We all know how tough footy is but it's been even tougher if you had anything to do with Essendon in the last few years. Jake Carlisle is one of these people, having played with the Bombers between 2010 and 2015, with the club's controversial drugs scandal planted in between.
After a fallout, bans and a long, long wait, Carlisle finally made his comeback to footy last week for new club St Kilda in a pre-season match against Port Adelaide. The big defender hadn't played a game since the final round of 2015, and after coming off a modified pre-season program following hip surgery midway through last year, you would understand if he was a bit rusty in his first game back.
St Kilda held off a Port Adelaide fightback in the second half to kick off its JLT Community pre-season series with a one-point victory at Etihad Stadium last Thursday night. Despite other players calling the shots and landing the big plays, all eyes were on Carlisle.
He had his work cut out, being matched up on Jackson Trengove and former Bombers teammate Paddy Ryder for most of the game. However, his aerial prowess and forceful intercepts kept him in a positon of dominance, and as the full-time siren tolled, Saints fans were grinning like the Cheshire cat. Yep, Saints fans, Carlisle looks the goods.
Carlisle's arduous footy journey started in Craigieburn in Melbourne's north. A family man, he is the second-youngest of five children and has the names of his mother, four sisters and his surname tattooed on his body.
An 18-year-old Carlisle made his debut in Round 20 of the 2010 AFL season against Collingwood. It was an unhappy debut, with a young Bombers outfit getting smoked by 98 points. 2012 was a big year for Carlisle, earning an AFL Rising Star nomination against Greater Western Sydney in Round 9. Although he was placed in the last line of defence, he relished the odd cameo role up forward, but a foot injury cut his season short.
Essendon reached the finals in 2014 off the back of Carlisle's fearlessness and confidence to switch to the forward line, with his ability to take clutch marks and kick tough goals helping the Bombers regularly scrape past opponents. He truly made his mark in an extraordinary performance against the Western Bulldogs in Round 18, with eight goals, 12 marks and seven tackles making up a sublime display of contested marking and set shot kicking.
When the Bombers were hit by the morale-shattering drugs scandal, the players were obviously disenchanted. Carlisle was one of them, and requested a trade away from the club in late-2015. His performances waned, and his temperament became questionable, reportedly yelling "This club is fucked!" as he walked to the interchange bench in Essendon's Round 19 loss to Geelong.
The penny dropped, and he was officially traded to St Kilda on 21 October. The same day, Carlisle drew controversy when 'A Current Affair' broadcast footage of a man, suspected to be Carlisle, snorting a white substance. He released a statement the following morning, confirming it was him and admitted that he had "made a very poor decision". Shortly after, he received a strike under the AFL illicit drugs policy, a two-match suspension for the start of the 2016 season, and forfeited $50,000 in marketing money.
During the 2016 pre-season, 34 past and present Essendon players, Carlisle included, were found guilty of using a banned performance-enhancing substance as part of Essendon's sports supplements program during 2012. The players were initially found not guilty back in March 2015 by the AFL Anti-Doping Tribunal, but a guilty verdict was returned in January 2016 after an appeal by the World Anti-Doping Agency.
The players were suspended for two years which, with backdating, ended in November 2016. While many Bombers players stayed with the club, some like Carlisle had left, meaning their new clubs had to pick up the pieces. As a result, Carlisle missed the entire 2016 AFL season.
Now, though, Carlisle is back, and with flying colours. St Kilda have made a raft of changes for 2017, from their leadership group to their playing roster. Their biggest weapon could be Carlisle, and after his first hit out in the black, red and white, he and St Kilda have laid the groundwork for a big year.