‘Party boy’ whispers stunned Lions skipper
BACK in 2008, I was working as a bricklayer for my dad's company on the Gold Coast.
I was also working as a labourer and it was during a time that I hoped I would be on an AFL list.
This was just after I'd put my hand up for the AFL national draft but no club wanted to take a punt on me. I was devastated.
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I knew the reasons I scared clubs off and I can rattle them off.
Too small, too slow, not fit enough and there was even some talk I was a party boy.
The scuttlebutt about the last part really floored me because anyone that knew me could tell you I was the complete opposite.
I was captain of the state under-18 team in my draft year and named Queensland player of the national carnival.
My stats in the carnival were pretty good, so I was disappointed to not even be considered by an AFL club.
From our team, Brendan Whitecross went to Hawthorn and then Sam Reid and James Mulligan went to the Western Bulldogs.
I was overlooked after thinking I'd done enough to get on an AFL list.
It hurt and my passion for footy went away for a little bit.
I didn't give up the dream, but I knew it was going to be a lot harder from that point. I went into real estate after bricklaying became too hard on the body, but I still had a nagging feeling I could make it to the AFL.
I put the office job on hold and worked my arse off on some of my footy deficiencies.
That's around the time I heard some news that made my ears prick up.
SNUBBED BY THE SUNS
One day my new manager Peter Blucher told me that there was a Gold Coast AFL team coming in.
He said there would be a lot of young talent at the club and if I didn't want to move away this was my best chance to get on an AFL list.
From there I got asked to train with the Suns along with Ryan Holman for about a week or two.
They needed some older bodies because they had all these 18-year-olds, so I went and trained with them and never got a phone call back.
To not even get a courtesy call as to the reasons why they wouldn't consider me pissed me off for a fair while.
That was disappointing, but little did I know my dream was about to materialise.
In 2011, I went to Western Australia and played well in a state game for Queensland.
Luckily, a Lions recruiter was there to watch someone else, but after that I got a phone call.
I was living in Gold Coast's draft zone, so Brisbane asked the Suns to put me on their list so I could be on-traded to them.
It was a few years later than I had hoped, but I was finally on an AFL list.
VOSSY AND I
My first coach was Michael Voss and I absolutely loved him.
He was amazing and just had so much confidence in me.
He gave me my debut in 2012 against Collingwood at the Gabba, which is always a big occasion.
It was a night game so I had the whole day to stew over it and work myself up into a frenzy.
I knew I was going to be the sub and everyone told me to try to not burn energy waiting on the bench.
At half-time "Vossy" grabbed me and said: "You're on."
I remember just buzzing and being so full of energy.
We got pumped that night but having the family there was special as they understood how difficult the journey had been.
They'd seen me getting up at 5.30am on Monday mornings to go to work and then go to training at 6pm that night followed by weights and dinner before doing it all over again.
Vossy later departed the club, but it's great he is at Port Adelaide so whenever we see him we go up and give him a cuddle and have a chat.
GROWING UP WITH THE OTHER DAYNE
I was four years old and kicking up a huge stink.
My then eight-year-old brother was going to his first training session and I was filthy because I wanted to go, too.
It worked, and from there I played more than 250 games for the mighty Surfers Paradise Demons.
My dad moved from Yugoslavia to Melbourne before he settled on the Gold Coast.
He became a huge St Kilda fan, which meant I also followed the Saints.
I remember going down and watching some of his old boys' games for Southport and Surfers Paradise.
On a Friday night on telly it was pretty much the AFL or Better Homes and Gardens.
Fortunately I chose the AFL and just fell in love with it.
It was difficult at primary school because the scene was dominated by rugby league.
You'd go to school and try to find things in common and it was hard, up until the Beams family arrived.
It was fantastic when Dayne Beams and his brother, Claye, arrived at Gilston State School because there were suddenly people to talk about footy with.
The game has grown so much in Queensland since then.
Dayne was a year younger and we became family friends as his dad and mine would play old boys' footy together and our mums would work in the tuckshop.
I've always found Dayne to be bit of a larrikin and funny. His humour is a bit dry here and there, but that's just him.
We played in a couple of state carnivals together, so it was great when we became teammates at Brisbane after he left the Magpies.
He brought ultra-professionalism and a winning culture from Collingwood with him.
We had a really good relationship. I would have loved to seen him stay, but I understand why he wanted to head back to Melbourne at the end of 2018.
I was appointed captained after he left and it is an honour to lead a club with such a rich history with Fitzroy and the Brisbane Bears.
Dayne helped me develop my leadership skills as I was often his right-hand man at the club.
He's had his issues with mental health, which have been well documented, and I understand how difficult and stressful the AFL system is.
It's great to see that he's going really well now with his art work.
ZORKO THE MAGICIAN
It's not every day you get christened with a nickname by an AFL great.
I was in my first season at the Brisbane Lions when Dermott Brereton, who didn't know me from a bar of soap, gave me one that has stuck to this day.
He was on one of the Fox Footy shows and heard my name, presumably for the first time, and said: "Zorko? That sounds like a magician's name."
It stuck from that moment and even the fans got behind it.
To this day I still see the occasional "Zorko the magician" sign in the crowd and it always gives me a little chuckle.
I'm happy to run with it.
LEPPA AT THE HELM
Justin Leppitsch always had an open-door policy.
He was my next senior coach and when first appointed, he had the majority of the players around for drinks and a barbecue.
He set a strong family culture he wanted to see implemented at the club, and tried really hard to build relationships with players.
He had a strong bond with many of us, but unfortunately for whatever reason it just didn't work for us on the field.
I think after the experience he's since gained at Richmond he'd be a better senior coach if given the chance.
We had a great relationship and he supported me through one of the worst weeks of my life.
In 2014, my dad had a heart attack in the week of our last game against Geelong.
To see my old man lying in hospital with tubes and pumps coming out of him was very confronting.
That was really difficult but I still wanted to play because he would have wanted me to, but his condition continued to deteriorate through the week.
Leppa said to me: "There's absolutely no way you can play. We think it's best you stay with your family."
He was right, that was definitely the right decision.
Dad's surgery went for about 12 hours and he came through. He's fighting fit now almost six years on.
It made our family even closer and we're very grateful he's still with us.
LOUIS THE LIONS FANATIC
My son Louis is three and to say he likes footy would be an understatement.
In fact, he is flat-out obsessed to the point I can't get his Brisbane Lions clothes off him.
At daycare he wears almost the same Lions kit every day.
It's borderline embarrassment as he has three Lions jumpers and they've all been in the dryer so many times they're balling up a little bit.
He has to wear his footy boots to daycare and he absolutely loves it, which I've got no problem with.
I certainly won't be pushing him to play footy, but if that's what he chooses then great.
FAGAN AND THE RESURGENCE
Our current coach Chris Fagan is the ultimate relationship builder.
When he joined he immediately got to know everyone from the players to all the staff upstairs.
He's managed to build the strongest relationships with everyone and create a great environment along with David Noble.
Even during this strange time, he's gone out of his way to ring every player once a week to see how they and their family are going.
When you have a coach like that you don't want to let him down.
Last year was a real whirlwind.
To be a part of a rebuild and to see success at the end of that, although it was only two finals which we lost, was amazing.
I was so super proud of everyone at the football club and it's great the Lions fans can see the direction we're heading and are back out in force.
I love walking in the door each day and it will be even more special when we do so tomorrow.