How Sydney Stack overcame rejection to find AFL stardom (Herald Sun)

LeeToRainesToRoach

Get out Gillon
Jun 4, 2006
22,720
146
Melbourne
The incredible story of how Sydney Stack overcame rejection to find AFL stardom
Jon Ralph
Herald Sun
May 24, 2019


Sydney Stack was once rejected by every AFL club and a footy career looked unlikely. A born survivor, he has overcome a broken home, unimaginable hardships and rejection. Jon Ralph tells his extraordinary story.

Sydney Stack was late, and he was hungry.

It was the 2016 post-season and the brilliant WA teen had an induction meeting with footy’s most senior under-age coach in AFL Academy boss Brenton Sanderson.

The brilliant young colt from Northam via the Perth Demons was making waves for his stunning football ability and a background with its share of “issues”.

If the 16-year-old junior prodigy truly wanted to progress into AFL ranks, Sanderson was the man to impress.

So instead of hastily eating his lunch in the car, he took it into the meeting.

On the menu that day in front of Sanderson?

A box of Colonel Sanders’ finest KFC.

Exactly two years later, Stack sat in the presidents lounge of the Perth football club awaiting judgement day - the 2018 national draft.

Alongside him were Perth football club CEO Marty Atkins, his manager, some mentors and two dozen Stack relatives eager to celebrate his elevation to the AFL.

What should have been a riotous celebration turned into a wake for Stack’s AFL career.

Stack was officially a football pariah, after a million stories like that meeting with Sanderson spread through the recruiting community.

His brilliant talent couldn’t overcome the back story - dumped from the AIS and state squads, a series of poor draft combine interviews, banned for a national championships game, a licence lost through drink-driving.

“We sat through it and as you know with the draft coverage there is a list of what order they think a player will get picked and Sydney was listed at 34,” recalled Atkins this week.

“After about Round three Sydney’s name was at the top of the board of available players, and it just stayed there for the rest of the day.

“When it finished I turned off the TV and said to the family that it had nothing to do with his football skills, you guys and the club need to help this kid to make sure one day he does get drafted.”

What Stack needed was a football club prepared to peel back the layers of his extraordinary story.

To accept his limitations and absorb in the full context of the stories like that KFC anecdote.

Because, as former Perth football club talent manager Peter Brear says, few AFL clubs apart from Richmond have been prepared to invest the time into finding out about the real Sydney Stack.

To sort the fact from fiction.

“Sydney is one of the greatest AFL stories going around not just this year, but for the past five or six years,” says Brear, one of Stack’s closest confidantes and mentors.

“For a kid like him with no airs and graces, no benefit of a leafy tree-lined suburb and private school existence to break the mould through all his knock-backs and play exceptional football for a premiership contender is amazing.

“He is so resilient. Life has smacked him in the face most days and some kids don’t come back from that. His character and mental strength is exceptional.

“When he turned up with that bucket of KFC, he was working with a concreter and living with his boss at the time and had knocked off after working all morning and travelled an hour to get there from Northam. If you don’t work you don’t get money and there was nothing untowards in it.

“He was hungry and the smart move would have been to eat in the car on the way but that was his mistake. He wasn’t being a smart-arse, that is just him.”

"THAT KID IS CRAZY"

As fate would have it, only hours after the tumbleweeds blew through that Perth room after last November’s draft, Richmond list boss Blair Hartley was on the phone with a proposition.

Richmond was exactly the kind of club with a tolerance to the kind of risk Stack represented — if he could prove himself over a summer.

He literally proved it by vomiting all over Punt Rd, cementing him as a defensive star-in-the making.

Ask his defensive coach Justin Leppitsch why the inside midfielder was repurposed as a small defender and he references those long summer training sessions.

“The back story is that when he rocked up at training he didn’t go 20 minutes without a spew. We learnt pretty quickly he didn’t have the endurance to cut it in the midfield so we put him back,” Leppitsch told the Herald Sun this week.

Tigers assistant coach Xavier Clarke, Stack’s newest landlord after several months in Damien Hardwick’s spare bedroom, says those training sessions are the stuff of legend.

“In the first few months of training it was unbelievable. He would be doing match simulation and be running and spewing and running and spewing and he just wouldn’t stop.”

“It was pretty funny to watch, but he just kept training.”

As Richmond’s injury toll grew he was handed a debut in Round 3, with Leppitsch only just back into the coaches box in Round 6 when Stack’s brutal hip-and-shoulder on Jack Viney made the competition stand up and take notice.

“I was walking back to my seat and the box just erupted. You don’t see that very often. It’s normally a pretty calm place when the senior coach isn’t there,” Leppitsch laughs.

“But everyone went up and it wasn’t because Viney was hurt, it was just because he had the guts to want to push off his man aggressively to close down space. It was like, ‘Wow, that kid is taking on one of the best, he is crazy’.

“A lot of people don’t see that as an opportunity. Sydney sees it and takes it. He eats it up. With his composure, he sees bodies ****** at him. He doesn’t flinch, he makes good decisions and he likes to add his own contact as well. He just loves that part of the game.“

AFL talent manager Kevin Sheehan’s prophecy of a young Byron Pickett prototype emerging upon AFL ranks had been realised.

“He is a good, respectful kid,” says Leppitsch.

“Sometimes guys come in with off-field issues and don’t train hard or don’t give everything they have. That’s not Sydney. He has that of it well and truly covered.

“He is a real jokester, a really funny kid.”

Clarke might have had to think twice when asked to take on Stack given he and wife Laura had their hands full with daughter Zena, now eight months old.

“He (Stack) is a great kid … He is out there,” says Clarke.

“He is not a shy kid, that’s for sure. He likes to put himself out there and he’s actually brought out a lot in the other guys, like Shai Bolton and Derek Eggmolesse-Smith.

“He is a pretty good (house guest), our little eight-month-old is a handful and he is great with her. He comes home from training, plays with her on the floor, is very respectful and has been great so far.”

Yet to regain his licence, Stack cadges a lift off Clarke or the band of Tigers living nearby in Kew including Craig Macrae and Dan Butler.

Hardwick raves about Stack’s playing manner and his character after the perfect two-month audition in his own home.

“For the Hardwick family to do that, it is a real credit to Dimma,” says Clarke.

“He doesn’t shy away from texting Dimma about when the team is selected. I have seen first-year players scared to walk past his office but Sydney can be sitting there with his legs on the couch having a chat to Dimma. He is a confident kid and it shows in the way he plays his footy.”

NOT YOUR USUAL DRAFTEE

Football recruiters like their potential draftees tied up in nice, easy packages with few rough edges.

As manager Paul Peos says, Stack’s background is “unique”.

It is why all 18 clubs overlooked him in the national and rookie drafts before Richmond handed him an overture with the league’s new summer rookie window.

“It’s not the standard upbringing for a young child to come through,” says the financial planner and inaugural member of the 1987 West Coast Eagles..

“He has had to rely on other people to get him to sporting events, to feed him and shelter him.

“As a young boy he has been making decisions on the run. And he did the best he possibly could to keep himself fed and sheltered and participating in the sport he loved.”

Stack first came onto the radar of WAFL club Perth’s recruiters as early as 13 as he and cousin Ian “Bobby” Hill, now a GWS player, dominated local grades in Northam.

Stack’s parents and four sisters were hours south of Perth in Bunbury and, as Brear says, Stack’s childhood has been particularly challenging.

“We were lucky enough to come across Ian and Sydney at 13 and they were thick as thieves coming through development squads, but Sydney lacked support and a role model,’’ says Brear, now working with Cricket Victoria.

“He wasn’t with his mum and dad and he was being looked after by family and a grandma and a number of aunties, one of which was Bobby’s mum.

“Life hasn’t been easy for him. He has had to be a survivor.”

Football was the easy part for Stack, but just finding a roof over his head and three meals a day was a constant challenge.

Out of school early, he bounced through a series of homes and jobs through his teenage years as friends and football support staff desperately tried to add a layer of support.

RECRUITING RED FLAGS

Stack thrilled recruiters in the under-16 championships and was inducted into the AFL Academy as talent scouts went weak at the knees for his skills as a tough inside midfielder.

Then his life began to spiral out of control again through a series of events in the 12 months leading into the national draft.

As manager Peos says, “it was at a point in time where Sydney was very isolated”.

He broke up with his girlfriend and moved out of her father’s house, began to live with his sister in Bunbury and by early 2018 had been dropped from both the AFL Academy and WA state squad.

He would live with Peos, with relative and former Dogs player Brennan Stack, with Brear at a Perth Football Club house for country kids and many other places.

Some issues raised legitimate red flags with recruiters.

He lost his newly-acquired licence after drink-driving on the way home to Northam, he missed an under-18 championships game after losing a tooth in a fight while celebrating his birthday.

As one recruiter says, those scuffles weren’t with strangers in bars but instead over long-standing family issues of vast complexity.

Stack spoke last year of how “footy is a kind of escape for me”.

“I grew up moving a lot and grew up around violence ... and never really had stability, so I just find footy as just a way out, to get out of trouble and things like that,” he said.

“I just really find my peace there, on the footy field.”

But mainly a kid who had irregular access to transport, no regular schooling and sometimes no fixed address would miss training sessions or fail to meet complex squad requirements.

On a New Zealand academy trip the entire squad waited on the bus for Stack, who was missing in action as the group grew nervous about where he might be.

Low and behold, Stack - already to a day late to that camp - bounced out of a hairdressing salon newly shorn and oblivious to the situation, still flashing that toothy grin.

A NEW BEGINNING

It was hard to stay mad at Sydney.

Still, a series of issues meant new AFL Academy boss Power had to move him on from the squad in what is understood to be the toughest decision of his tenure so far.

With Peos entering his life and Brear providing support, Stack gradually dragged himself back into draft calculations as the 2018 national hampionships proved.

But WA coach Peter Sumich dropped him after his over-exuberant birthday celebration.

He went back and played Colts that weekend, then peeled off a trio of brilliant under-18 games and was selected as an All-Australian by the same coaches who had let him go from the AFL Academy.

Says Perth football club’s Brear: “He is quite an intelligent kid and he is a fantastic personality.

“He is his own man and the good thing about him is he is such an honest kid. He doesn’t lie, he tells it all — good and bad.

“When he makes mistakes he sticks his hand up and takes responsibility. There is that survivor in him. He was non-compliant on some things (when dropped from both academies) and he missed some training sessions, but he had to fill out electronic diaries on wellness.

“If you start digging deeper, he didn’t have a home base or internet, or a living away allowance. Sometimes it all proves too hard.”

Says Peos: “If clubs had worked harder to really investigate his background they would realise he was never in real strife. A lot of the issues were because he didn’t have a fixed address. He was not very confident in his reading and writing. He had unreliable transport options. But with his training and footy, he had a long history of being pretty diligent.”

Now Stack is at Richmond, he is working hard to improve his literacy skills like several other players who faced challenges in their upbringing.

Contract talks beckon through the split round, with friends thrilled he has found a club across Australia to allow himself to forge a new path away from some of those intense distractions.

Says Brear, who flew to Sydney to watch that remarkable debut: “When the cards have fallen they have always seemed to come up for Sydney.

“I always say to him that my hope is that he establishes himself, gets his own house and career and has something that no one can take off him.”

https://www.heraldsun.com.au/sport/how-sydney-stack-overcame-rejection-to-find-afl-stardom/news-story/c27dd9fef463248a31e16d696ebdf05a

 

sausage_meat69

Tiger Matchwinner
Oct 28, 2005
535
4
That's uplifting stuff. Nice story just hope he realizes its a long journey and all this commentary doesn't mean he's "made it". I'm pretty confident he'll be ok in the long run but I'd be surprised if there's not any blips along the way like our man Dusty. The media will be ready to smash him when it does he'll need our good people around him. Very proud of the club for giving this lad the chance. Very deserved.
 
E

easy_tiger

Guest
fantastic read thanks for posting.

Extraordinary they're judge a 16 kid on a bucket of KFC.

So am I right that the 'troubled' label is based on

a bucket of KFC, losing his license and losing a tooth?

geez. Im yet to meet an untroubled teenager I think.
 

Smoking Aces

Batten Down The Hatches
Sep 21, 2007
11,766
56
easy said:
fantastic read thanks for posting.

Extraordinary they're judge a 16 kid on a bucket of KFC.

So am I right that the 'troubled' label is based on

a bucket of KFC, losing his license and losing a tooth?

geez. Im yet to meet an untroubled teenager I think.
Exactly Easy.

Gee we judge these kids way too harsh.

Can imagine how many other Stacks are out there that have slipped through the cracks of the AFL system?

Sometimes all these kids need is for someone to give a **** about them.
 

mrposhman

Tiger Legend
Oct 6, 2013
5,520
39
Smoking Aces said:
Exactly Easy.

Gee we judge these kids way too harsh.

Can imagine how many other Stacks are out there that have slipped through the cracks of the AFL system?

Sometimes all these kids need is for someone to give a sh!t about them.
There would likely be heaps.

I bag the AFL out when needed, but to be fair to Gill and Hocking, they should be given credit for the SSP. The ND and RD's prove that he wouldn't have been picked up. He was only given his chance because we were able to take a look at him without any risk, ie. where we could take someone else if he didn't stack up (no pun intended).
 

Tenacious

Tiger Champion
May 19, 2008
3,265
16
Thanks L2R29 that is a great read

BTW is that in today’s print copy of the HS or online ready for the Saturday print?
 

Tenacious

Tiger Champion
May 19, 2008
3,265
16
LeeToRainesToRoach said:
Can't see it in today's print edition. Posted at 2:10pm.
Makes sense - read today’s HS earlier and didn’t notice it
Thanks coz I don’t get the weekend HS
 

MD Jazz

Tiger Champion
Feb 3, 2017
3,307
36
easy said:
fantastic read thanks for posting.

Extraordinary they're judge a 16 kid on a bucket of KFC.

So am I right that the 'troubled' label is based on

a bucket of KFC, losing his license and losing a tooth?

geez. Im yet to meet an untroubled teenager I think.
Yeh, staggering that that previous article (can't find it was it in the HUN?) talked about him not being very smart. Pricks. So the kid had a difficult upbringing, literacy issues etc and they write that ****. Can someone please let me know who that journo was, adding him to my extensive BOOING list the ****.
 

TigerMasochist

Walks softly carries a big stick.
Jul 13, 2003
17,915
65
easy said:
fantastic read thanks for posting.

Extraordinary they're judge a 16 kid on a bucket of KFC.

So am I right that the 'troubled' label is based on

a bucket of KFC, losing his license and losing a tooth?

geez. Im yet to meet an untroubled teenager I think.
Ripping article on young Stacka.
60 's, 70's, 80's no-one would have noticed that like thousands of other teens the kid had a few rough edges, clubs would have simply been climbing over themselves to get at the talent. Now though the whole AFL system is about not even having the smell of a fart in your undies, heaven forbid there might be a skid mark.
Shouldn't be called the AFL should be called the Puritan Football league.
Very happy n proud that the Tigers made the effort to have a second look n throw out the life line.
No doubt there'll be a fair bit of back ground work to help the young fella keep his life sorted in the best possible way, but isn't that what sporting clubs, even the elite are all about? Helping the youngsters in their community grow n develop into good citizens.
 
E

easy_tiger

Guest
TigerMasochist said:
Ripping article on young Stacka.
60 's, 70's, 80's no-one would have noticed that like thousands of other teens the kid had a few rough edges, clubs would have simply been climbing over themselves to get at the talent. Now though the whole AFL system is about not even having the smell of a fart in your undies, heaven forbid there might be a skid mark.
Shouldn't be called the AFL should be called the Puritan Football league.
Very happy n proud that the Tigers made the effort to have a second look n throw out the life line.
No doubt there'll be a fair bit of back ground work to help the young fella keep his life sorted in the best possible way, but isn't that what sporting clubs, even the elite are all about? Helping the youngsters in their community grow n develop into good citizens.
:clap
 

kiwitiger

Go the AllBlacks, the Storm , and the Tigers.
Jul 28, 2004
2,027
19
It’s a credit to our club they were able to see past the peripheral stuff , and gave this kid an opportunity
 

tigermike

Tiger Matchwinner
Apr 6, 2014
908
3
Good lesson for the organisers of these under-age squads to treat people as individuals and make allowances for those who don't have a fixed address, don't always have access to modern technology to fill out wellness surveys, limited schooling for reading and writing, don't have a parent or guardian guiding them through their teens, etc. etc. You can't expect everyone to meet the same behaviour expectations if their life experiences are so different to most. So proud of the Tigers (esp. Blair, Benny, Xavier, Dimma) giving him these support structures to allow him to shine.