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Where are they now? Matthew Liptak

Katrina Gill  March 29, 2015 9:30 AM

Malcolm Blight, Matthew Liptak and Rod Jameson farewell the crowd on their last match for the Crows after the 1999 round 22 AFL match between the Adelaide Crows and the Kangaroos at Football Park.

Malcolm Blight, Matthew Liptak and Rod Jameson farewell the crowd on their last match for the Crows after the 1999 round 22 AFL match between the Adelaide Crows and the Kangaroos at Football Park.

Come the end of the season, I was watching from the sidelines and incredibly disappointed not to be a part of it again.

The popular Where are they now?  series returns in Season 2015.

In this instalment, we catch up with 1990s fan favourite Matthew Liptak. Not only did ‘Lippy’ play 116 games, kick 128 goals and win a Crows Club Champion award, he did it while juggling a career in medicine.

After only one year in the SANFL with Glenelg, Liptak was one of the promising young South Australian footballers given the chance to join Adelaide’s inaugural squad in 1991. Like future captain Mark Bickley, Liptak wasn’t offered a contract with the Crows right away but decided to put his studies on hold in pursuit of his AFL dream regardless…

I think I might’ve been the last player signed up by the Crows. I was asked to train with the inaugural squad, but I didn’t get a contract until ‘Kerls’ (football manager Neil Kerley) called me up on the Tuesday before my first game in May, 1991, so I trained for six months without a contract, in hope.

At that stage, it was AFL number one and medicine was just to fill in the gaps and keep me grounded, really. I saw that it would be a lot of fun to play AFL. I’d already completed three years of medicine by that stage and felt I needed a year away in 1990. When it looked like I’d be half a chance to get a contract with the Crows, I took another year off (in 1991) and another year after that.

While Liptak didn’t make his official debut until Round Nine, 1991, the midfielder/forward played in Adelaide’s first ‘away’ trial game against West Coast in the pre-season of 1991 …

The first away trial game was in Bunbury in Western Australia. There was actually a bushfire burning at the time and we had to go around the outskirts of it to get to the ground. I was playing on John Worsfold, who at that stage was a seriously mean and confronting man.

As a young player trying to make his way in the game, I was running around getting a few kicks. At the end of the first or second quarter, Worsfold came up to me and suggested that if I got another kick on him I would get one of his fists in my face! It was an interesting exchange. I went on to have a good game, but it reminded me that we were playing more seriously than I ever had before.

After finally receiving a contract, the hard-working Crow lined up in his first AFL game for premiership points against North Melbourne at the MCG in Round Nine, 1991. He collected 17 disposals and kicked his first goal, but the Crows blew a 20-point lead at three-quarter time to lose by two points …

My memories of that day are of the big arena, thousands of fans, Wayne Carey and it raining, as it does in Melbourne. I remember coming off the ground and being spat on by North Melbourne supporters. We lost the game, but you never forget your debut.

Liptak established himself as a regular in the Crows team over the next few years. In 1993, the Club made the finals for the first time. Liptak starred on the big stage, amassing 31 possessions and three goals in Adelaide’s inaugural final against Hawthorn at the MCG. His performance was even more remarkable considering he was back to juggling footy and medicine … 

During my time away from study, I maintained my interest in medicine and went back and did some catch-up study. I went back to medicine in my fourth year in 1993 and my schedule, in combining footy and medicine, was ridiculous!

By 1996, Liptak had progressed to his medical internship at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital. Away from the field, he was working up to 70 hours a week as a doctor. On the field, he was enjoying a career-best season. Liptak played every game, reached the 100-game milestone, represented South Australia in State of Origin and won Adelaide’s best and fairest award …

I’m not going to lie, it was hectic! Time management was the key. I enjoyed the challenge of combining something mental with something physical. I was just trying to play as well as I could and that year, personally, was the culmination of a lot of hard work.

Liptak didn’t know it at the time, but the 1996 season would be the pinnacle of his career. Despite being regarded as one of the fittest players at the Club and having intimate knowledge of the human body, Liptak’s career was ravaged by injuries. He managed only 13 more AFL games over the course of the next three seasons …

Even though I had a good year in 1996, I picked up an injury which carried on into 1997. I started pre-season training very late. I played catch-up footy and subsequently had three years of injuries after that, which was very frustrating.

It meant I missed the two Grand Finals in 1997 and 1998, and ended my career because of injuries. They were very frustrating years for me personally, but also incredible years to be around the Club. The change in behaviour and watching young guys become young men and leaders was fantastic to watch from afar. I was close enough to be a part of it, but also close enough to be extremely disappointed that I wasn’t out there on Grand Final day.

Liptak’s 1997 season ended as a result of soft-tissue injuries in Round 13. He came heartbreakingly close to redemption in 1998. He’d only played two games for the season, but returned from an Achilles complaint in time for Adelaide’s Qualifying Final against Melbourne …

In 1998, I was lucky enough to be given a chance to come back from injury through the finals series. Unfortunately, I did a hamstring in the second quarter of the Qualifying Final, which we actually lost and controversially still got a game the next week.

I must admit, at that stage, I thought we were unlikely to make it through to the Grand Final. So, at the time of doing my hammy I don’t think I was that shattered. But come the end of the season, I was watching from the sidelines and incredibly disappointed not to be a part of it again.

Liptak was involved in different memorable moment in ‘97’, kicking the ball that set up cult-hero Tony Modra to take Mark of the Year over Mick Martyn …

No, I wasn’t going for goal … Mods and I always had a relationship where I’d kick to him, he’d mark it and kick the goal. If I ever ran past, his message was that he’d never handball it to me! ‘Mods’ was an incredibly gifted guy. I was just fortunate to be around when he was playing. To this day, I’d say he was in the top one or two players I’ve ever seen.

After managing only four matches in another injury-riddled season in 1999, Liptak began to ponder retirement and life after footy. He still had the want to play and the ability, as showcased with a four-goal haul in his second-to last game (which earned him two Brownlow Medal votes), but his body couldn’t go on …

I’d had three seasons of ups and downs, where I was either injured or rehabbing from an injury. By the end of the 1999 season myself and the Club had come to a mutual decision that it was probably best for us to part ways. Mentally, at 29-years-old I felt I had plenty left to give but physically I was done. My body was torched.

While his career didn’t end the way he would’ve liked, Liptak enjoyed a memorable send off against North Melbourne at AAMI Stadium in the final round of ‘99’. He shared the day with fellow retiree and Crows Life Member Rod Jameson and ‘The Messiah’ Malcolm Blight, who had also announced his plans to walk away …

I was lucky enough to be selected for that last game of the season. ‘Jamo’ and myself and a couple of other players had come to the end of our careers at the footy club. It was the end of an era for a lot of us. I was just lucky to finish on the field because there were two others that didn’t, David Pittman and Simon Tregenza. It was an emotional rollercoaster for all of us, having started together and finished together as players and ‘Blighty’, who was an incredible coach, coming to the end of his tenure as well. It was an emotional day. To be publicly supported like we were in those final moments of our careers, I’ll appreciate that forever. I wouldn't change anything in my career. I look back on it. I would have been happy to play one game.

The next season Liptak played one game for Glenelg before badly tearing a hamstring. Still only 29, he retired for good to concentrate on his medical career. Dr Liptak graduated from Flinders University in 1996 and obtained Fellowship of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons (Orthopaedic Surgery) in 2007 …

When I first started contemplating medicine as a career, I thought orthopaedic surgery might be for me, that fixing broken bones and sporting bodies was what I wanted to do. I guess, it’s part of the reason I came to decision that I should retire from footy at the end of ‘99’. I had to get back in and start progressing my medical career.

The respected surgeon's career has taken him all around the globe. Just last year, he was asked to perform a procedure at a large conference in India …

Fortunately, medicine is one of those careers that can take you all over the world. Part of that is going away to learn and part is to teach. I’ve been involved in both roles and have had some great experiences.

Last year, I went to Delhi as part of the educational process. India is a country that is increasing its knowledge in lots of areas, including orthopaedics. I went over there and demonstrated a hip arthroscopy, which is a growing speciality in world orthopaedics and one of the parts of medicine I practice. I specialise in hips and knees.

After juggling footy and medicine for nearly a decade, the 44-year-old is still busy balancing work and family. He and wife, Jo, have four children – all girls and all Crows fans. A former member of the Crows Foundation board, Liptak maintains an association with the Club through the past players program …

Jo and I have been married for going on 19 years now. We have four beautiful daughters, Ella, Ruby, Kate and Milla. I’m surrounded by women and am lucky to have a great and healthy family. They’re all different, but all fantastic.

The girls come with the footy with me sometimes. Adelaide Oval has given everyone a boost. It’s a bit easier to get to and it’s great fun. When we go, we catch the train in as a family. It’s great to experience the atmosphere of game day on the way to the ground. It’s been great to go back and enjoy it together.