The first thought that popped into former Hampton Rovers player Dylan Smith’s head when the Kangaroos said they no longer needed him was that they had made a big mistake. “I didn’t get really angry and I didn’t walk out of there wanting revenge against the world,” he said.
“My first instinct when I heard the bad news was ‘no, this is wrong; that might be your opinion, but my opinion doesn’t correlate to that – I think I’m worthy of my spot and that I can contribute.’
“That was my genuine first instinct and I don’t think I’m someone who’s overly confident, by any means. But I have a strong belief in myself and hopefully that’s something that can work for me.”
That there is every chance it will was emphasised when Smith, delisted by the Roos after only 11 games in three seasons, and none this year, decided last week to give Fremantle captain Peter Bell a call.
As with Smith, Bell was first delisted by the Dockers after only a couple of senior games; as with the 175-centimetre, 21-year-old, he is slightly on the shortish side.
When Smith arrived at Arden Street as pick No. 6 in the 2000 draft, Bell had just gone home to the Dockers. But the pair had met and Smith did not hesitate to call when his manager, Ron Joseph, and former coach, Denis Pagan, suggested it.
“He was cut from Fremantle early and his story is fantastic. Peter could really empathise with me because he’d been in a similar situation and because similar criticisms were made of him,” Smith said.
“His main message was just self-belief. He said that when he got delisted for the first time, what held him together was his strong self-belief that he could make it, and that really hit home with me.
“He said stick with that through everything that happens and you’ll be right. Peter’s a great player who’s done amazingly well and who is held in very high regard, so he’s just a great example.”
Smith made sure his recovery from the Kangaroos’ decision was quick. Having spent all season in the VFL, he knew it was probably coming, and a day after being officially delisted had arranged to train at Carlton, under Pagan.
Draft day this year will be a less celebratory occasion than it was this time three years ago, when Smith had family and friends around for a barbecue and enjoyed “what was supposed to be the start of the journey. Now it’s more like: what went wrong here?”
He has spoken to enough clubs in the past few weeks to feel optimistic that tomorrow will take him somewhere new. Even if he is overlooked, Smith said, there is the pre-season draft to look to and, after that, a rookie-list spot somewhere.
“If there’s anything I’ve learnt from the last few years, it’s that once you get on a list, it doesn’t matter what number you were drafted or how you got there. Everyone’s equal. It all starts again,” he said.
“The thing that’s kept me going through this is that I know I’m a better player than I was when I was 18. I’m stronger, fitter, faster and even last year I felt like I was improving every week. I’m keeping an open mind about the draft. I’m not expecting anything, because you can’t. It’s a tough gig for mature-age players, but hopefully someone has seen enough to give me another go.”