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Where are they now? Trent Hentschel

Katrina Gill  May 29, 2013 9:40 AM

Trent Hentchel's remarkable snap Adelaide forward Trent Hentschel kicked this unbelievable goal against the West Coast Eagles in the 2005 Preliminary Final at Subiaco Oval.
When my name gets brought up, I think people talk about how unlucky I was but I certainly don’t see it that way at all.

A new regular feature in 2013, Where are they now? shines the spotlight on a former Crows great.

In this instalment, chats to a player who endeared himself to Adelaide supporters during his all-too short career, Trent Hentschel.

Originally from the Northern Territory, Hentschel caught the eye of Crows recruiters after relocating to Adelaide in mid-2001 …

“I played in Darwin, but came down to Adelaide for the last eight or nine games in the SANFL. I played five or six reserves games and a couple of league games at Woodville-West Torrens. I missed out in the National Draft that year, but got a call from (former Crows recruiting manager) James Fantasia the day after the draft inviting me to train with Adelaide. He told me that nine other blokes would also come out to train and that there was one spot left on the senior list and four rookie spots. He said I’d probably be in contention for a rookie spot and I jumped at the chance.”

Hentschel officially joined the Crows with pick No.5 in the Pre-season Draft of December, 2011 …

“After two weeks of training, I was lucky enough to be given the spot on the primary list. It turned out to be a pretty handy train-on group. Ben Rutten, Nathan Bock, Marty Mattner and Paul Thomas got the four rookie spots (at Adelaide). Mark Jamar was also in that group and went to Melbourne, and Justin Crow went to Collingwood. It was a particularly good rookie draft because ‘Truck’ (Rutten), Marty and Bocky have all gone on to have great AFL careers.”

Nicknamed ‘Roo boy’ because of his high leaping and athleticism, Hentschel was a ‘natural’ footballer with the skill and anticipation not dissimilar to some of his Indigenous teammates at Northern Territory Football League club, Palmerston. During his time at the ‘Magpies’ he played in a flag with Geelong premiership player Mathew Stokes and Davey brothers Aaron and Alwyn …

“It’s a pretty laidback lifestyle up in Darwin, so I guess that’s where I get some of my demeanour from. I can’t imagine growing up in a better place. There were some highly-skilled players up there especially some of the Aboriginal boys. I think playing with and against players like that really helped my own footy.”

Hentschel made his AFL debut against Sydney at the SCG in Round One, 2003. The Crows won the game by 27 points, but Hentschel had a forgettable first game …

“In the newspaper it said I had one handball that day, but I know I definitely didn’t get a handball. I had donuts right across the board. I didn’t touch the ball or even lay a tackle – nothing. It was one of the best days of my life and also one of the worst. I got dropped after each of my first three games and that was fair enough because I didn’t do much in any of them.”

The developing forward played 18 games the next season and established his place in the team in 2005, playing 21 matches. He slotted 5.5 against Collingwood in Round 21, but his most memorable performance was in Round 10, 2006 when he kicked 8.0 in Adelaide’s big win over Essendon …

“We had a fair win that day. We had ‘Roo’ (Mark Ricciuto) in the forward line, Brett Burton and Kenny McGregor … so some pretty handy forwards. That was probably my favourite time at the Club, that 2005-06 period when we did have some success, even though we didn’t achieve the ultimate. Playing alongside those players up forward was great.

“I think I just matured a bit in those years. I was always reasonably tall, but was pretty skinny when I first got to the Club. I just needed to mature and get some confidence at the level. There were a lot of guys at the Crows, who influenced my career, like those forwards I mentioned. David Noble was the forward line coach at the time and he had a huge impact on me too – he still does. I love catching up with him to talk about life in general. He’s got a good handle on the balance of life and football.”

Only 11 rounds after breaking the Club record for goals against Essendon (a record he still holds), Hentschel was dealt a cruel and devastating blow from which, sadly, his career never recovered. He sustained horrific injuries after his right knee was trapped and twisted in a tackle against Port Adelaide. The damage the goalkicker sustained, which included a ruptured ACL and dislocated kneecap, was compared to that of a car crash victim. He underwent a total of seven operations to repair the damage and missed two full seasons (2007 and 2008) of football. But he never moped or indulged in self-pity. To this day, his approach to rehabilitation is regarded by the Crows medical staff as one of the most dedicated, professional and positive of any player to walk through the doors at West Lakes …

“I don’t wish it upon anyone, but if you’re going to sustain an injury like that a highly-motivated environment like the one at the Adelaide footy club is the place to do it. You have the best medical and support staff and having 45 other professional and motivated blokes around you certainly helps. Of course there are going to be down times in two years on the sidelines, but my family don’t let me get away with moping too much or getting ahead of myself and certainly your teammates don’t.

“I was also amazed at the support I received not just when I was playing but through the period I was injured and afterwards. That support from the fans and members was one of the things that kept me going and motivated … I still thank them very much for that.

“I’ve been asked a fair bit whether I thought of giving the game away during those two years, but I didn’t. Footy is all I really knew from when I was a kid in Darwin. It was all I ever wanted to do and walking away from it never entered my mind.”

After nearly 900 days in rehabilitation, numerous setbacks and several aborted comebacks, Hentschel made his return to the AFL stage against Collingwood in Round One, 2009. He didn’t kick a goal and finished with a modest 11 possessions, but no one cared that day …

“It was a bittersweet moment, again. We had a great win against Collingwood, but looking back I was knackered before the game even started. It was such just a big build up, personally. I had so many things running through my mind. To have a win against the Pies on the MCG back with my teammates was amazing.

“Like my first AFL game, I had a shocker but I was happy just to be out there.”

Unfortunately, Hentschel’s rebuilt knee swelled up during the game against St Kilda the following week. Just as he’d done so many times before, he rehabbed the injury to the best of his ability. He got back to play the last five games of 2009 and the first three games of 2010, but when he suffered another setback came to the sad realisation his knee could no longer withstand the rigours of AFL football.  On August 24, 2010, aged only 27-years-old, Hentschel announced his retirement from the elite level. The Crows faithful still talk about ‘Trent Potential’, his rotten luck and what might’ve been. But Hentschel has the same remarkably positive outlook he showed throughout his injury battle …

“When my name gets brought up, I think people talk about how unlucky I was but I certainly don’t see it that way at all. When I was a kid in Darwin, if you’d have told me I’d play 71 AFL games I would’ve taken it in a heartbeat. Of course, there’s some disappointment in the way my career ended but I was lucky to receive the opportunity to play at the Adelaide Football Club.”

Hentschel’s ‘farewell’ to the fans remains one of the most moving moments in Adelaide Football Club history. Following the Round 22 win over St Kilda in 2010, Hentschel joined retiring legends Andrew McLeod, Simon Goodwin and Brett Burton in a lap of AAMI Stadium …

“I’m glad I did it. Initially, I was reluctant to be involved because of the stature Goody, ‘Bunji’ (McLeod) and ‘Bird’ (Burton) had not only at the Adelaide footy club but within the game itself. By no means am I even in the same ball park as those guys with the careers they had.

“I had a chat to a few people around the Club. They convinced me to do it and I’m certainly glad I was involved. It was an amazing experience.”

After retiring from AFL, Hentschel took up a role with Woodville-West Torrens. His aim was to fulfil his duties as football manager during the week and line-up for the Eagles on the weekend. But injuries forced him to retire (again) in July, 2011 …

“Palmerston and then Woodville-West Torrens gave me the opportunity to get drafted initially. I believe I owe both clubs a lot and that was why I went back and tried to play for the Eagles. I wanted to repay them for everything they’d done for me, but it didn’t quite work out that way.

“It was a back injury more than anything, but my knee also got a bit hard to manage in terms of trying to play without being able to train during the week. By about round 10 I had to pull the pin.

“I still say the best coaching move I made was to pull me out of our forward line because I was clogging it up too much.”

Now, the 30-year-old’s match-day role involves coaching the Eagles forward line. He still works as the Club’s football manager ...

“It’s a pretty broad role at SANFL level. It’s everything from ordering all the apparel, to looking after the salary cap and contracting players, but I’m really enjoying it. Part of the role is also development coach. I work with the players that transition out of our Under-18 program into senior footy and I look after the forward line at League level.

“I really enjoy the coaching aspect. The first time I developed an interest in coaching was probably when I got injured at the Crows and was forced into doing things other than just playing. In the last few years of my career, I didn’t play much footy at all and had a chance to coach a bit with the younger guys while I was still on the list.”

Hentschel’s wife Steph, who he married in 2011, is the sister of Port Adelaide midfielder Tom Logan. Since hanging up the boots altogether, Hentschel has been in good health and is enjoying his post-footy career …

“I don’t do a real lot of exercise these days. I get out and have a trot sometimes, but I don’t test myself anymore. Day-to-day, my knee doesn’t give me any grief. It certainly doesn’t feel the same as the other knee, but it doesn’t really affect me in everyday life, so I can’t complain.

“I still catch up with some of the Crows staff and the boys. I still catch up with Rob Shirley, Nathan Bock, Kenny McGregor, Marty Mattner and Rhett Biglands – some of the Eagles blokes.

“That’s the great thing about footy, you make lifelong mates.”