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The long road

Jason Porplyzia Interview Channel Crow's Katrina Gill interviews Crow forward Jason Porplyzia on the eve of his 100th AFL game
Jason Porplyzia will play his 100th game on Saturday

“Ten years is a long time to get to 100 games …” - Jason Porplyzia

Jason Porplyzia has been an integral part of the Adelaide team for so long it’s easy to forget his AFL career almost ended before it began.

Porplyzia first arrived at West Lakes via the Rookie Draft in late 2002. The Crows recruiters recognised the 18-year-old’s undeniable skill, clean hands and uncanny goal sense. But concerns over his fitness and small 177cm stature - which contributed to him being overlooked in the National Draft - lingered and he was delisted after just 12 months.

“Gary Ayres was the coach at the time,” Porplyzia said of his stint at the Club in 2003.

“I was new into the AFL system and straight out of school, so I just soaked up as much as I could. There were some guys at the Club, who I really looked up to and were idols for me. It was just a buzz to be around them.

"But the year was over before I knew it, and I was in and out without taking it all in.”

Refusing to give up on his AFL dream, Porplyzia went back to SANFL Club West Adelaide.

Under the tutelage of coach and former dual-Crows premiership player Shaun Rehn, he set about working on the deficiencies in his game. He spent two seasons with the Bloods, winning the Club’s best and fairest award in 2005 and also being selected to represent South Australia at state league level.

“I loved being at Westies. I never gave up on playing AFL, but I went back there and just enjoyed my footy,” Porplyzia said.

“I always wanted to work hard and get the best out of myself, but after being delisted by Adelaide I probably started to do things a bit smarter and worked out how to get better in the areas I was deficient in.

“The guys at Westies were great and Shaun Rehn was brilliant. He was a big part of why I was able to get back onto an AFL list.”

Away from the football field, Porplyzia was preparing for life in the ‘real’ world.

He was enrolled in an electrical engineering course at TAFE, but that potential career path ended when Adelaide offered him a second chance, selecting him with pick No.9 in the 2005 Pre-Season Draft.

“I’d just finished the electrical engineering course and was preparing to start work at ETSA, but about two days before I was due to start I was drafted, so that put a stop to that,” he said.

“I came into the Club the second time with the mindset that I was ready for AFL. I’d spent two years at SANFL level, watching guys running around in the AFL and I felt like I could do what the guys at the highest level were doing.

“I came in confident in my ability and in the work I’d done to that point to try to get better. I came back with a different attitude compared to when I was a rookie - I was ready to go.”

Porplyzia quickly rewarded the Crows for their faith, kicking three goals on debut against the Western Bulldogs in round five, 2006.

“That first game was pretty special, just knowing that I’d worked hard to achieve a lifelong dream.”

Porplyzia played 11 games in his debut season and over the next two years established his place in the Crows forward line. In 2008, he dragged Adelaide back into finals contention almost single-handedly, defying a serious shoulder injury to kick five goals in a season-defining win over Sydney in round 17. Later, stories emerged of his shoulder dislocating while performing day-to-day activities, like opening the fridge door and lying on the couch.

To this day, Physical Performance Manager Stephen Schwerdt rates Porplyzia’s performance under extreme duress against the Swans as one of the most remarkable physical feats he’s ever seen. Porplyzia played two more matches for the season, but made the heartbreaking decision to sacrifice his spot in the team and have a shoulder reconstruction prior to the Club’s elimination final clash with Collingwood.

Porplyzia recovered to enjoy a standout season in 2009. He played every match (for the first and only time of his career so far), kicking 57 goals to top Adelaide's goalkicking and was recognised with second place in the Crows Club Champion award.

He was selected in the preliminary All-Australian squad but along with West Coast star Mark LeCras, who was also in the frame for the coveted small forward spot, was overlooked in favour of Collingwood livewire Leon Davis in the final team.

A pelvis injury marred his 2010 pre-season. He still managed to play 19 matches, but was unable to reach the heights of the previous year. He had an uninterrupted run the following summer and started the 2011 season in ominous fashion, kicking a goal in the opening few minutes of Adelaide’s season-opener against Hawthorn.

However, disaster only struck moments later when his troublesome shoulder popped out of its socket as he lunged to lay a tackle. He’d battled - and overcome - shoulder, hamstring, pelvis, knee injuries and even brain bruising in the past, but the second shoulder injury was his lowest point.

“It was pretty devastating because I thought the shoulder injury was behind me,” he said.

“I’d done a lot of work and it wasn’t in any part of my thinking that anything could’ve gone wrong with my shoulder ever again. It was a big blow because it meant my year was pretty much over and it was a tough pill to swallow.”

Porplyzia had a second shoulder reconstruction and worked mercilessly with the hope of making a late-season return, but his plans for a comeback were shelved when Adelaide fell out of finals contention.

A welcome distraction on his long and lonely road to recovery was his role as a Director of the Crows Foundation - the independent charity arm of the Adelaide Football Club.

“The Crows Foundation does a lot of work with children in need across South Australia. To be able to give back to the community is really important because we are in a privileged position, and I feel as though we’re able to do some worthwhile work through the Foundation,” he said.

“When you go out and see some of the kids, who are doing it pretty tough and haven’t had the support in their lives that a lot of us, as footballers, have had it can put things into perspective. Putting a smile on a child’s face is very rewarding.”

Now one of the hardest trainers and meticulous preparers at West Lakes, Porplyzia starred last pre-season, impressing new coach Brenton Sanderson and making his long-awaited comeback in the NAB Cup clash with Brisbane in February.

The popular and humble Crow has missed only one match because of a muscle strain this season and will finally reach the 100-game milestone against Richmond at AAMI Stadium on Saturday afternoon.

“It’s taken me awhile and I think it (the 100-game milestone) will probably mean more to me than a lot of other guys, who have reached it a bit easier than I have,” he said.

“I’m sure it’s something I’ll look back on when everything is done and dusted and be very proud of.”

Although slightly frustrated he won’t reach the milestone in his career-best form ‘09’, Porplyzia, who has showed glimpses of brilliance this season, is happy just to be reaching the ton.

“Up until the end of 2009, I’d been building and building and had a reasonable year,” he said.

“It’s disappointing that I’ve probably taken a bit of a step back because of injuries. My form hasn’t been as good as I would’ve liked and it’s been frustrating, but I’m still working hard and trying to improve areas of my game.

“I have a greater appreciation of every game I do play now. I want to make the most of each game.”