Pies punt on reformed Abbott

Dale Miller
Pies punt on reformed Abbott

Brenden Abbott was throwing punches in Claremont's gym when Collingwood read his name out in yesterday's AFL rookie draft.

Minutes later he was crying.

The 19-year-old was so convinced he'd be overlooked by AFL clubs for a second straight year that he was sparring with Tigers captain Jake Murphy in the boxing ring.

But a call from his mother in Albany to congratulate him soon opened the emotional floodgates.

Eighteen months earlier, Abbott quit the State under-18s program and headed home without telling anyone why.

The teenager had just found out his mum Kelly Fisher had cancer. He decided she needed him.

"She was telling me not to come home, but I felt obliged," Abbott said. "I thought it was the best thing for Mum and I felt it was the best thing for me mentally.

"But I didn't let the right people know. Being 18 and hearing that news I didn't know who to talk to or if I wanted to talk to anyone.

"That was the biggest learning curve because I didn't do it the right way. She's been in remission for a few months now.

"She rang me this morning. She was crying, I was crying.

"The waterworks were going. She's rapt for me."

The mystery walkout sent a scare through AFL recruiters, adding to the reasons against drafting Abbott in spite of his profound natural talent.

His family upbringing was unsettled, with his father spending time in jail and his uncle - also Brenden Abbott - a notorious bank robber known as the Postcard Bandit.

Abbott turned his full attention to football at 15 and struggled to match the diet and discipline expected of a top prospect.

It showed at his first State combine last year where he failed to reach 10 in the beep test to overshadow excellent agility, sprint and vertical leap results.

Then, with the might of Claremont behind him, Abbott turned a corner.

He worked at the Department of Fire and Emergency Services this year and improved his fitness to the point where he was starring in the league side. He kicked five goals in a win over Swan Districts despite playing all his junior football off half-back.

The gains meant that when torn ankle ligaments robbed him of the chance to test better at this year's combine, it didn't kill off his draft chances.

Abbott said he would never have been selected at pick No.26 by the Magpies if not for Claremont games record holder Darrell Panizza.

"My aim this year was really just maturing as a person, as a young man, trying to be a good role model for kids coming through instead of not being a good one," Abbott said.

"I've never had a dad and Darrell is the one that took me under his wing. He's my dad.

"He rings me every day, he helps me out with money.

"I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for him."

Rather than nominating one of Collingwood's stars, Abbott said he wanted to learn from fellow Albany product Marley Williams.

He got a congratulatory text from Williams yesterday.

Williams' AFL journey has been eventful, having similarly started out on the club's rookie list and become a regular AFL player despite narrowly avoiding jail for assault earlier this year.

"I'd love to learn off him … see how he's got through it," he said.