on the Western Bulldogs’ playing list.
Gardner was initially taken in by the Geelong Cats with pick 59 in the 2015 NAB AFL Draft, but was delisted at the end of 2018 without debuting at senior level.
“It’s a cut throat industry,” Gardner says.
“One week you’re close to getting a game and the next you’re miles off, even though you haven’t done anything wrong or differently.”
After being delisted, Gardner took time to reflect on his time at the Cats before deciding to continue his VFL career with Footscray.
“In hindsight there’s no better club I could have gone to,” he says.
“They were so welcoming down there which made it heaps easier.”
Footscray and the Western Bulldogs train at the same facility, giving Gardner time to get to know a few of the boys and to talk with the Dogs’ senior coach Luke Beveridge.
For the first time since 1993, the AFL brought back the Mid-Season Rookie Draft and with million dollar man Tom Boyd retiring in the lead up, the Bulldogs had a Gardner shaped hole on their list.
Though he had some idea that he was a shoe-in for a spot on the list, last Monday morning made for a nervous wait.
Later that night, the Dogs picked up Ryan at pick six. The very next day, Gardner was told he was off to Perth to take on the reigning premiers: West Coast Eagles.
He adjusted to AFL competition seamlessly, having nine disposals and two shots at goal during his round 11 debut.
“The biggest learning curve was the physicality of the contests and the pace and crispness of the ball movement,” he says.
“The players are a lot cleaner in possession, so if you fumble you leave yourself vulnerable. You have to be ‘on’ all the time.”
With four minutes left to run in the last quarter, Gardner broke away from All-Australian defender Jeremy McGovern to get on the end of a piercing entry ball from premiership Bulldog Jason Johannisen.
Though the Dogs were down by 67 and the game was out of reach, Gardner was determined to kick his first goal having missed a snap that would’ve put the Dogs in the lead early in the match.
He steadied himself on the mark and put it on the barrel, slotting his first from 45 metres out, directly in front.
Heading into the bye, Gardner will enjoy a few days off before finding out if he will face the Carlton Blues on Saturday June 15.
Western Bulldogs recruit Ryan Gardner was mauled by teammates after kicking his first goal at AFL level against the West Coast Eagles on Sunday.