The next week he was best on ground. And the week after. By year’s end of course he went pick one.
This story is only recalled because Andy McGrath keeps telling himself the same thing. Don’t play safe. Take it on. Play to your strengths.
It’s a harder thing to do than it sounds. In his first game he played on Cyril Rioli. It was either that or Luke Breust, so no easy options there.
In his fifth game for Essendon he played on Anzac Day in front of 100,000 people. Thursday’s game will be his third successive Anzac Day.
Now put yourself in his boots and wonder. Would I play safe?
“From that chat with Francis I realised all the coaches had that same belief that they back me to run with the ball, they back me to take the game on and if I make a mistake I make a mistake but the nine times out of 10 I don’t make a mistake it is way better so we will cop the one out of 10.
“I still remind myself to take it on.
“It’s a really easy thing and completely natural to play safe. Every touch of the football, every act on the football field gets criticised and put under the microscope so it is easier to be safe and not go for those harder kicks or harder runs but I constantly try to bring myself back to how I want to play and that is moving the ball forward and taking risks.
‘‘When I don’t do that I know I am playing safe and I bring myself back to the mindset of being a little bit on the edge.”
At times, on days like Anzac Day, his voice is the only one he can listen to, for it is the only one he can hear.
“I had never been to an Anzac Day game before I played so I didn’t really know what to expect. But when you are standing out in the middle of the ground and there are 100,000 people there and no one is saying a word it is something pretty amazing. It is pretty hard to describe and we just feel really privileged to be part of such a special game.
“My first game was against Hawthorn and there was 80,000 people there. I knew what a loud crowd was like but Anzac Day from 80 to 100,000 is a big difference. It’s just hard to communicate so you kind of have to play on instincts.”
When that happens he listens to the voice in his head, that one that echoes Jackson’s words. Don’t be safe. Be brave.
Michael Gleeson is an award-winning senior sports writer specialising in AFL and athletics.