BRANDON Ellis learned at an early age that footy wasn’t the be-all and end-all.
He knew he was lucky to be talented and that an AFL career could ultimately set him up for life. But he also understood how quickly everything could be taken away from him.
During his Under 16 year playing TAC Cup, Ellis’ father was diagnosed with cancer.
“We didn’t think he was going to be around for much longer,” Ellis tells foxfooty.com.au.
“But he’s a fighter. He went through with the chemotherapy and radiotherapy and the lump in his neck disappeared. It was sort of a miracle.
“The doctors told him it was too far gone, that we couldn’t get rid of it. And then six months later after all the treatment he had, it was gone.
“It has shaped me into the person I am today and has gotten me where I am. I don’t take life for granted.”
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Despite this prevailing attitude, Ellis says footy became more like a chore than his childhood passion in 2016, when Richmond slumped to 13th after three consecutive elimination final exits.
Wholesale change — with the exception of coach Damien Hardwick — preceded the season, as a plethora of experienced assistant coaches were installed to reboot the club.
“It was disappointing to see them go, but it was also refreshing to see some new faces,” Ellis says.
“Justin Leppitsch is back and Blake Caracella, who is a tactical genius, has come in from Geelong. He’s been awesome for us.”
While winning certainly brings a level of enjoyment to any player, Ellis says it’s a return to the basics which has changed the fabric at Punt Road.
There have been some “heartfelt conversations” — including Ellis’ own story of sharing a bedroom with his younger brother until he was drafted — which have broken down walls between players and coaches.
But ultimately it’s a return to a simpler game plan that has re-energised the team.
“It reminds me of when I was a little kid, just going out there and playing to have fun with no worries in the world,” Ellis says.
“Last year we were probably too structured and had too many rules — ‘you can do this, but you can’t do that’ — but now the coaches just gives us rules for offence, defence and contest.
“But other than that, it’s just about playing footy. Go out there and play like you did when you were a young kid. That has been the biggest change, just letting us play and have fun.”
With the fun has also come the challenges.
Ellis was thrown down back, a challenge for the self-confessed “outside player” who was too easily tagged and shut-out of matches.
“Dimma threw me into the backline this year and in the backline you’ve obviously got to win a lot of your own ball and one-on-ones so I did a lot of contested training in this year’s preseason,” Ellis says.
“I like to go first when he have a ground ball drill or do some extras after training because I like putting that pressure on myself. Everyone’s watching that first one so you don’t want to stuff it up.”
Ellis has won 32 per cent of his possessions at the contest in 2017, up from 27 per cent last year.
PREPARING FOR SEPTEMBER
Ellis played in all three unsuccessful elimination finals from 2013 to 2015.
Against North Melbourne in 2015, like many of his teammates, he had his colours lowered by North tagger Sam Gibson, collecting only 10 touches.
Ellis says it’s a simplification to say that because of the new personnel at the club those matches are now irrelevant.
But he also believes Richmond is poised to win its first final since 2001.
“You do think about them. They’re always going to be in the back of your mind,” Ellis says of the elimination final losses.
“When they come around again, I think we’re going to be a lot more prepared. We’ve implemented more things into our program and into mental training as well, for when pressure situations come around.
“I think we’re a lot better prepared. All of our coaches now have played in finals or grand finals so we can feed off their experience and what they’ve got to offer us.
“When it comes around we’re going to be ready for it.”
Apart from the impending finals, the biggest talking point at Tigerland has surrounded the future of Dustin Martin.
The out of contract Brownlow favourite is yet to commit to Richmond, with North Melbourne reportedly the front runner for his services.
Despite the chatter, Ellis says it hasn’t been a distraction.
“We’ve won 14 games this year while it has been going on all year,” he says.
“Dusty has been playing the best footy of his career, while being out of contract. It’s not affecting anyone, it’s not affecting him, it’s not affecting us as a team.
“We’ll just support whatever decision he makes. I’d love for him to stay here. He’s a valuable member of our team. The boys love him.”
Regardless of the decision Martin makes, and whether or not Richmond finally breaks its finals hoodoo, Ellis will maintain his maintain his mantra.
“We get so caught up in footy. It takes over your life,” he says.
“When stuff to family members happen you sort of just think footy is just a game. There’s so many more important things out there than football.
“Obviously it creates great opportunities for us. And everything we have today is because of footy.
“But family is the most important thing, and the same with friends and the support network you have around you.”
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Originally published as The ’miracle’ driving Tiger’s amazing turnaround
Source: sports dailytelegraph