PART ONE - NATHAN THOMPSON'S SEVEN YEARS AT HAWTHORN
AFTER a seven-year stint and 119 games with Hawthorn, 2005 signaled the beginning of chapter two of Nathan Thompson's AFL career at North Melbourne.
In part two of his Time at the Top feature, Thompson reflects on his four seasons at the Kangaroos, where he carved out a further 60 games.
LUKE WEST: Thommo, you arrived at North Melbourne ahead of the 2005 season seeking a fresh start after your days at Hawthorn. How did you find the move to Arden Street?
NATHAN THOMPSON: "Those first two years at North Melbourne I had a couple of great years personally in 2005 and 2006 before doing my knee in 2007.
"Across 2005-06 I was consistent; I kicked over 50 goals both years playing centre half-forward and full-forward and snuck into the ruck every now and then in teams that were fairly handy.
"Going into the 2007 season it was the last of the practice matches and just after three quarter-time against St Kilda Sam Fisher went through on my knee and I needed a total reconstruction.
"After that, the little bit of athleticism I had that was more around leap and sideways movement rather than speed, it affected me too much and when I came back the next year I just wasn't able to perform well enough to hold my spot for the year after."
Injuries are part of the game, but how mentally challenging was it to have to sit out an entire year of AFL football in 2007?
"That was a really tough year because at the end of 2006 in my contract I had clauses where if I hit certain markers I was going to be rewarded with a much better contract.
"It's funny how it works, but North Melbourne was very unorganised in their dealings with me.
"I still wasn't re-signed by the start of that season (2007) when I was playing practice matches and when you look back on it, I should have held out and said I'm not playing until you sign the dotted line on this.
"Then I tore my knee and they tried to renege on a lot of that contract and in the end I had to take a considerable cut to what was promised to me.
"So that was really disappointing from a personal standpoint where I felt I had given them a great couple of years, but they weren't holding their part of the deal.
"That was an interesting scenario, but we ended up coming to terms and moving forward.
"But from a mental health point of view, that 2007 season was just a terrible year and I really struggled.
"I had got myself to a point where I felt I was getting the best out of myself as a person and a footballer and it then all gets taken away and once again, I was doing it fairly tough.
I had got myself to a point where I felt I was getting the best out of myself as a person and a footballer and it then all gets taken away and once again, I was doing it fairly toughNathan Thompson on his 2007 season sidelined with a knee injury
"For me, 2007 was a wipe-out year individually, but the club had a great year... it was tough not to be out there playing forward when the club was actually killing it."
That was the year the Roos got through to a preliminary final against Port Adelaide wasn't it?
"Yep, that was the year.
"I had actually tried to get up for the preliminary final. I had trained really hard in an attempt to try to get out there, but the club said no, they're not going to take the risk, which was fair enough.
"So I missed out that year."
Six years earlier though you had played in a preliminary final with Hawthorn against Essendon.
The Hawks were big underdogs that day and the scoreline reflected it at half-time, but you guys motored home in the second half before falling nine points short.
As a keen Bomber fan, I remember getting very nervous in the second half.
"That was a really interesting day. Leading into that game I'd played reasonably well in finals beforehand, but that day was different.
"I don't know what it was, but the day just had an eerie feeling to it and the nerves were really high.
"You couldn't hear anything because the crowd was just enormous.
"I was playing full-forward and it was one of those days where every time you got an opportunity you'd have two Essendon players smashing into you and there was so much competition at ground level.
"My best attribute was my marking and leading, but it was a very tough day at full-forward.
"I went into the ruck after half-time for a while and that's when I started to play better personally.
"As a team we went into the game really positive. Essendon didn't have Matthew Lloyd (suspended) and we felt they may have had a few injuries, but we went in with a few injuries ourselves.
"Essendon got out to a four or five goal lead and three or so of their goals were from free kicks in the first quarter.
"We just couldn't catch a break, but from three quarter-time we really fought our backsides off to get back within a few points and then Trent Croad hitting the top of the post from 55m was a real heartbreaker.
"From memory Essendon then ran it down the other end and 30 seconds later kicked a goal and knocked the wind out of our sails."
GAME NOTE - Essendon won 11.10 (76) to 9.13 (67) in front of 86,468 at the MCG. Thompson kicked one goal and had 14 disposals.
After making the move to North, what was the experience like for you the first time you came up against Hawthorn on the Saturday afternoon at the MCG in round five of 2005?
"I felt pretty average leaving Hawthorn to be honest.
"They had a young list and were looking to the senior players like myself and Richie Vandenberg and had just got Alastair Clarkson in to coach.
"Looking back now, and even at the time, I felt really bad about leaving Hawthorn at the end of 2004, but it was a decision I made at the time that I standby and I really needed to make a choice to save my career because I had a family and needed to keep paying the bills.
"That first game against Hawthorn... it didn't feel good at all to be playing against them. I ended up having a reasonably good game in the ruck, kicked a couple of goals playing forward and we won the game.
"I didn't enjoy seeing my old team-mates who were struggling a bit and I was certainly relieved when it was over. After playing well I felt I had made the right decision to save my career, but I felt like I'd also let down some of my close mates."
I didn't enjoy seeing my old team-mates who were struggling a bit and I was certainly relieved when it was over. After playing well I felt I had made the right decision to save my career, but I felt like I'd also let down some of my close mates
Jumping back to 2008, how did that season pan out coming off your year out of the game in 2007?
"I had a real struggle with the knee that next year. I was in-and-out and later in the year when I was starting to find some form I had a bad injury against the Bulldogs (round 19).
"I tore all the ligaments in an ankle. I did the right thing by the club, who asked me to stay out there and play the second half to take one of the Dogs' main defenders, which I did, but it just wrecked my ankle.
"Once I recovered from that I had to go back and play at Werribee, which was our aligned club in the VFL and I did OK down there, but I was needing to get injections into my ankle every game and could only run at about 85 per cent.
"So I was trying to save my career and make it back into the North team before the finals at the same time.
"Dean Laidley (coach) picked me for the first final against Sydney on the worst ground in the AFL, ANZ Stadium.
"I just threw everything at it that night. I got knocked out in the first five minutes when I went through a pack to pick up a ball and one of their guys got me a good one.
"I came off after that, then came back on and flew for a mark on the wing and Leo Barry, who was playing on me and was a great player, came over the top to spoil me and when I hit the ground he landed on top of me and I tore the pectoral muscle off the bone.
"I couldn't lift my arm and had a warm, stabbing pain in my shoulder. I was thinking this could be my last game, so I thought, stuff it and went into the room, got jabbed up and went back out and played again and just gave it everything I had."
GAME NOTE - North Melbourne led by 10 points at half-time, but the Swans prevailed 17.8 (110) to 11.9 (75). Thompson kicked one goal and had eight possessions.
"And as it turned out, that was my last game of AFL footy, but again, I felt the club let me down from the way it acted from a contract perspective.
"In fairness to them though, I'd had a fairly average year in regards to some behavior stuff.
"On one of the interstate trips I got a bit inebriated and one of the young blokes I was having a few beers with ended up missing training.
"As a senior player the club put that on my head, but looking back on it now, I do agree with them that my time was up and they were right to get rid of me.
"The reality was for the last two months of that year and even after that last game we had email and written confirmation that I would be given another one-year contract with numbers and everything all done.
"But as it turned out, basically all senior players who weren't Adam Simpson or Brent Harvey were gone.
"I went into a meeting after I got out of hospital after having my shoulder done because I was thinking I'd be playing again and I was told my time's up."
Did you consider the option of trying to continue at another club?
"To be honest, my stocks were gone. Including my year on the supplementary list at Hawthorn (1997) I'd had 12 years in the competition and in 2008 I hadn't had a great season.
"I'd had a lot of injuries, so my worth in terms of a trade was gone and I understood that.
"North did put the feelers out, but there was nothing realistic on the table that was going to equate to a contract.
"At the time I was pretty cooked mentally and physically... I had lost the athleticism and probably the mental toughness to compete at that level."
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