Brave Silvagni breaks the pain barrier for Dockers
Despite missing the first 12 games of the season, there was to be no gently easing back into the AFL for Alex Silvagni.
With veteran full-back Antoni Grover out with injury, and defensive linchpin Luke McPharlin breaking down with a groin injury and subbed out at half-time against Brisbane in Round 14, Silvagni was the Dockers’ only recognised key defender left, as their season went on the line.
Mark Harvey’s pre-match plan to sub Silvagni out of the contest went out the window, with the mature-age success story sent to match-up champion spearhead Jonathan Brown.
The 23-year-old was equal to the challenge, keeping Brown goalless for the remainder of the night, as the Dockers recorded a vital come-from-behind victory.
“You train pretty hard when you’re in rehab, so it’s a good base to come back into,” Silvagni said of his seamless re-entry into the game.
“You also do a lot of mental work outside of all the physical work, so it helps you prepare,”
“You plan for all sorts of scenarios, and worst-case scenarios. So it’s good experience and it was a job I had to do.”
It was a night that will be remembered for Matthew Pavlich’s five goals, as the skipper burst back to form with a best-on-ground performance.
But inside the Freo camp, there was little doubt it was also Silvagni’s night.
His first game of the season, and just the 16th of his career, came three months after being confronted with the most difficult challenge of his life.
What began as a routine injection to ease muscle pain in his groin a week out from Round 1 turned into a nightmare for Silvagni, as a debilitating infection took hold and spread through his groin and pelvic bone.
He spent four days in hospital as his teammates flew to Brisbane without him to take on the Lions in Round 1, and was laid up at home unable to move for the best part of a fortnight. Silvagni was put on a drip as he lay in bed at home as he fought the infection with antibiotics.
“I couldn’t move out of bed and it got to a point where I just couldn’t even go to the toilet,” he said.
“I couldn’t walk to the toilet, which was about five metres away. That was probably the hardest part on top of having a pretty good pre-season and not being able to play.
“Physically there was a lot of pain. It wasn’t a very enjoyable couple of weeks.”
The Casey Scorpions product was well versed in overcoming setbacks after being overlooked in three consecutive drafts, before the Dockers took him in the rookie draft ahead of the 2010 season.
His story is lesser known than that of his former Casey teammate Michael Barlow, but it’s a similar tale of emotional letdowns, persistence and eventual breakthrough.
Silvagni admits to sharing a special bond with Barlow, given their shared journeys.
“It’s just a lot of desperation and just wanting to achieve his goal, so I do have a bit of a connection with Michael,” Silvagni said. “It was very frustrating, I suppose, being overlooked so many times.
“I think enjoying my football was a big turning point for me. I was playing well after that and really enjoying it and put the draft stuff in the back of my mind.
“Obviously I always wanted to be drafted and I didn’t make it too much of a focus later on after all the disappointment, so I think that sort of held me in good stead with the opportunity I got with Fremantle.
“Getting the opportunity to play AFL footy, I sort of never thought it would come, after missing all those opportunities to be drafted.”
Silvagni’s sense of perspective has also come through seeing the adversity faced by his good mate and former Scorpions captain Kyle Matthews.
Matthews overcame life-threatening head injuries after being hit on the night he had been out to watch Silvagni’s AFL debut for Fremantle in Round 1 last season.
“It was actually a big shock. A lot of mixed emotions on that night. You have your first game and you win and all the emotions there, and then you hear this news and it sort of puts a dampener on it,” Silvagni said.
“When we went back to Melbourne I saw him in hospital. It was tough to see him lying there not in a good way.
“He’s had a lot of setbacks along the way. He’s been very unlucky. But he’s the kind of guy that nothing really hits him that hard. Even though it was a serious injury, he’s just so bubbly and energetic, and it’s good to hear him laughing now.”
Having taken plenty in his stride, it comes as little surprise that Silvagni is also unflustered by carrying one of football’s most famous names.
He is a second cousin of Carlton legend and full-back of the century Stephen Silvagni.
“I don’t look into it too much. and I don’t really feel that pressure at all,” Silvagni said.
“He was at St Kilda when I was at Casey and I chatted to him every now and then and hit him up for tips and a bit of advice. It’s always good to have someone of his calibre close by.”