It’s Christmas in Geelong and Mitch Duncan couldn’t be happier. “It’s always an exciting time of year, the festive season, nice warmer weather and seeing the kids running around with Santa; it’s pretty special.”
And to be spending Christmas Day in the city that has been so welcoming to the young man from Perth is special, too. “I love Geelong. It’s awesome,” he says. “I’m really enjoying my time here and plan to spend a lot of time this side of the country.”
It would be hard to imagine a happier introduction to his new home town. Drafted by the Geelong Cats in 2009 – he was the club’s second selection – Duncan made his senior debut in the opening round of 2010 and in 2011 played in all but one game.
And it was the last game of the season in 2011 – the grand final – in which every player’s fairytale came true for Duncan. Selected as a substitute for the game, he was brought on after forward James Podsiadly dislocated his shoulder. Duncan gathered 10 possessions and scored a goal late in the third quarter. The Cats won the game by six goals, and Duncan had scored a premiership medal in just his second year.
He realises how blessed he is to be part of such an achievement so young. “Definitely. I think of players like (St Kilda veteran) Rob Harvey who hasn’t played in a winning grand final and how lucky I am to be a part of it in just my second year. It was a dream come true … It’s pretty surreal sometimes … I just want more of it, so hopefully there’s more to come.”
Duncan grew up in Perth a star junior footballer dreaming of playing in the AFL. He had a feeling he would be moving interstate. “I kind of thought I wasn’t going to be in Perth for some reason. I don’t know why,” he says. “There were only two clubs there. I thought I’d probably have to move.”
The adjustment to a new city was seamless. “I’m glad I did it. I stayed with an amazing host family for the first couple of years, the Ramondo family, who are pretty involved in the footy club and made the transition a lot easier. The club is like a new home once you leave your state.”
As a boy he was an Essendon fan and admired Bombers coach James Hird’s skills and attitude to the game. “His ability to stand up under pressure in those big matches (impressed me). He’d always seem to kick the winning goal or get the ball out to someone to kick the goal. Little things like that.
“And then Ben Cousins and his work rate. You try and take little traits out of all the different players and try and turn yourself into that kind of player.
I thought I played a little bit like Andrew Embley from the Eagles, his running power and his good skills.
I grew up listening to those names and hoped I could be like them.”
ROBERT PREZIOSO / GETTY IMAGES
Duncan said that when his name was read out to join the Cats he felt daunted to be part of one of the great teams of the modern era. But when he arrived at the club the senior players took him and the other young recruits under their wings and made them feel welcomed and part of the group.
Now, at 21, he feels like it’s time to mentor even younger players.
“Joel Selwood is the biggest one when I first came to the club,” he says. “Cameron Ling has been a great support and I still keep in touch. I look back at that time when I was a young kid.
“Now I’ve been in the system four years and I’m starting to get old, because with the transition of the club most of the (players on the) list now are under 23. I feel myself as an older player now. This year I’ve taken on a bit more of a role in helping bring success to the younger guys.”
Duncan says winning the flag in 2011 when some critics were writing the Cats off as past their prime gave him particular pleasure. “Amazing satisfaction. It was probably easier for us to perform, with less pressure, when people were writing us off. We went out and knew we could match it with the best.”
He says he doesn’t feel extra pressure being in a one-team town and that so much affection flows to the club from Geelong people. “You’re made to feel special and it’s good to give a little back to the supporters because they’re a great part of the club’s success.
“Occasionally people say g’day. Geelong people are really good, really nice. They say, ‘Hello, how are you’, ask how the club’s going.”
“You’ve got to appreciate the time you’re there because it might not be very long, The average player plays for four years. You’ve got to enjoy the time while you’re there and use your time wisely.”
Duncan is aware that an AFL player’s career can be short. “You’ve got to appreciate the time you’re there because it might not be very long, The average player plays for four years. You’ve got to enjoy the time while you’re there and use your time wisely.”
Duncan will spend Christmas Day in Geelong then head back to Perth on Boxing Day to spend the New Year with his family. He enjoys Christmas as a chance to catch up with family and friends in Western Australia. “Spending time with my family, celebrating; nice food, nice people and a couple of soothing ales.”
Will he do the Kris Kringle? “We were just talking about it in the house I live in. The boys and I might do a Kris Kringle. We’ll do that for a couple of the boys and their girlfriends.”
I asked Duncan what his message is for our readers. “Be safe on the road and think before you drink.”