• MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - APRIL 02: Neville Jetta and Alex Neal-Bullen of the Demons. (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images) (Getty Images AsiaPac)Source: Getty Images AsiaPac
Melbourne Demons AFL defender Neville Jetta wants young Indigenous men to talk more with the support networks around them, in order to help them chase their dreams.
By
Will Davies

8 Apr 2017 - 9:47 AM  UPDATED 8 Apr 2017 - 9:47 AM

One of the more important thing players can do to succeed on the sports field is communicate with teammates around them.

But it’s talking off the field that Melbourne Demons defender Neville Jetta wants more young men to do, in order to help them manage the problems they are facing.

“The more the players open up about the issues, the more the AFL and the AFLPA and the clubs can help,” he told NITV ahead of his appearance on The Marngrook Footy Show on Thursday night.

Jetta is only too aware of how hard it can be for a young Indigenous man to leave his community and travel across the country to chase his dream of being a professional footballer.

From Bunbury in Western Australia, Jetta was drafted by Melbourne as an 18-year-old in 2008.

“It’s definitely tough,” he said of the move.

“I know a lot of boys have done the trip and (there’s been) a lot of success and a lot hasn’t gone to plan or how they’ve seen it (going).

“But it’s a big experience to be able to move when you’re 18 and you’re leaving pretty much your whole community behind, everyone that’s sort of supported you and looked after you throughout your footy and your schooling and just your growing up and the stages that you go through.

“To leave all that behind is definitely tough. I’m probably one of the lucky ones, having my parents move over in my first year, to sort of get me through those teething stages.

“Also I got drafted with Jamie Bennell and we were living together for the first year and yeah, it helped so much.

“I dare say if they weren’t over here I probably would have found it a lot tougher than a lot of the other boys and worst case scenario I might have gone back home as well.”

Being so aware of the difficulties of such a big upheaval and being thankful for the support he has had, Jetta is motivated to help others establish similarly positive networks.

“I feel like we’ve come a long way from when I first started and I feel like we’re closing that gap and we’re almost there,” said Jetta, who is a member of an advisory board for the AFL Players’ Association.

“Obviously we’re still going to get the one, or two (who return home early), but I think the numbers of Aboriginal players in the game at the moment are as high as they’ve been for a while.”

As part of his work with the AFLPA, the 27-year-old organises camps for Indigenous players, setting up a forum for them to give feedback and to have an open conversation.

“There’s definitely stuff we’re doing and the best thing about it is the players are driving it now and that’s sort of where we wanted to get to,” he said.

“I know past players that have pushed really hard like Adam Goodes and Nathan Lovett-Murray and Aaron Davey and these sorts of guys that have gone before us.

“They’re the ones that drove it and now the players are driving it themselves which is awesome.”

On Saturday against Geelong, Jetta will play his 97th AFL game for Melbourne – a club he is grateful to be at and keen to repay the faith to in the form of on-field success.

Having been on what he describes as a roller coaster ride since being drafted, the Noongar man says the thought of notching up game number 100 in a few weeks’ time makes him proud of the great support his wife Samantha, five-year-old daughter Nalani, two-year-old son Kyree, and wider network provide him.

"It's me not only representing myself, (but) the footy club and also my family and the stuff my wife and my kids have gone through with me,” he explained.

“And also my family back home and my community - yeah I probably wouldn't be where I am without them.

“They continue to inspire me to improve as a football player and I feel like I've still got a lot of good footy left in me and a hundred is, yeah, that sort of step to give me the belief that I belong in the AFL.

“Also it's something that I'll probably reflect on later in life and also give my son an opportunity (through the father-son rule), whether he chooses to play footy or not, that'll be there for him.

“Very proud of my achievements to date and we'll continue to work hard to get to 150 and if I'm lucky enough, (then) 200 and (onwards).

“A great achievement, but I'm still trying to improve and get better every day.”

Hear more from Neville Jetta by watching Thursday’s episode of The Marngrook Footy Show via NITV’s catch-up service on the SBS website here - http://www.sbs.com.au/ondemand/program/the-marngrook-footy-show.