TIME AT THE TOP - Damien Lock's three years with Carlton
BENDIGO's Nick Carter forged a 25-game AFL career with three clubs in a four-year span between 1996 and 1999.
He was drafted from the Bendigo Pioneers to Fitzroy ahead of what would be the club's last year in the AFL, was part of the "chosen eight" by Brisbane following the merger with the Lions, before finishing his career with a one-season stint at Melbourne.
Carter this week spoke with the Addy to reflect on his AFL days.
LUKE WEST: Carts, you were pick No.20 by Fitzroy in the 1995 AFL Draft. Given the draft back then wasn't the big TV production it is now, how did you find out you had become a Lion?
NICK CARTER: "I remember in the lead-up I had some phone calls from a couple of clubs. North Melbourne was one that was fairly keen, Essendon had shown some interest and so too Fitzroy.
"I reckon on the day itself I was just floating around town with a few mates on a Saturday. I'm pretty sure it wasn't televised back then, so I was waiting for a phone call and when it came it all happened fairly quickly.
"I remember me and a few mates had been training really hard knowing that if we were fortunate to get picked up we were going to be thrown straight into an AFL training program, so we'd better be in good nick.
"I remember my first run at Fitzroy and we were down at Yarra Bend where all the golf courses are in Melbourne and doing a fartlek session around one of the courses. I think we did about 18kms that day and I came in midway in the pack, which I took as a good start because you do have that initial fear that you're going to be bringing up the rear down the back.
"So my fitness was pretty good when I got down there and it stopped me being nervous early."
What are your recollections of the club itself that you walked into given your first season at Fitzroy would ultimately be the club's last before the merger with Brisbane?
"When I look back on it I liken it a bit to my VFL days (with the Bendigo Diggers and Bombers).
"They had an office at the top of a pub in Fitzroy and we were training at Coburg in fairly substandard training facilities to what you would see at an AFL club.
"In terms of administration there was only the bare essentials... there was a general manager and recruiting manager, but it was what it was.
"I didn't know any different, but then the dialogue started that year around potential mergers.
"At the time during that 1996 season there was talk of Fitzroy going to Brisbane or merging with North Melbourne, so there was some nervousness around that.
"And I suppose at the time you can't help but think, would it have been easier had I been drafted somewhere like an Essendon or Sydney that had a really strong foundation.
"But at the same time, having Ricky Nixon as my manager and the support around me, I had confidence that if Fitzroy was to fold I'd be able to get picked up in the subsequent year."
You got the call-up for your AFL debut in round six of 1996 against Richmond at the Western Oval. Looks like a tough day for the Lions with a 92-point loss. What do you remember of your first game?
"Probably what I remember the most is some of the guys that I got to play against for the first time.
"Matty Knights and Matthew Richardson were both out there for Richmond and I suppose that's when it really hits that you are out there running around in an AFL game.
"But for me at the time it was as much about earning the trust of my team-mates, whether that be a Brad Boyd, Chris Johnson, John Barker, Simon Atkins or a Martin Pike.
"They are seeing you play for the first time and probably thinking, 'okay, you're a young kid who got drafted high, but are you any good?'
"There was a nervousness for me in that and I guess you're a bit fearful of not meeting the standards of those guys.
"Did I have a fear going into that first game? Absolutely. But it wasn't a fear of running into a bigger body, it was a fear of letting those senior guys in particular down."
Did I have a fear going into that first game? Absolutely. But it wasn't a fear of running into a bigger body, it was a fear of letting those senior guys in particular down- Nick Carter reflecting on his debut game with Fitzroy against Richmond in 1996
There are parts of the second half of your debut game on YouTube and there you are, the No.30 on your back playing on the wing.
"In my early games I got rotated through the wing mainly. I remember in my second game against Carlton I had been on and off the bench in the first half and Mick Nunan the coach said I'm going to play you the whole second half on the wing, so go out there and show us what you can do.
"I got 18 or 19 touches that day against Carlton (it was 20) and then my third game was the day against Fremantle when I started on the wing, had a good game and we ended up winning, so I thought that would launch my senior run.
"But to be honest, my form for the rest of the year was pretty patchy."
That Fremantle game you mentioned seems to be the game you're most associated with. Not only would it prove to be Fitzroy's last win, but you also had 31 touches. Is that the game you look back on most fondly?
"That was a good day, no doubt, but I look back at a game we played against West Coast at the WACA (round 10) and I had about 25 touches on the wing playing against Chris Mainwaring.
"That's probably the game I think about the most because Mainwaring was an idol of mine growing up.
"I'll be honest though, we ran fairly wide of each other that day and both got a bit of the ball (Mainwaring had 29 touches; Carter 25)."
Just back on the Fremantle win, what do you remember of the emotion surrounding it given where the club was at and the uncertainty around its future?
"The boys were up and about and I suppose it had us thinking that maybe we're a chance to win a few games this year.
"The boys enjoyed their time after that win, not like they'd be able to do in the AFL environment these days.
"Post that game though, our form was patchy... we might play well for a half and then drop away and in the end as more continued to be said about mergers and so forth we just fizzled out."
I guess at the time when you beat Fremantle in round eight you didn't know it would end up being the club's last win. But when you boarded the plane to head to Perth and play Fremantle again that year in round 22 you knew by then it was going to be Fitzroy's last game given the merger with Brisbane had been confirmed back in July.
"That last game against Fremantle was a strange day. We played terrible (the Dockers won by 86 points) and I remember sitting on the bench for most of it because the focus was on having players out there who were probably playing their last AFL game.
"I don't think it was ever going to be a strong performance that last game."
With your Fitzroy chapter over you then became one of the eight Lions players chosen by Brisbane as part of the merger. How did that play out?
"Kinnear Beatson (Brisbane recruiting manager) came to my house and spoke about what the situation was in regards to taking eight Fitzroy players.
"Some guys opted to say no to the offer and instead take a punt and go in the draft, but I took it up and two weeks later I was on a plane to Brisbane.
"If I reflect on my time in Brisbane, the first year I went up there I probably didn't cope too well for a number of factors... lifestyle, living with different people, learning how to cook and that sort of stuff.
"Then in the second year expectations were higher on me becoming a regular Brisbane Lions contributor; not so much in the starting 18, but being in the top 25.
"I was at the top of the group in terms of running in pre-season, my pre-season was good, but I just didn't take my opportunities when I got my senior chances.
"I remember winning the reserves best and fairest in both years at Brisbane, so my form at that level was fine, but I just never managed to break into that senior side regularly and be a consistent contributor.
"John Northey (coach) and I got on reasonably well, but the more the second year played out discussions started about a trade, with Melbourne and Essendon being a couple of options and at that point I wasn't particularly fussed with either.
"Both clubs had good coaches with Kevin Sheedy at Essendon and Neale Daniher at Melbourne and it ended up being a trade with Melbourne, so I had a year there in 1999."
You say you weren't fussed with either Essendon or Melbourne at the time, but does it ever cross your mind that in 2000 Essendon beat Melbourne in the grand final and what if?
"Sometimes you have a think about it, but that's the way it played out and in the end, Melbourne was almost a carbon copy of Brisbane.
"I had moved from a wing into the midfield with Melbourne's thinking to be able to give Todd Viney a chop-out given we were similar inside-type players and Todd was getting to the end of his career.
"It worked OK in a couple of games, but again, I didn't get to that level I needed to and in the end, it was probably an easy decision for Neale Daniher at the end of that year and I was on my way back to Bendigo."
On reflection, how do you look back on your four years in the AFL system?
"I'm really proud of being able to get the opportunities that I did.
"Would I loved to have played 100 games and had the chance to play in at least one final, absolutely I would have.
"So I could have achieved more, but I didn't and at times you kick yourself a little when you think about that.
"But I'll always respect the time I had in the AFL and I'm better for the experience."
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