AFL, Tom Boyd

Expectation vs reality: Pick 1 is just a number

When called upon we always want to deliver. Whether it’s a deadline set by an employer, a favour from a best friend or to perform on sport’s biggest stage, it’s basic human instinct.
From an NBA standpoint, pick No. 1 is the golden ticket. It’s a chance to revolutionise the franchise and give fans hope. You can hit a home run with LeBron James or end up selecting Markelle Fultz, a point guard who has seemingly forgotten how to shoot.
But in the AFL it’s different. There’s no lottery and in the first round we often see list managers take the best player available opposed to ‘fit and needs’. Key-position players are worth their weight in gold, and Tom Boyd was the home run for a new and exciting GWS Giants team.
The recent retirement of Tom Boyd has taken over every news outlet in the country because the former No. 1 pick expressed that he’d lost the passion and desire to play AFL due to the ongoing mental and physical toll it was having on him.
Most football fans who pay close attention to the game would be aware of the struggles Tom Boyd faced throughout his career. From a young age he has always been a prodigious talent. With a distinct physical advantage, Boyd was able to dominate the under-18 national championships and scaled his way to the top of every recruiter’s ranking in the country.
Tom Boyd (AAP Image/Julian Smith)
Boyd had everything AFL clubs were craving. He was Big, strong and had a hunger for kicking goals. Unfortunately, in the early beginnings of his AFL journey, his domination at under-18 level couldn’t translate to the big leagues. Tom was faced with many doubts about his durability and most notably his talent in relation to being pick No. 1. He basically became a maligned figure in the AFL world, with the media focussing heavily on his every performance.
Despite the slow start to his career, Tom Boyd delivered a special performance on the most important day of all. The negative comments prior to that day were an afterthought. This was it. This was the turning point. Tom Boyd is destined for success. From the outside looking in, he would forge a long and illustrious career. Well, it seemed that way.
To some it came as a shock and to others, including myself, it came with a feeling of sadness. This melancholy feeling isn’t just directed towards the fact Tom Boyd had his career cut short. It’s something much bigger than that.

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For me football is an outlet. For anyone who hasn’t participated in football or even a team sport, it’s a feeling of incomparable emotions – the unbridled joy of a close win and the devastation of a nail-biting loss. No matter how bad my day, week or even month had been, football was always there as a release. For two hours I could let go of all my problems by chasing a leather ball. That might sound silly to some, but I loved every minute.
Tom Boyd unfortunately had that experience distorted. The feelings of joy and happiness were sucked out of him and replaced with disdain and apprehension. This doesn’t sit well.
The AFL landscape is such a harsh reality in the modern era. Players are put on a pedestal, and if they don’t live up to the expectations of the fans, they are shot down in an instant. Every move they make is put under the microscope, from their contract to their home life and everything in between.

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What frustrates me most is players are often characterised as bulletproof. They are expected to withstand a bit of criticism because it will ‘drive them’. In fact that may be true for some players who thrive on people doubting them, but the game is just as much mental as it is physical. This is an aspect of human emotion that a large portion of AFL supporters have failed to understand time and time again.
Mental health is at the forefront of many issues that clubs face within their inner sanctums. This is a concern that we as consumers of the game need to understand. Unrealistic expectations, external pressures and targeted abuse isn’t ‘toughening up’ the players coming through. Expectations can be dangerous – in Tom Boyd’s case they may have played a small role in his premature departure.
Merely expecting something to happen can often have the reverse effect. From a fan perspective, people pin their hopes and invest their happiness into the slight chance that these expectations might be fulfilled.
Former Bulldog Jared Grant brilliantly remarked that Tom Boyd didn’t choose the number-one pick tag and the associated pressure, something worth remembering.

Tom Boyd didn’t pick himself at pick 1, he didn’t offer himself over 1 million a year. He did contribute largely to something every dogs fan is forever grateful for.
— Jarrad Grant (@jarradgrant1) May 16, 2019

To the dismay of many Western Bulldogs fans and AFL supporters, we’ve seen the best of Tom Boyd on the football field, but as one door closes and another one opens. I think we’re going to see the best of Tom Boyd off it.