Lachie Hunter didn’t want to give up the vice-captaincy of the Western Bulldogs.
A statement issued by the club last year, days after Hunter drunkenly crashed into four parked cars, may have stated he stepped down from the leadership position. But it was a decision that devastated him.
Western Bulldog Lachie Hunter.Credit:Getty Images
So it has taken some grit and will for Hunter to turn his career around. At 26, he’s just four quarters away from being a two-time premiership player.
The events following an argument with his partner in April last year were expensive for Hunter. He was fined $1652 for breaching COVID-19 restrictions and had to foot the bill for the repairs to the parked cars, estimated to be well north of $100,000.
But it was being stripped of his newly found position of leadership at his place of employment that cost him the most.
By and large, footballers are a microcosm of society. It’s not a question of if they will make errors, but when.
‘It’s one thing to deal with what you’ve done yourself and internalise that, but then I see the pain on my partner’s face.’
But the degrees of praise and condemnation far exceed those for any regular person. The price footballers pay for their mistakes is public humiliation.
“It’s one thing to deal with what you’ve done yourself and internalise that, but then I see the pain on my partner’s face. I can see how I’ve let teammates down, my family down,” Hunter told The Age from his quarantine hub in East Fremantle.
“I wasn’t ready for that. From there you’ve really only got one way you can go and that’s up. You’ve got to become a better person, a better partner and a better teammate.”
Greek philosopher Epictetus, who was born into slavery, once reflected: “It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters”.
So, how did Hunter react to losing the vice-captaincy?
“There’s not one concrete answer,” he said.
“From a really bad situation, all you can do is try to be the best person, the best teammate, the best partner you can be and more often than not that will result in you playing good, consistent footy.
“Those things seem to overlap, the core values that you need to be a good bloke overlaps with playing good footy.
“I just wanted to go about my life in a way that would positively impact people, really.”
The hardship has helped mould him into the person he was striving to become, but the loss still cuts deep.
“I wouldn’t say I’m happier as a person because I love footy, I think I see the game very well and I love impacting my teammates positively, so it was always a role I was very proud of.
“But whether or not that will ever happen … whether or not I even deserve to be, I’m not sure. It’s not really something I spend a great deal of time thinking about because right now I’m thinking about just being a player.”
There are several similarities between the Bulldogs’ finals run of 2021 and their premiership tilt in 2016.
On both occasions they finished outside the top four and had to travel around the country during September, arriving at matches almost always as the underdogs.
Jake Stringer and Lachie Hunter celebrate the Bulldogs’ 2016 premiership together.Credit:Darrian Traynor
In 2016, Hunter played a dominant role, playing all 26 games and polling 13 Brownlow votes. He had benefited from a position change from half-forward to the wing.
In just his fourth season, Hunter had gone from a talented flanker to an eye-catching ball magnet.
Five years later, Hunter is still being thrown around. Having trained as a wingman for the pre-season, coach Luke Beveridge approached him in the build-up to round one and asked Hunter to switch to being a forward.
The Dogs were still searching for a small forward and Cody Weightman was yet to be discovered.
“The evolution of our team changes year to year. Everyone knows that ‘Bevo’ isn’t shy to throw the magnets around,” Hunter said with a smile.
Josh Kennedy attempts to tackle Lachie Hunter.Credit:Getty Images
“Personally, I thought that I was on the wing and that I’d found my spot and that was kind of it, but we are always searching for ways we can get better.”
As the year went on, Weightman exploded on to the scene, Laitham Vandermeer became a regular selection and 2016 Norm Smith medallist Jason Johanissen was used forward of the ball. Hunter found himself back on the wing.
An elite endurance runner and supreme decision-maker, Hunter prides himself on his ability to read the play.
“That split second, that moment of hesitation, is where I think I get a lot of advantage,” he said.
He also happens to regularly find himself on the “better” wing, where Marcus Bontempelli, Tom Liberatore and close mate Jack Macrae often locate him by hand or foot.
“It’s just nice that they all happen to be left-footers,” Hunter chuckled, “so they all tend to come out to the left wing a little bit more.”
Maybe one day Hunter will return to a position of leadership for the Bulldogs.
Win or lose on Saturday, nothing can take away from Hunter’s story of redemption. But a second premiership medallion would certainly make for a symbolic chapter.
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