IN a city passionate about AFL, it’s easy to forget about players who didn’t make it.
Fergus Watts is one of those. Taken at number 14 in the 2003 draft by Adelaide, he played five games in two years before he was traded to St Kilda.
In two seasons there he played one game and, by the end of the 2007 season, cruelled by injury, was delisted. Educated at Wesley College, he spent three years with its Victorian Amateur Football Association affiliate Collegians.
Now the coach of University Blues, he said injury proved to be a blessing in disguise. He had a horror run, breaking his ankle and leg, which required five bouts of surgery.
There were ruptured ligaments, wear and tear, scar tissue, a bit of arthritis and chronic groin injury.
“It was getting to a point where my quality of life was going to be affected if I kept playing footy,” Watts said.
“But to be honest it’s led me into coaching, which I enjoy a hell of a lot more than playing from a footy perspective.”
In his second year in the role at the premier- division club he faces an uphill battle in the second half of the season.
The Blues played finals last year but this year are seventh with a 3–5 record. Watts says his side has been playing “in patches”.
“It’s been a funny start to the year, not ideal,” he said. “We’re getting there slowly with a new game plan and a new group of guys.”
Injuries haven’t helped, with more than half of the Blues’ starting 22 injured at some point this season, meaning Watts is focused on getting back to basics rather than looking ahead.
“The idea is to build a style of play and keep that consistent,” he said. “Whether we make finals or not is not a big thing at the moment.
“What I’m looking for out of the group is for us to start playing with the conviction we did early in the season.”
While it hasn’t been a successful season so far, the club’s football operations manager Justin Quill points out success is synonymous with the Blues, who have been in the premier division each year since 1995.
“In the last eight years we’ve played in finals seven out of eight years,” he says.
“We’re also unlike many other amateur clubs in that we aren’t attached to a school. We have the history with Melbourne Uni but it’s not exclusive. I’ve been supporting the club since 1992 and I went to Monash.”
The club has rich ties with the AFL. Ian Prendergast, general manager of player relations at the AFL Players’ Association, is an assistant coach and AFL chief operating officer Gill McLachlan is a former captain.