Ben Hurley ended a long wait with his first VFL game and win. (PHOTO CREDIT: Tim Murdoch)
Ben Hurley is unlikely to forget his first VFL game anytime soon. Even more so, his first VFL mark.
Hurley became the 51st player the Northern Blues have used so far in 2018, earning his spot as 23rd man.
One of nine inclusions to the senior line-up, Hurley felt the full force of the post-match Gatorade shower as the Blues enjoyed their biggest win in three years.
“It was something I had a goal of doing for a long time, and it meant a lot to me,” Hurley said post-match.
— Northern Blues FC (@NBluesFC) July 29, 2018
“I was definitely nervous early on, but after half-time I relaxed and started to play like I would any other game. I really enjoyed it — it was definitely a step up, but I was able to learn a lot.
“It was great to come into the backline playing alongside Josh Hill who has a wealth of AFL experience, as well as our vice-captains Kane Keppel, Marcus Stavrou and Mason Blakey.”
Hurley would go onto finish with 12 disposals playing in the backline, while his eight marks was the equal-fourth most of any Blue.
But it was his first one which was the most memorable, taking a screamer over his opponent right in the middle of Ikon Park.
“The nerves were definitely sky-high leading up to it, and I was getting pretty worried: it was about halfway through the first quarter and I hadn’t been anywhere near it!”
“When I saw the opportunity to launch, I just went for it. I wouldn’t say it eased the nerves completely, but it gave me confidence to go on and play my usual game.”
Saturday marked the end of a long journey for Hurley – but hopefully the beginning of another one for the young defender.
Hurley arrived at the Northern Blues at the end of 2016, earning a spot on the senior list with the view to starting out in the Development side.
However, a week before the 2017 season began, a stress fracture in his foot would ultimately rule out his entire debut year.
“We chose to wait six weeks for it heal but it didn’t, so then I was recommended to undergo surgery. In the end, I was on crutched for about 20 weeks,” Hurley said.
“It was the first real injury I had suffered, so last year was definitely frustrating and challenging for me both physically and mentally.
“I can’t thank the medical and strength and conditioning staff at the club enough, just for always having something for me to do and doing everything to make it a quicker and easier recovery.”
After waiting in the wings for 18 months because of that, Hurley was willing himself at training before playing for Knox on weekends in the Eastern Football League.
That all changed with a phone call from Josh Fraser last Thursday.
“I was just trying to do everything I could to give myself the best opportunity, but I still wasn’t expecting it,” Hurley said.
“‘Frase’ acknowledged that it had been a long road for me, but the coaches were confident that with my form at local level and my development with ‘Hottie’ (Andrew Williams) and ‘Pez’ (Perry Meka) that I had earned my spot.
“I was shocked and didn’t really know what to say, but he was really good about it and we had a laugh.”
Fraser echoed Hurley’s sentiments, saying he was delighted the club could reward and acknowledge the hard yards that the debutant had been putting in.
“It was interesting when I rang him on Thursday, ‘Hurls’ is a pretty reserved character and he didn’t give much away. I almost had to ignite some excitement in him,” Fraser laughed.
“We were absolutely rapt as a match committee to play him. He’s one guy who gets in early, works hard on his craft and seeks strong feedback.
“He came to us 18 months ago and had a strong pre-season to earn a spot on our list, missed through injury but the way he dedicated himself to his rehab — we couldn’t not put him back on our list.
“I thought he was terrific on Saturday. He was strong in the air and composed with the ball, which is a by-product of his hard work.”