Twist takes Duigan to Geraldton
Twist takes Duigan to Geraldton

Unexpected twists and turns in life are nothing new for Nick Duigan.

Just 20 minutes before last year's elimination final against Richmond, the 29-year-old wasn't even in the Carlton side for a game the Blues were lucky to be playing because of Essendon's dumping from the finals.

Then came an injury in the warm-up to Brock McLean.

Suddenly Duigan, who had been called on for only three senior games all year, was told to pull on a jumper.

The defender found himself sent into unfamiliar territory in the forward line despite having just six AFL goals to his name.

The South Australian then played one of the more surprising cameos in the Blues' long history, his four goals pushing them to a memorable 20-point win.

Little did he know that his career would last just one more game. Two months later, Duigan returned for pre-season training only to come to the realisation within days that his right knee could not get through another year. He told the club he intended to retire and, just like that, his career was over.

Today Duigan will wake up with nurse and girlfriend, Colette McGuinness, in a far different setting to the busy streets of suburban Melbourne and the life of a professional footballer.

He will stare out at the clear blue waters surrounding Geraldton and weigh up whether to give windsurfing a go, content that he has completed a week's work at Youth Focus - a mental health service for youngsters aged 12-18.

It is a twist that psychologist Duigan never would have seen coming in the midst of his September heroics. But it is far from an unwelcome change.

"When it became apparent that I wasn't going to get through another season, we looked at our options," he said.

"We'd been for quite a few years pretty keen to get into some regional or remote health and so Geraldton was one of a few options that came up.

"Colette got a job and that kind of prompted the move."

A tip from fellow South Australian Beau Waters helped Duigan land the role.

It was a vocational step that could have so easily been a reality much earlier.

Duigan had been on the verge of flying to Kenya to work alongside McGuinness as a volunteer in late 2010 when his name was unexpectedly read out by Carlton in the national draft at No.70.

He was 26 at the time. It was another surprising twist of fate.

Duigan would go on to play 43 matches in three seasons.

In the meantime, he developed clinical skills, working with mental health foundation Headspace and the AFL Players' Association to improve access to psychological services for footballers.

"As of 2012, 50 per cent of the listed AFL players had at some point been accessing the psych services that were available," Duigan said.

"Some of those were for performance-based needs and others - quite a large percentage actually - were for clinical needs, so for depression or anxiety, drugs and alcohol, relationships.

"The perception out there might be that it's a wonderful lifestyle and it's all beer and skittles. A lot of it is - I'm certainly not here to complain - but it doesn't mean just because you're an AFL footballer that you're immune to the mental health conditions that are suffered across the spectrum of society."

Duigan hasn't completely given up football. He is already the senior coach at Towns Football Club, having accepted the job after team officials heard he was moving to Geraldton and called him with the offer.

It will be a real challenge, particularly given the club's success in winning four of the past 10 premierships in the Great Northern Football League.

"I'm not there to reinvent the wheel or drastically change anything," Duigan said. "I just want to help try and grow the winning culture they've got there."

The West Australian

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