AFL Draft

Injury Setbacks Increase Bonar’s Hunger for Success

 

No draftee in this 2017 pool has endured a tougher journey to draft day than Dandenong’s Aiden Bonar.

Recruiters were already bullish about the talented youngster at the age of 16, touted as a top prospect years out from his draft year.

But it was in this same year that it all went pear shaped in a school game for Haileybury College.

“Someone fell across my leg and my knee buckled.”

“All I felt was just shock – I’d been injury free before then”

After being taken into the rooms, the worst possible result was revealed; Bonar would be sidelined with an ACL injury, forcing him to spend a year on the sidelines.

Gruelling rehab followed. Personal training sessions 3-4 times a week, running drills, trampoline classes and gym filled Bonar’s schedule, as he tried to do everything he could to get back out there in the best possible nick,

Almost a year from that forgettable day, Bonar returned for Haileybury after fully recovering from his injury. What was supposed to be a momentous occasion soon became one of sorrow in the second quarter.

“I went to twist and [I felt] it gave way,” Bonar said.

“The second time I just knew because I’d felt that the first time, and I knew I’d done it again.

“I just wanted to get in the room and check [for sure] if I’d done it again.”

All the hard work he had put in getting back out on the field had been undone in an instant. A feeling of déjà vu overcame the rooms when it was confirmed he had suffered his second ACL injury in as many years. No-one was more saddened than his parents Susie and Joseph.

“My parents were in the room both times when I’d done it and it was a really upsetting time.”

It was confirmed later that the graft had failed to take in the first operation, resulting in virtually the same injury to occur yet again. However, in the face of such adversity, Bonar was determined to not let this setback overcome him.

“As soon as I got the surgery [the second time] I wanted to get straight into rehab, get into it again and get back out there,” he said.

Many people would have crumbled under similar circumstances, but these injuries have enabled Bonar’s hunger to shine through. Both times he went down, he saw it as an opportunity to get an edge on his competitors in other areas of his game

In his U16 year, Bonar weighed in at 71kg. Now in his draft year, he hits the scales at a whopping 89kg. And trust me – it is all muscle.

“When I was 16 I was a bit skinnier, so I thought it’d be a great opportunity getting into the gym. Dad always said you’ve got this time to build yourself up before you get back so I’d always go, and it became a hobby of mine going there,”

Bonar certainly didn’t have to go it alone, though, receiving plenty of help and support from family and friends.

“I had a lot of help along the way, especially from Mum and Dad. I got up each morning and did all my exercises with dad. Mum would come to my training sessions and watched me run.

“I just wanted to get back out there and get them to watch me play again.”

It is an interesting story as to how Aiden’s parents met. His father was born in Scotland, meeting his mother Susie in her country of Papua New Guinea while volunteering.

“Dad was doing volunteering work because he got retrenched here in Australia, took the opportunity and went over there, and he met her as well,” he explained

“They got married when she was 18, then they moved over here and moved in with their parents.”

“My Mum and Dad don’t really talk about football so it was good with the injury, I can get away from it and talk about other things.”

“I watched [the Dan Menzel] doco with my mum when it first came out. I saved it and watched it a few times by myself as well.”

His support network from mates at school and at Dandenong helped in a similar fashion.

“I’ve got good friendship circle with Luke Davies-Uniacke, Hunter Clark, Riley D’Arcy at Stingrays,” he said

At school Jackson Ross and others, seeing those boys outside of footy really helped as well.”

However, he does admit it was difficult seeing his teammates at Dandenong and the Harlem Globetrotter-esque Haileybury side prosper while he was stuck on the sidelines.

“I think early on watching them make the Academy and stuff was pretty hard, but I knew if I got back I’d be fine,” he said.

“It definitely makes me hungry just watching people do so well, so it’s made me hungrier chasing that AFL dream at the end of the day.”

Bonar also drew inspiration from AFL footballers who had experienced repeated injury setbacks during their careers, like Geelong goal-sneak Daniel Menzel.

“I watched [the Dan Menzel] doco with my mum when it first came out. I saved it and watched it a few times by myself as well.”

After those two treacherous injuries, Bonar made his highly anticipated return on July against the Northern Knights on home soil at Shepley Oval. Despite the previous setbacks, Bonar was fairly confident heading into the match,

“I knew I’d done everything right in rehab so I Just wanted to get out on the field,” he said.

“I just wanted to get that first touch away.”

He certainly did. Bonar was fortunate enough to intercept a Knights pass inside 50 with his first touch of the footy, slotting the set shot straight through the big sticks. It wasn’t long before he was swamped by his proud Dandenong teammates, who were happy to just see him out on the park.

“I remember Dad was at the back of the goals – I was really happy to get that out of the way,” Bonar said.

“I had talked about kicking the first goal of the game at training during the week so it was kind of like a dream come true. All the boys got around me, which was great.”

Since that match, Bonar has steadily spent more time in the midfield, with one of his best performances coming against the Geelong Falcons at Victoria Park.

“Every game I got more minutes under my belt, and that was my first full midfield game,” he said.

Bonar collected 20 disposals and was a force to be reckoned with around stoppages, using his phenomenal strength and athleticism to great effect.

While this performance had recruiters licking their lips, it was his effort on the MCG on Grand Final day that was especially Bonar-riffic. The young gun played predominately in a midfield role in the NAB All-Stars game with the best prospects in the country, racking up 20 disposals and booting a goal to be among the best players on the ground.

“I hadn’t really finished off well in my TAC finals and there was a bit of a break between. Playing against the best players in Australia, I knew if I had a really good one, I could get my name in the spotlight,” he said.

And that he did. This match alone hurtled him into top 20 calculations, and his draft stocks rose even further after his efforts at the National Combine.

Oh, did I mention he was a bit of a specimen? Well yeah, I guess it’s no surprise he absolutely blitzed the National Combine.

Bonar recorded the equal-best best standing vertical jump (89cm), came equal second in the 20m sprint (2.90 seconds) and was amongst the top bracket in the agility and goalkicking tests. He put a mountain of effort into the Combine and was determined to show recruiters – who hadn’t seen him test due to injury – that he boasted elite athletic traits.

“I had about three weeks of preparation with the jumps and sprints and stuff. Overall, I thought it was a good all round effort,” he said.

“A lot of clubs said they hadn’t seen data on me and every time they went to the house they’d ask how quick do you think you are and stuff. It was really frustrating.”

While he performed remarkably on the track, he undid some of his good work in the interview room with one club.

‘They asked me if I had a good joke, and it wasn’t too crash hot…” Bonar explained with a laugh.

“They asked: “what are your traits?”, and I said I think I have a good sense of humour.”

The joke: What is stripey and looks like a horse?

The punchline: A zebra.

Crickets. I guess he’s lucky he already knocked them off their feet during the testing…

 

 

As it stands, Bonar is touted as a top 10-20 selection despite the amount of games he has played in the past two seasons – a credit to his talent and willpower to get there from the depths of despair. However, his lack of footy has draft experts and recruiters viewing him as one of the biggest gambles of the 2017 draft.

“It’s sort of frustrating because I know I can be at the top end. I don’t think it is really a bad thing, though, considering the amount of games and where I’ve come from. I’ll take it at the end of the day,” he said.

I must admit, Bonar is a player I immediately grew fond of from the moment I saw him play. His mix of athleticism, strength, pace and class as a mid/forward makes him one of the most intriguing and talented players in the draft pool.

Now all he needs is a good bill of health, as his determination and talent will ensure he succeeds at the next level – no matter where he goes on draft day.

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