In this instalment of ‘Where are they Now?’ we catch up with premiership player Ben Marsh.
Marsh had a dream start to his AFL career winning a flag in only his ninth game, but was brought back down to earth when he suffered a serious injury in his very next match.
Marsh played junior football for Flagstaff Hill in Adelaide’s southern suburbs before joining SANFL club West Adelaide in Under-17s. He made his league debut for Westies as a 19-year-old in 1996 and, at the end of the season, attracted interest from the Crows.
It was the same year the AFL introduced the ‘Rookie Draft’. Marsh became the first rookie ever recruited by Adelaide. He was selected with No.5 – two picks after future teammate, Nathan Bassett, who was taken by Melbourne at No.3 …
“The Rookie Draft was all new at the time and no one was really sure what it was all about. As far as I was concerned, it gave me the opportunity to be on an AFL list and it was a very good opportunity for me, that’s for sure.”
The 202cm, 102kg, ruckman/forward didn’t play an AFL game in his first year at Adelaide, but impressed enough to earn a spot on the rookie list again in 1998 and was ‘re-drafted’ by the Club. He didn’t have to wait much longer for an opportunity.
An injury to Nick Laidlaw opened up a spot on the senior list mid-season, Marsh was promoted and selected to make his AFL debut against the Sydney Swans at the SCG in Round 14. He won 17 hit-outs and also kicked three goals on seven-time All Australian and future Hall of Famer, Paul Roos …
“I have pretty good memories of that day. Just making my AFL debut was a bit surreal. I was pretty lucky I had a few (kicks) that came out of the middle and hit me on the chest, and I managed to slot the goals. It’s probably the arrogance of youth, but at the time I don’t think I realised what I’d done.
“I bumped into Paul Roos years later at the airport and he remembered that day, which was quite funny. He sort of said to me, ‘Here’s this young rookie who comes in for his first game and kicks three goals on me, and I get moved off him during the game!”
“You stop and think, ‘Wow. That was actually a pretty big achievement to kick a few goals on a player of Paul’s stature’.”
Marsh played six of the next seven games, assisting Shaun Rehn and at times also David Pittman in the ruck, as well as providing a target in attack alongside Darren Jarman, Matthew Robran and Mark Stevens.
He played his first final against Melbourne at the MCG, where the Crows were soundly beaten. After another quiet game in Adelaide’s Semi-Final win over the Swans, Marsh was left out of the Preliminary Final side …
“To that point, the season had been such a great experience. When we went up to Sydney and I got dropped for the next game, that’s when reality set in.
“The year before in 1997, the boys won the flag from nowhere and it was great to be a part of the Club at that time. I thought I’d missed out on that in 1998. I remember watching the Preliminary Final against the Bulldogs and, obviously, we got through which was great … but I wasn’t real sure what was going to happen to me.”
The cards fell in Marsh’s favour. Adelaide’s Grand Final opponents, North Melbourne, boasted an abundance of tall players, including the likes of Wayne Carey, Corey McKernan and Jason McCartney. Coach Malcolm Blight wanted height to combat the Kangaroos, and the selection committee made the tough call to replace 1997 premiership midfielder Chad Rintoul with Marsh …
“I got a phone call on the Tuesday or Wednesday morning of Grand Final week to say that I was in. It was more of a tactical thing. North had a number of taller guys in their side, so it was more about match-ups and I got the call-up. (Football Manager) John Reid’s number came up on my phone and I had an inkling that he was calling me about selection. I was pretty pumped at that point.”
Marsh played limited game time in the Grand Final, but when the siren sounded that didn’t matter – he was a premiership player …
“It was a real buzz. Even just running out on the ground was exhilarating. The massive crowd was going nuts and the noise was unbelievable.
“I didn’t appreciate the enormity of what I’d achieved at the time. I wouldn’t say it came easy, but I got elevated from the rookie list, made my AFL debut and then played in a winning Grand Final in only my ninth game.
“I was a premiership player. Lots of people aspire to that for years and years and, unfortunately, some never achieve that goal. I’d done it within my first year of AFL footy. You probably don’t appreciate it fully until later on in life when you reflect and think, ‘That was pretty amazing stuff’.”
Marsh enjoyed the win with his teammates and put in the hard yards over the pre-season with the intention of helping Adelaide achieve a three-peat. Unfortunately, his season ended after just one miserly handball when his knee gave way early in the Club’s Round One clash with the Western Bulldogs in 1999 …
“That probably brought me back to reality. Maybe, not right at that moment, but a few weeks later when I was sitting at home unable to do much.
“I’d experienced the highs and lows of the game within a quarter of footy.”
The No.31 underwent a knee reconstruction and missed the entire season. He made a promising three-goal return against Collingwood in Round Two, 2000, but only managed a couple more goals for the rest of the season and didn’t play after Round 16.
A late developer by his own admission, the mobile tall played a career-best 18 games in 2001, displaying his neat tap work and big vertical leap, but niggling injuries contributed to him making only 15 more appearances in the next three years …
“Once you have a serious injury like a knee reconstruction, your body is never quite the same. In saying that, I still had lots of opportunities later in my career. Whether I made the most of them or not is the debate that will always rage on, but continual injuries didn’t help.
“I had operations nearly every year. I had a few other issues here and there, but most of my injuries were related to that one knee I had reconstructed.”
After 48 games in seven years, Marsh and the Club parted ways at the end of 2003. He was offered an AFL lifeline by Richmond, who selected him in the 2004 Pre-Season Draft. Marsh added another seven AFL games to his career tally before retiring at the end of 2004 at age 28 …
“It was fantastic to get over to Melbourne. I hadn’t lived outside of Adelaide before, so to go over there and live close to the city was a great experience. We played on the MCG, the home of football, as our home ground and we got to train on it on the odd occasion as well.
“I was hoping to get a bit more game time at the Tigers. It didn’t quite eventuate, but it was still a great experience. When I finished at Richmond, I came back to Adelaide and played under Shaun Rehn at Westies in his last year as coach.
“When you come out of the AFL system, you start working for a living rather than investing 100 per cent of the time into your body. Slowly but surely, it started to take longer to recover and I couldn’t train the way I wanted to. I knew it was time to move on from footy.”
While playing footy, Marsh completed a degree in Industrial Design. He now works as the National Sales and Marketing Manager for SA company Redarc Electronics, which specialises in portable power solutions …
“I moved into product development and then into management and sales. At Redarc, we work in recreation leisure, so vehicles and trucking industries, mostly. We manufacture all our products in Adelaide and get to see the whole process from designing, making and then selling the products. I’ve been there for the past four years and it’s a fantastic business to work for.”
Marsh is also kept busy with his young family. He has a nine-year-old son, Mitchell, and a daughter Eloise, who is six. Late last year, Mitchell enjoyed the opportunity to have a kick and a catch on Adelaide Oval and meet the current Crows squad as part of the Club’s Past Players initiative. The family also attends home games when work and sporting commitments permit …
“Mitchell is pretty obsessed with footy. He loves the opportunities we get as past players. It was fantastic to take him along to Adelaide Oval last year and meet all the current players.
“And as a past player, seeing your name on the wall as the players walk down the race, I think it’s great what the Club has done there. Mitchell really enjoys the game and I’m getting more involved in footy again as he’s getting more involved. He plays Under-9s for Kangarilla and sneaks a few Under-11 games in as well.
“My wife, Belinda, is pretty heavily involved in the footy club up there as well, so it’s a really good environment to be part of.”