‘Quiet, but kind of deadly’: Bulldog nicknamed the Cassowary makes his mark

#AFL #Mitch Hannan #Western BulldogsFC

Western Bulldogs forward Mitch Hannan has not wasted much time in his 20s.

Truth be told, he hasn’t had much time to waste.

But it has not all been plain sailing for the 27-year-old who will line up against his former club Melbourne in the 2021 grand final on Saturday.

AFL hasn’t always been at the forefront of premiership contender Mitch Hannan’s mind.

A period of anxiety a few years ago became so bad he considered taking time away from football as everything became an effort.

Then Hannan shared what he was feeling with others, the cathartic experience leading to him creating a non-for-profit fashion label Mendl as a vehicle for encouraging conversations about mental health.

“I am obviously not a professional in this space, I just come from a place of good intentions and some personal experience. My ideals are just around trying to be as genuine and authentic as you can around approaching your mates and friends about those kinds of conversations but also just normalising the idea of having those sorts of chats,” Hannan said.

“In hindsight [developing the idea which he did with friend Mark Losewitz] has helped me as much as it has helped the people who are wearing and hopefully interacting with Mendl.”

His maturity shines through as he speaks before the biggest match of his life, reflecting the opinion others in football express about Hannan when they say he is just a good bloke.

It’s hard not to imagine part of the connection he finds with others is due to his gradual rise through the ranks as he played in a premiership for Woodend/Hesket after being overlooked for the Calder Cannons under-18 team.

He enrolled in an engineering course after finishing school but realised after six weeks it was not where he wanted to be, so he spent the next six months working at a pub, in a café and at building sites to save enough money to see what the world had to offer beyond the Macedon Ranges.

In the week of the 2012 grand final he caught a plane to Europe to travel with mates for two months.

Needless to say, an AFL career was not top of mind.

“At 18, it seemed a bit out of reach,” Hannan said.

He still loved football though and eventually, as he matured physically and mentally, decided he wanted to reach the highest level he could.

At first, the VAFA seemed to be that grade as Hannan was best on ground in the 2015 grand final for St Bernard’s as The Snowdogs won the flag. The performance earned him a permanent spot on Footscray’s VFL list in 2016.

That year he worked hard as he started work as a draftsman at Peckvonhartel, a cool architecture/design firm, on Collins St, Melbourne after graduating from a building design course. He worked 45-hour weeks, arriving at his desk from Macedon at 7.30am on the days he trained, so he could disappear early.

He enjoyed the balance of work and football as he became a VFL premiership player with Footscray and earned renown for his high leaping exploits.

“When I made the VFL list at Footscray I was stoked, and then when I played a few games I was thinking in the back of my mind, ‘How good is this. At least I will be able to one day say I played some VFL footy,’” Hannan said.

But there was more to come as the flag made AFL clubs take notice. When the Demons used pick 46 to select him in the 2016 national draft, Hannan’s life was transformed overnight.

He became so dynamic in his first two seasons at the Demons, his forwards coach, Geelong premiership player Max Rooke, called him The Cassowary because he thought Hannan was “quiet and unassuming, but kind of deadly” just like the ratite found up north.

The nickname stuck and two years later he bounded down the MCG in a famous three-bounce gallop that ended in a goal to seal Melbourne’s first finals win for 12 seasons, a play Hannan agrees will live in his memory – and that of Melbourne supporters – forever.

“No matter what happens with the rest of my footy career, including this grand final coming up, that moment during the 2018 season will definitely be a fond moment,” Hannan said.

As will his efforts to open up the conversation about mental health, with Hannan describing the period of anxiety as “by far the hardest experience of my life” in a series of videos made for the Mendl Movement.

On Saturday, Hannan’s worlds collide as he plays a grand final in a Bulldogs jumper against Melbourne after a brilliant preliminary final performance where he showed, once again, his capacity to stand up in games that really matter.

“No matter what happens it’s going to be a hotly contested game … it will be a cracking game.”

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