'Doc' Relishing Second Life Back at Swan Districts

Friday, April 13, 2018 - 3:34 PM by Chris Pike

NATHAN Blakely was resigned to the fact he may have played his last WAFL game two years ago when he required a second knee reconstruction, but he is now back at Swan Districts in 2018 and couldn't be happier to be sharing the ruck duties with Swan Medallist Corey Gault.

Blakely was just coming into his own as the No. 1 ruckman at Swan Districts by the start of the 2016 season. He had 43 WAFL games under his belt and was entering the prime years.

But when his knee gave way at the very first centre bounce of the season at East Fremantle Oval against East Fremantle, not only did it set the tone for a two-win wooden spoon season for Swan Districts, but it might have ended his career too.

Blakely was always going to take 2017 off from football to focus on completing his studies to become a doctor and then begin his career.

That ended up happening and he enjoyed the experience even working for a time in Port Hedland, but the urge was still there to give WAFL football one more chance with Swan Districts in 2018.

The now 25-year-old got through the pre-season, his body was holding up well and the motivation was there to add to 43-game career.

Then there was the added obstacle that the reigning Swan Medal winner at Swans was the ruckman from 2017, Corey Gault, so Blakely needed to find a spot in the team too under new coach Adam Pickering.

However, that problem has now turned into a strength for Swans with Gault able to spend time playing as a key forward with Blakely holding down the ruck duties with them also able to swap positions throughout the game.

That has been a big factor in Swans' wins against Perth and Peel Thunder to open the season with Blakely tremendous with 16 possessions, four tackles and 28 hit outs against the Demons, and 15 touches, five tackles and 21 hit outs against the Thunder.

Blakely couldn’t be happier that his dream of returning to the field for Swan Districts has eventuated, but after two knee reconstructions the nerves haven’t evaporated just yet.

"I always said that at the start of this pre-season if my knee was feeling good I'd give it a try and if I get through it, I'll try and play as long as the club, work and my body all balanced. So far it's worked out and now I'm very happy to be playing again," Blakely told 91.3 SportFM.

"Bloody oath there were some nerves and there will probably still be plenty of nerves there as we get into the season. I don't think you can ever get that really out of your mind, but I know the risk and I'm playing footy because I love it. I'm back into it now and I'm just happy to be back out there."

Looking back to Round 1, 2016, it's a day that Blakely felt his career might have ended but he quickly turned to positive thinking about doing all the right things rehabbing his knee and focusing on his medical studies.

"It was the opening bounce and I had a pretty good pre-season and felt like I was coming into a bit more of my prime after playing about 40 games by then," he said.

"Then at the first bounce I don’t know if I stood on the guy's foot or not, but I hurt my knee, and I was a bit worried it was my second one and I did my first one back in the colts when it was my draft year.

"I was pretty devastated and that day I thought I might never pull a Swan Districts jumper on again. I thought two knees might be enough and it was a pretty sad day for myself and my family. But things changed, you move on and you never know what the future might hold."

Blakely has noticed a real feeling of excitement at Swan Districts in 2018 as well.

That is because of the positivity built in 2017 where they returned to finals action under Greg Harding. Now with Adam Pickering arriving as the new coach, Blakely has noticed things pick up another level again.

"There's a breath of fresh air feeling at the club this year and Adam coming in gives us a completely new perspective on football. We've got this new game plan and basically are having tutorial sessions where he quizzes us," Blakely said.

"And even during the game in our huddles he will ask us different aspects of our game plan and if we are hitting our KPI's.

"It's a bit of a new-age way of coaching and I don’t think back in the day John Todd would have been asking for feedback from his players, he would have been giving a bit more of a spray.

"But I guess this generation needs a bit more comforting and giving response back to the coach. It's just something completely different and it's good."

Gault had a tremendous season carrying the ruck for Swans in 2017 going on to win the club's fairest and best award while also being named to the wafl.com.au Team of the Year.

But Blakely's return has meant they can split their time between playing in the ruck and up forward, and it's been working a treat so far.

"A few boys have been teasing me because he was named WAFL ruckman of the year and then I come back and kick him out of his position, or maybe I just can't play anywhere else. But it's been able to free him up, which is good, and he's such a flexible player," he said.

"If things more went his way at Collingwood I dare say he would have made a bigger impact there if it wasn’t for injuries.

"He played a bit of back-line in the pre-season and now forward too, and I think you'll see him go back and forward throughout the year. Gaulty is a good mate of mine and I'm looking forward to hitting the year hard with him."

Blakely is also enjoying the new-look midfield he has at his feet so far in 2018. That includes familiar faces like Matt Riggio and Adam Faulkner, but then new arrivals Rhys Palmer and Steven Payne, and youngsters like Ethan Maguire.

"Riggio and Faulkner I have worked with them pretty much my whole WAFL career but Palmer and Payne are new to the club and it's very exciting. We all know Rhys Palmer's accolades and he's going to provide great entertainment for us on the football field," he said.

"Then we have some young guys like Ethan Maguire. I grew up with him and he's basically like my younger brother's best mate so it's great to play football with him, he's a good Bunbury boy. I'm really enjoying every minute of it at the moment."

Blakely also couldn't be happier with his life balance right now between his work as a junior doctor and getting back to playing at Swan Districts.

"I really embrace my career and love every minute of it, and it has given me lots of opportunities to go all over the world," Blakely said.

"I worked a bit up north in Port Hedland for last year for three or four months which was really good and I get to have these opportunities that I'm very lucky to have. I'm fortunate as well that I'm able to balance my footy career with medicine now as well."