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Andrew Phillips isn’t the type of guy you’d describe as scary.
Carrying an easy smile, his eyes light up at the mention of his two toddlers, Ned and Toby and his wife Teagan, who he married at a winery in their home state of Tasmania in 2019.
Andrew Phillips: He never stopped wanting to be the No.1 ruckman at a club.Credit: Chris Hopkins
A qualified carpenter, he’s remodelled two vintage caravans, the first called Fergie now sold, and the second Myrtle, and renovated their house, mostly in his beloved German Shorthaired Pointer’s company.
And at three clubs over the past 12 seasons he somehow inhabited the back-up ruckman’s brutal world on the knife edge of selection without losing his mind.
Phillips jokes that he worked out he’d played 80-odd games in the AFL, 80-odd state league games and has about four years unaccounted for. Most can be explained through injury (a hamstring and navicular stress fracture the worst), non-selection or time as a carry-over emergency.
Despite his laid-back demeanour, Phillips didn’t just accept his lot.
He always pushed for senior selection and to dislodge the number one ruckman as he rode an emotional yo-yo when he was told week to week whether he was in or out of the team, a spot generally arising when the first ruckman was injured or the coach decided, for whatever reason, to play two rucks.
Andrew Phillips has retired after spending his adult life on an AFL list.Credit: AFL Photos / Getty Images
“I guess it’s sort of just been the way my whole career has been,” Phillips said. “You spend a lot of time waiting for those opportunities.”
At Carlton, where he landed after five years at the Giants, he began to look for reasons why selection wasn’t falling his way as often as he hoped.
“I felt like I’m taking this really well. I’m always positive in thinking, ‘Okay, that’s all right, selection didn’t go my way. I’ll go back and chip away in the twos’.
“Then after a while I started thinking: ‘Am I just an easy drop here because I take it so well?’ Part of me [thought] ‘Am I too nice? Am I taking this too well?’”
He thrashed out the issue with senior coaches at Carlton [Brendon Bolton] and Essendon [Ben Rutten], respecting their viewpoint and eventually accepting that selection was, in many ways, out of his control. All he could control was his attitude and subsequent performance.
Andrew Phillips rucked at Carlton tooCredit: Fairfax Media
“I kept searching for answers and I kept trying to find, I don’t know … I kept sitting down with [Rutten] and I don’t know what answers I was trying to get out of him or what I wanted to hear,” Phillips said.
“But that’s the hard truth. Selection is out of your control.”
Phillips experience is the experience of many players on AFL lists, particularly among the rucking fraternity, a subset that can exist on lists for years in and out of the seniors, always battling for a spot on the weekends or against their frenemies at training.
The rivalry among rucking teammates generally remained unspoken, but he admits there were sessions where both knew the selection decision was 50/50. He laughs as he recalls the day at Carlton when Bolton sent Phillips and Matthew Lobbe back to the change rooms to collect their shin guards before they trained each other for a spot.
“Normally you want to train well, but normally you start looking to get through training as well. But this was ‘come on boys’,” Phillips said.
Who was picked that day remains less memorable, but their friendship survived.
He would also watch ‘the ruck merry-go-round’ arrive towards the end of each season as ruckman would rotate clubs, gallows humour sometimes needed when the media ran stories linking a gun ruckman to his club.
“[I could] be like ‘I’m already struggling here, and we’re looking at him! Where am I at?’ But you might see one [ruckman] move from somewhere else and that might open up an opportunity there,” Phillips said.
He never stopped wanting to be the No.1 ruckman and his habit became to check hit out statistics before midfielders’ disposals or who kicked goals if he found himself poring over a stats sheet.
“I was always pushing for that spot,” Phillips said.
As the years went on he began to live on one-year deals for the last four to five seasons of his career, often being one of the last players signed, early spring sometimes discussing with Teagan whether this was the summer they would move back to Tasmania.
Early on this year, with Toby arriving in March, they decided that at the end of 2023 they would return to Tasmania to be closer to family. As they pondered the decision Phillips joked, ‘what if I have an absolute blinder of a year? What if I win the B&F?’.
Although he is unlikely to win the best and fairest, he has played a career-high 20 games (Friday night will be his 20th) and would have been offered another contract next season. He not only has internal respect but, externally, his year has elevated his reputation. But mentally he’s ready to get back to live in Hobart, having grown up in the unpretentious yet beautiful town, Swansea, on the East Coast.
Phillips is proud of what he achieved since the Giants picked him as a rookie as he was near completing the third year of his carpentry apprenticeship. As he puts it, he was bashing a hammer in Tasmania on the Tuesday and running laps of Bicentennial Park in Sydney on Thursday.
And, despite the ups and downs he experienced, he’s enjoyed every minute of his time as an AFL player.
“I’ve built really good relationships, and I’ve left on good terms with everyone and I still speak to and bump into people from across all three clubs and am excited to see them,” Phillips said.
It’s not hard to believe that would be the case given the bonds he grew during what he describes as “the shenanigans” that occurred when Giants teammates lived among each other at Breakfast Point. One day, Phillips threw a mattress on the roof of his car on a whim and drove up Orchards Avenue from one apartment he was sharing with teammates to another.
Alex Carey (third from left) and Andrew Phillips (fourth from left) in an earlier time with the Giants. Credit: Kevin Sheedy
It’s one of thousands of such memories that sees him so positive.
“Being around footy club environments is so much fun … you’re getting paid pretty well to work out and keep fit and staying in a ripping environment with some great people,” Phillips said.
It’s a sign of where he is at that he says running out against North Melbourne with his two boys was his biggest thrill with Ned accompanying him to training on Friday, one last time at the Bombers.
Phillips deserves to enjoy one last game, his 82nd, in front of a full house at the MCG on a Friday night with a text from Lauderdale coach Allen Christensen waiting in his phone.
The tools and a bit of footy in Tasmania probably await, but he is open to all possibilities.
Asked what advice he’d give to any rucks in his position right now, he keeps it real: “Your time to shine is going to come eventually. And whether it comes in your 13th year, you’re going to get your moment.”
(Name, Clubs, Games, Years on List)
Tom Hickey Gold Coast/St Kilda/West Coast/Sydney, 149*, 2011-2023
Jonathon Ceglar Collingwood/Hawthorn/Geelong, 110, 2010-2023
Andrew Phillips Giants/Carlton/Essendon, 81*, 2010-2023
Dawson Simpson Geelong/Giants, 48, 2007-2019
Jake Spencer Melbourne, 38, 2008-2017
Tom Campbell Western Bulldogs/North Melbourne/St Kilda, 56, 2012-present
Braydon Preuss, North Melbourne/Melbourne/Giants, 28, 2014-present
Luke Lavender Hawthorn/Adelaide, one game, 2008 – 2016
Daniel Currie (Sydney/North Melbourne/Gold Coast, 10, 2006-2017**
* Playing round 23
**year at North Adelaide
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