AFL.com.au this year tracked two Victorian draftees through their 2020 season in the latest Going Places series. Sandringham Dragons prospect and Essendon's No.9 draft pick Archie Perkins was one, with regular updates on how he was faring as COVID-19 crashed into their season. This is the second of two pieces on Perkins' year, originally published on November 26. Read part one here.
Part three: September 2020
Archie Perkins started this year hoping Trevor Barker Oval would be the scene of his growing list of on-field highlights. But instead the Sandringham Dragons' home ground, a two-minute drive from Perkins' house, has become a COVID-19 "sanctuary".
Perkins will head there again this afternoon with mates for a kick and a run during Melbourne's extreme and extended lockdown period. In recent weeks Victorian draftees' hopes of taking the field this year have been extinguished, with the AFL pulling the pin on a proposed shortened NAB League season and the APS schools competition also abandoning its shortened year.
Perkins saw the decisions as inevitable as Victoria's crisis worsened, but it didn't make it easier to take. Despite 5km travel restrictions, a curfew and mandatory masks to stop the spread of the virus, Perkins has tried to keep connected.
"I'm going for a kick today at Trevor Barker in a couple of hours so little things like that that you work towards. I try not to think about how many weeks we could be in this. When I'm in that angry mindset I think 'Let's get through class this morning, get to lunch and then go have a kick of the footy'," he says.
When Victoria was lifted into stage four lockdown – the harshest and longest in the world – Perkins knew the chances of any games had dissipated.
"Given the situation in Victoria I was expecting it but you are always hanging on to that extra bit of hope that there would be some light at the end of the tunnel. But it was the nail in the coffin. I've been focusing on school and it's a bit of groundhog day and getting used to my routine. It's a bit of the same old," he says.
"It sucks. It's less about the intensity of the restrictions, but about the duration and what it does to your mindset when they say there's six more weeks of this. This morning I woke up, got up from bed and I thought 'I can literally tell you the exact things I'm going to do today' and that's the same for the next few weeks. I'm sick of it."
The toll of the lockdown has been bigger than just being stuck at home. In a seminal year, Perkins and his cohort have been sidelined from the events that shape a year 12: 18th birthdays have been lost, and this week his group will cancel its schoolies booking for Byron Bay. "Everyone says 'Make sure you have a 19th party next year!' but it's not really the same," he says.
He has spent the isolation period at home with his parents Victoria and Simon, and younger brother and sister. Victoria and Simon migrated to Australia from New Zealand in their 20s, having picked up an interest in the AFL through their son's ambitions.
Perkins didn't join in NAB AFL Auskick as a kid, instead being introduced to the game at a schoolyard bout of 'Jack in the pack' on the asphalt. "When I went to primary school everyone had the footy at recess and lunch and it was like 'What am I doing? Why haven't I got the footy?'," he says.
He has watched plenty of AFL games this season, and is a Geelong fan, having cottoned on to the Cats during their powerful premiership era – "I used to have a 'Chappy' (Paul Chapman) poster from the 2009 Grand Final up on my wall, but it's gone now," he says. This season has been as much about following the youngsters he played with and against last year, including recent Bulldogs debutant Louis Butler, who was a former schoolmate of Perkins.
The Cats are one of only three clubs who haven't interviewed Perkins yet. More and more he has been asked by non-Victorian clubs about his thoughts on moving states.
"Ideally I'd like to stay here, especially after this year. Having a shit year then having to boot off elsewhere would be hard but I understand I don't have a choice. That's what I say to clubs. You'd rather be honest with them and let them know. I say 'Ideally I'd like to stay here but it's not up to me'," he says.
There is still a possibility of a series of Victorian trial games at the end of the year but it is unlikely. Perkins' plans for this year haven't amounted to much, but he will be drafted, it is just a matter of where.
"I was pretty confident about this year. I was feeling really good in the pre-season and was ready to play predominantly in the midfield with Dragons and school. I was feeling really good and I think I was on an upward trajectory," he says.
"I feel like I hadn't shown all I can do last year and I was only going to show and prove more, so that's disappointing, because I feel like I would've really taken my game to another level. But it's OK.
"There's been players who have already got more runs on the board than me, but I'm aware that's not what it's all about. It's about what clubs think you can do at AFL level and if you can turn your talent into a good AFL player. I wouldn't really care what number I'd go, it's sort of irrelevant."
Part four: November 2020
In a season when so many opportunities to shine have been lost, Perkins wasn't missing out on his chance at the NAB AFL Draft Combine.
The Combines this year were spread out across the country, with the annual national event unable to be held in Victoria. And as restrictions eased in recent weeks in Melbourne as the state got on top of its second wave of COVID-19 cases, Vic Metro prospects were able to meet at the Holden Centre last week and test in key categories.
Perkins left as one of the best performed, running the 20m sprint in 2.93 seconds, the 2km time trial in 6:23 minutes and finishing third overall in the vertical jumps test (94cm). It was a performance on the whole that reminded recruiters of his explosiveness, and the edge he has on others in his draft class.
"I was pretty happy. I wasn't expecting to go amazingly well in the 2km time trial. It's the real test for everyone because we all really dread it and it requires the most effort," he said. "I've gone for quite a few runs periodically throughout this year but it hasn't been too strenuous. I'm pretty pleased with how I handled it."
Perkins' athletic prowess has always come naturally. Two years ago he won the long jump at the APS athletics event, having only been the emergency for it. But when a classmate got injured in another run, Perkins subbed in and won it having not done any training for that specific jump. He has also won the triple jump twice, and finished second in the state in 2018 for the triple jump.
The Combine was the last item on a football calendar that has largely been scrubbed out across this season. But with only a matter of weeks until his name is called out by a club, Perkins has started to think more about where he could end up.
He has been interviewed by Hawthorn three times, and Essendon twice, with both clubs doing plenty of research into Perkins for their top-10 picks. The only coach to sit in on a chat is the Giants' Leon Cameron, but Perkins doesn't try to second-guess how clubs handle their interviews, and what it might mean for his destination.
"Leon didn't really say much, he was just listening in. They just want to get to know you so they don't really say 'We're really interested in you'. Obviously some recruiters are a bit more stern and really serious and others are a bit more laidback. It's probably just their personalities," he says.
The interviews have stopped for a couple of weeks, though, as Perkins completes his year 12 exams. His year level was able to return to school for a week or so of studies before entering their end of school celebrations, which were muted by normal standards due to COVID-19 restrictions. Overall Perkins has spent about half of his school year actually at school, but he is confident that won't impact on his results.
"I'd like to say I'm feeling good and I'm not overwhelmed, but everything is here. It's the pointy end of the year and when exams are done, that's it. I'm just trying to do as much work as I can and sometimes that gets a bit boring, but it's almost over," he said.
"I'm trying to go as well as I can and I think if I perform as normal then I should get my score that I want for commerce at Melbourne Uni."
The easing of Melbourne's lockdown, into the end of school and then the draft has made for a brighter finish to Perkins' 2020. But it doesn't make up for the things that have been lost, and the realisation he will be moving into a new phase of his life without really getting the chance to properly enjoy the last one.
"I was more sad about the stage of life you're at, and you're growing up, and I've been at school as long as I can remember, and school's an indication that you're still young and still a kid. It was more the bit about growing up that I was like 'Oh, shit'," he says.
With the NAB AFL Draft slated for December 9, that time is coming quickly. In a year that has gone slowly at times, Perkins is speeding towards the most significant night of his life. He knows what he can add to a club, on and off the field, and is proud of how he has handled this year. Now he waits.
"I'm a pretty laidback person, has a lot of fun, likes having a joke, so I think I'd be a pretty good addition to a team because you need those blokes around. And as a player hopefully I can bring a bit of energy, a bit of spark, a bit of a point of difference. I want to work as hard as I can and see what happens," he said.
"Getting drafted would be a bit of a reward for the year I think. To have something at the end to have and make you feel a bit better about the year. A lot of people will finish school and their reward will be no school and they get to do whatever they want, but it will be a nice little thing to happen that will make me think 'OK, we can now leave this year behind and start focusing on the future'.
"I really like footy and I want to play AFL. To be able to say 'It's finally here' and not having to worry about it anymore and start getting on with it… I'm excited for that."