Addiction drove Tendai Mzungu’s return to AFL
Fremantle’s Tendai Mzungu is an addict.
The 25-year-old WAFL recruit, who collected the Dockers Beacon Award for the best first year player last season, is addicted to life in the unforgiving AFL.
“It was a bit surreal really. Running out in front of big crowds and playing on the MCG in front of passionate fans was something I love and am sort of addicted to now and I really want to do it again and again,” he said.
Running out on to the MCG is something that wasn’t originally part of the plan for Mzungu.
At 18 when most players are drafted, he was content having a kick with mates for the Trinity-Aquinas colts.
He first nominated for the AFL draft at 22 and constant improvement playing for Perth in the WAFL eventually led him to Fremantle last summer, again through unconventional means via a trade week deal with Gold Coast as part of the Suns’ entry concessions.
He blitzed summer training and shone in the Dockers’ pre-season hitouts before cruelly going down with injury in the first quarter of the final pre-season game against West Coast at Fremantle Oval.
Mzungu’s name had already been pencilled in for the Round 1 clash with Brisbane, but his debut was snatched away after damaging the medial ligament in his left knee in an awkward fall.
Having initially feared the worst a dreaded anterior cruciate injury and a season-ending knee reconstruction Mzungu ended up seeing the glass as half full.
“I’d never felt pain like that before so it did cross my mind at the time, but the docs were pretty quick to reassure me that it wasn’t,” he said.
“It was pretty disheartening at the time. To not get the worst news was a small positive I guess and to finally debut and play the majority of the year, I couldn’t ask for any more.
“It wasn’t the end of the season, so I knew at some stage if I did everything right that I’d get an opportunity. I guess waiting 25 years, you know, I could handle eight or 10 weeks. So as disappointing as it was, it probably made me a little bit hungrier.”
Mzungu made his debut as a substitute in the Round 9 win over Port Adelaide at AAMI Stadium and went on to play 14 games as a spare parts man all over the field for former coach Mark Harvey’s injury-riddled side.
He is yet to seriously discuss with new coach Ross Lyon what role may await him in 2012.
“It was a learning curve. It was different footy compared to what I’m used to a lot more compressed and a lot more zones and structures. It took me a little while to adjust, but hopefully I can build on that for next year,” Mzungu said.
“I’d like to think that I’m a pretty versatile player and can play a variety of roles. I’ve got to wait and see what Ross has in store for me.”
Mzungu says he remains indebted to Harvey for giving him his chance, but has already embraced Lyon and his methodology.
“Ross has come in and he’s been great from the start. He’s a very good communicator and he’s brought in a few different messages,” he said.
“He knows what he wants; he’s very driven, which I think the players really relate to well.
“Obviously Mark gave me the opportunity to play AFL football, so I had a good relationship with Mark. He backed me in and encouraged me to play my style of football.
“I was surprised to see him leave, but you’ve got to move on pretty quick and get on with things. It’s a business I guess. At the end of the day there’s players turned over, coaches turned over; it’s just part of our industry.”
Mzungu has his African heritage to thank for his exotic name, born in Melbourne to a Zimbabwean father and Australian mother.
He’s never been to his Dad’s strife-torn homeland, but it’s on his agenda and is keen to become an ambassador for the AFL’s multicultural program if the opportunity presents.
“I’d like to go when it settles down a little bit. I guess once I go and sort of get an appreciation of things over there and how things work I’ll probably get a little bit more of an insight,” he said.
“Expanding the game, not just to Africa, but to anywhere, would be great for the game. It’s the best game on earth. If I can help in any way to get more people to play I’d definitely be interested.
“I haven’t been down to the local ovals in Zimbabwe, so I don’t know how good they are, but yeah, if there’s talent out there . . . it would be great to have some Zimbabweans running around in the AFL.”
Mzungu is again flying in pre-season training “I started day one, pre-season and haven’t missed a session” but more than anyone knows his place in the AFL can’t be taken for granted.
“I want to play Round 1, but I’ve got a lot of work to do before I get to that stage,” he said. “You want to play every game; you don’t want to ever miss a game.”