Giant standing on the shoulders of NFL
Aaron Sandilands will run out against Carlton at Subiaco tomorrow night wearing boots made for American gridiron players.
It’s not that the AFL’s tallest player is doing anything special to protect a foot injury which kept him out of the past three matches as Fremantle prepares to make up to a dozen changes to the side humiliated by Hawthorn last week.
At 211cm and 122kg the Dockers’ ruckman has found the best way to cover his oversized body is to order everything online from the United States, size-18 footy boots included.
“They’re like a gridiron-style boot,” Sandilands told The Australian yesterday. “The grip on them is reasonably similar and there are that many different styles of boots out there now nothing’s normal.”
The son of a ruckman from Mt Barker in the West Australian wheat belt, there is an obvious advantage of being so tall as an AFL footballer, which is highlighted by being named All-Australian ruckman for the past two seasons and Fremantle’s best and fairest last year.
“The disadvantages are probably getting used to the comments you get from people about your height. Because you’re so tall, you do stand out a bit,” Sandilands said.
“It wasn’t so much through school. More so once you get to a certain height people recognise you from your height. I’ve always been skinny and reasonably tall. I just kept growing.”
For the long flights in and out of Perth with the Dockers every second weekend, the club organises an exit row for extra leg room and hotel rooms with a king size bed.
Yet for all his height advantages as a footballer, it took Sandilands, 27, three or four years to begin making a significant impact on the competition.
That in part may have been due to missing 18 months of football because of stress fractures in the back at a crucial stage of his development, although they have not troubled him since.
Overlooked in the 2002 draft, Sandilands was working with his father in the family lawn-mowing business when the call from Fremantle came through that he had been rookie-listed and they wanted him down at the club straight away.
“I couldn’t even give the old man two weeks’ notice,” Sandilands laughed.
He puts his improvement down to that magic formula of time and hard work.
“It takes you a while to learn the game, learn positioning and all that sort of stuff,” he said. “You gain confidence from all the pre-seasons you do and you feel like you belong out there.”
Having established himself as the competition’s premier ruckman, Sandilands continues to work on his versatility pushing forward to be dangerous in front of goal.
“It’s an always an area of your game you want to improve on so you’re not just known as a tap ruckman,” he said. Sandilands has kicked 12 goals in 18 games this season to have 59 from 153 games.
At a time of the season when Fremantle is usually planning its Mad Monday celebrations after another disappointing season, the Dockers are assured of playing just a third finals series in their 16-year history.
Victory tomorrow night will ensure a Fremantle home final.
“It’s nice to be still playing footy and still playing for something,” he said, defending the decision to rest a host of senior players last weekend. The Dockers lost to Hawthorn by 116 points in Launceston. “The guys who played all the season so far needed a rest.
“It’s going to be a sell-out with our home crowd there. We’re really looking forward to playing some good footy and getting the crowd involved.”