IT’S late on a Friday night at the Parkview Hotel in St Kilda Rd and I’m waiting to have a chat with Fremantle ruckman Aaron Sandilands.

The lift opens and out steps Sandilands, towering over everyone in the foyer, especially me.

If anyone deserves to have a swagger about them and an air of confidence, it is the Dockers big man, with what he has achieved with his football over the past few years.

But once we sit down and start talking, the 27-year-old comes across as a big country kid who is a little bit embarrassed by the fame and attention that our game has brought him.

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He strikes me as a person who likes to go about his business with the minimum of fuss.

He wants to be just another face in the crowd – which is almost impossible when you happen to stand 211cm and you are the best ruckman in the competition.

SHANE CRAWFORD: Aaron, congratulations on your season to date, you really must be enjoying your football.

AARON SANDILANDS: Yeah, it is going well for us. We’ve been getting some wins on the board, so hopefully we can keep playing good footy and see what happens.

SC: It’s the mid-year break. You have played a lot of football over the past few years and you have had plenty of game time this year. Have you still got a bit of petrol left in the tank for the second half of the year?

AS: The body is feeling good at the moment. The physios and the fitness staff are managing that pretty well. I have been getting a fair bit of game time, but I would much rather be out on the ground than sitting on the bench.

SC: Fremantle is going very well too. It must be pretty exciting at the club after a few frustrating years.

AS: Yeah, definitely. We have got some really exciting young players coming through at the moment and it is exciting to see them playing good footy.

SC: If you had to choose one of those young players, which one would you put your hand up for and why?

AS: Tough question, but I would say Michael Barlow. It’s just probably the fact that he is in the midfield and he has become better and better as the weeks go by.

SC: You’re a product of the rookie draft (pick No.33 in 2002) and Barlow’s a product of it (pick No.8 in 2009). You must be a big fan of the rookie system.

AS: Yeah, it’s a great thing for the AFL. It’s awesome to see someone like Micky Barlow sneak through the system and, at age of 22, be picked up on the rookie list. He realised it was going to be his last chance and he has made the most of his opportunities. He has taken that chance with both hands and he has been great for us.

SC: Your coach Mark Harvey was under a lot of pressure at the start of the season. Now he’s in line for coach of the year honours and he has a new contract. How has he turned it around so quickly?

AS: ‘Harvs’ has brought a lot of youth into the side over the past couple of years and it has made a real difference. We had a disappointing year last season. But a lot of those kids got plenty of game time and I think it is starting to show in their footy now. ‘Harvs’ has backed them in and we are starting to get the rewards.

SC: Tell me about your captain, Matty Pavlich. People over here in Victoria are not too sure whether he is on a par with Nick Riewoldt or Jonathan Brown. But if you look at the stats, he has got to be right up there.

AS: Definitely. He doesn’t get as much recognition as he should. But he has been a class player for the footy club for a long time. Pav is a six-time All-Australian and five-time best and fairest. That’s an amazing effort.

SC: Who’s going to win this year’s Brownlow Medal?

AS: I’d go for Pav.

SC: What about your own game? Are you aware that opposition midfielders sometimes worry more about what you are doing than what their own ruckman is up to?

AS: I think at times there is a little bit of that. But we try to do our best to mix things up a bit as much as we can. Sides do a fair bit of homework into where we hit the ball. But we try to change it up.

SC: A lot of ruckmen are criticised for not making the right decisions when they dispose of the ball. Why are you such a good kick?

AS: Probably because I handball more than I kick (laughs).

SC: Nice answer. But when you dispose of the ball, you always seem to hit a target. Is that something you practised a lot when you were a kid?

AS: I don’t think I have ever been asked that question. I did a fair amount of work on my skill levels in my early days at the club. I suppose the more work you do on your kicking, the better you become.

SC: There has always been a fair bit of hometown rivalry between the Dockers and the Eagles. Do you guys like the fact the Eagles are struggling at the moment?

AS: That’s a good question (laughs). It’s a hard one to answer. I suppose it is good when both WA sides are going well. The last couple of years we haven’t been doing so well. But I am sure that things will turn around for them soon.

SC: Every club worries about how they are going to tackle Aaron Sandilands, but which ruckmen have troubled you the most over the years?

AS: They are all pretty good. In previous years, probably the ruck combination of (Port Adelaide’s) Brendon Lade and Dean Brogan. I would say having both of them was tough. They worked well together and spent plenty of time out on the ground. As a combination, they would have been the hardest two.

SC: How has life changed for you since becoming an AFL player?

AS: It hasn’t changed a massive amount. I’ve always liked working outside and I am glad I still get the chance to do that. I suppose the travel factor has been the most interesting thing for me to get used to. I was never on a plane before getting picked up by Fremantle.

It was my first time outside WA, so I have been lucky enough to see a fair amount of Australia, as well as travelling overseas.

SC: Are you married?

AS: Engaged.

SC: And it is going well. Obviously.

AS: (Laughs). She said yes, so that’s a good thing.

SC: Are you a romantic type?

AS: Not at all.

SC: As a young kid growing up, what sports did you play other than football?

AS: I actually grew up on a farm in country WA. I had a crack at tennis and cricket in the summer. But football has probably always been the sport that I loved the most. Football was probably the social event of the weekend.

SC: What about the country life? Do you see yourself and your future wife heading back to the bush at the end of your AFL career?

AS: The country is a great place to grow up. I think eventually it would be nice to get back and spend some time there.

SC: … when you have some kids?

AS: Well, if I have some kids!

SC: Mate, you can’t beat having kids. It doesn’t get any better than that. Other than Fremantle, which teams do you enjoy watching the most?

AS: Probably over the last couple of years, the sides I have enjoyed watching have been the best ones, Geelong and St Kilda. Geelong play a really exciting brand of football, so if I had to make a choice, it would be Geelong.

SC: Who will play off in the Grand Final if Freo doesn’t make it?

AS: Collingwood and Geelong.

SC: Tell us who you barracked for when you were growing up.

AS: I was a big Geelong fan as a kid. Gary Ablett Sr and Bill Brownless were my two favourite players.

SC: Gee, I am never going to hear the end of that from Billy! Aaron, thanks so much for your time. Good luck for the rest of the season.

AS: No worries, thanks Crawf.


SC: Aaron, what’s the most common thing people say to you?

AS: It’s probably to do with the height factor.

SC: Does it drive you nuts?

AS: It does at times. Some people think that they are the only ones to come up and say things about my height to me. They don’t realise that everybody does it.

SC: I used to get the same thing about being short. I still do. People come up to me and say, ‘Gee, you are small’. And some people used to say, ‘You look like Shane Crawford, but you can’t be because he wouldn’t be that small’. As a footballer, what’s your biggest asset?

AS: Well, that would have to be my size.

SC: What about your weakness?

AS: There is a lot of them, but I don’t want to give any of them away.

SC: Is it true that Luc Longley – being a big man – used to lend you some of his clothes?

AS: Yeah, in the early days I got to spend a fair bit of time with Luc. He helped us out big time. He gave me a couple of liberties for shoes and clothes over in America. So he was a great help in finding stuff for me. Now I have shoes and jeans that fit.

SC: No doubt you would sit up the front of the plane?

AS: At times. Every now and then I sneak down the front.

SC: That’s fair enough, I reckon.

AS: I definitely get the exit row when I can.

SC: Can you believe that even I try to get the exit row! What about the interstate games – the flights, not sleeping in your own bed, and all that sort of stuff. Does that unsettle you or are you used to it now?

AS: I think you just get into a routine. In the early days it was hard to get used to and it was hard to get yourself up for games interstate. But the more you do it, the more you realise what works for you and what doesn’t. It just becomes part of the norm.

SC: A lot of players take their own pillows. Do you take anything along with you?

AS: No. As long as I have a king-size bed, I am quite happy.

SC: Is that big enough for you?

AS: Yeah, I sleep diagonal across it. That keeps me asleep.

SC: I’ve got a king-size bed, but I have to get a step ladder to actually get into it.

AS: (Laughs).

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