Dale Morris part of AFL’s unofficial broken leg club

Dale Morris of the Western Bulldogs
Dale Morris of the Western Bulldogs

Two prominent members of the AFL’s unofficial ‘broken leg club’ have not only backed Western Bulldogs defender Dale Morris to return to AFL football next season, but believe he could eventually recapture his best form.

Former Melbourne skipper Garry Lyon and ex-Bulldogs and Richmond star Nathan Brown admit they are more hopeful than confident that Morris will make it back onto the field in 2013, but are adamant that if he can finally overcome his leg issues, he can reclaim his former status as one of the AFL’s most reliable backmen.

Both say the 2008 All Australian also boasts the mental toughness, resourcefulness and team ethic to cope with any physical or match-up limitations he might confront.

Morris hasn’t played an AFL game since round 21, 2011, when he broke both bones (the tibia and fibula) in his lower right leg against Essendon at Etihad Stadium. He managed just a quarter in the VFL reserves with Williamstown this year before sustaining a season-ending stress fracture in the fibula (in a different spot to the original break).

The Bulldogs are using new medical technology to aid his recovery, and he is showing signs of improvement at training, but there are still genuine fears that Morris – who will turn 30 on December 29 – won’t play again.

However, Lyon and Brown don’t even entertain such a thought, preferring to remain positive for a player Lyon regards as “a kindred spirit”.

The former stars – both of whom are great admirers of Morris the footballer and the man – suffered similar injuries but experienced vastly different outcomes.

Lyon enjoyed a spectacularly successful recovery. Just 19 at the time, he was injured at Footscray in the final round of 1987 – footage of which, to Lyon’s chagrin, has been replayed ad nauseam on The Footy Show – but was back for round one the following season. In fact, he played out the next 12 seasons without suffering a related problem.

He suspects some of his good fortune could be attributed to having young bones at the time.

“I never had reason to think about it again – until those idiots started playing it every three minutes on The Footy Show,” he says.

In contrast, Brown went down against Melbourne at Etihad Stadium in round 10, 2005 (to which point the brilliant small forward had raced to a season tally of 34 goals), but endured an assortment of related injuries and, despite producing some good football, was never the same player again. He now wishes he’d taken another six months to recover, believing it would have made all the difference.

“It’s a prick of an injury,” he told AFL.com.au. “I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.”

However, Brown believes Morris could still do the very thing that he could not do himself.

“If his leg recovers, I think he’ll get back to being the player he was, and get back to his best,” he says.

“You don’t get any quicker as you get older, and it gets harder to back up when you have injuries, but Dale started his AFL career relatively late so his body hasn’t had the rigours of most 30-year-olds in the AFL. If he can make it back, the year off will hopefully freshen up the rest of his body and extend his career a bit.”

To reinforce Brown’s point, Morris was originally rookie-listed by the Dogs and didn’t make his AFL debut until the age of 22. And before breaking his leg, he had been one of his club’s most durable players, appearing in 151 of a possible 158 games.

Brown says that dealing with ongoing problems becomes more of a mental battle than a physical one. But Morris’s diligence and resilience will help his quest.

“I don’t know Dale personally,” says Brown, who left the Bulldogs the year before Morris arrived. “But having played on him, and from talking to some of the Bulldogs boys, I know he’s very strong mentally as a person and as a footballer. If anyone can make it back, it’s guys like him.”

Lyon does know Morris – a little. In fact, soon after the Dogs defender was injured, Lyon called him to pass on some words of encouragement (just as he has done with other Broken Leg Club members like Fremantle’s Michael Barlow and Melbourne’s James Strauss).

They spoke again after Morris’s secondary setback this season.

“Dale is a fantastic bloke and a highly impressive man with a great attitude,” Lyon says. “To me, it’s not ‘if’ he comes back, it’s ‘when’.”
Brown knows all about the risk of ongoing, related injuries.

“Your mechanics and your whole running gait changes and it’s hard to accept and overcome that,” he explains. “You overcompensate early on and the components around it can suffer. Before I broke my leg I’d never had a soft-tissue injury, but then I did a hamstring and had to have groin surgery – all on the same (right) leg.

“I also got a stress fracture a centimetre under where the original break was. They tried to tell me it wasn’t related but you don’t have to be Einstein to work out what caused it.”

Brown says Morris’s biggest challenge could be adapting to a potential loss of agility.

“You eventually get your pace back, but I lived and died on my lateral movement and my turning circle, and I never got them back completely,” he said. “That’s what Dale is going to have to contend with. But I reckon he can get by because he’s such an outstanding defender and competitor who plays a lot on pure heart anyway.”

Another concern would be that any loss of agility could lead to a loss of versatility – one of Morris’s greatest strengths, which had enabled him to be equally competent on power forwards or pacy goalsneaks. It’s a point upon which Lyon and Brown disagree.

Lyon says: “Once you’re right to play AFL footy, it’s non-conditional: you play on whoever and whenever. Once it’s been ticked off by the medicos, (coach) Brendan McCartney would have faith in him to play any number of roles.”

Meanwhile, Brown insists: “It’ll definitely be harder for him to play on the smaller, quicker guys again. He’s played on the likes of Steven Milne and Eddie Betts, but he might struggle to do that now. Against St Kilda I’d send him to (Nick) Riewoldt, and against Carlton I’d send him to Jarrad Waite. And you’d be comfortable doing that.”

However, Brown doesn’t dismiss the hypothetical notion that a less agile, less versatile Morris could confront match-up problems that ultimately jeopardise his place in the Dogs line-up.

“That could certainly be the enth degree of it,” he says. “But players like Dale Morris are able to find ways to get the job done. He’s a good enough player to just play on the big blokes, and he’s very rarely beaten.

“I’ve spoken to former teammates and opponents who don’t like playing on Dale Morris. So he’s got that psychological edge working for him too. One thing’s for sure: if Dale Morris walks over to you before the first bounce you immediately think, ‘Bloody hell, this is going to be really hard work.’ And I can’t see that changing when he makes it back.”

The views in this story are those of the author and not necessarily those of the clubs or the AFL

From: www.afl.com