Name: Ben Cunnington
Born: June 30, 1991, in Warrnambool
Parents: Cheryl and Alan
Siblings: Sam (17), Jack (14) and Madison (11)
Partner: Belinda Hintum
Education: Prep to year 12 at Timboon P12
Sporting highlight: First senior game with North Melbourne against Hawthorn in 2010 when the Roos won by 12 points.
Ben, you’ve found your way from the back paddocks of your parents dairy farm near Princetown to being one of the key onballers at the North Melbourne Football Club. How is your pre-season going for the 2012 AFL season?
I’ve had my best pre-season since I joined the Kangaroos in 2010. I’m injury-free and have not missed a training session. I’m really looking forward to this season as I’m ready to repay the club back for the faith they have shown in me.
What injuries did you have in your previous pre-season campaigns with the Kangaroos?
I had a stress fracture in my right foot in 2010. I was really surprised that I got the stress fracture because I had never had anything like that before, but I was told by the medical people at the Kangaroos the reason why I got the fracture was because of the heavy training load I was doing. The medical team told me injuries like that often happened to new players. Last season I had a sore right knee during the pre-season. The medical staff told me that I should go in and get the knee cleaned out. It was not a major operation but it put my 2011 pre-season behind schedule.
What round did you make your AFL debut in 2010?
I played my first game in round five down in Tasmania. I ended up playing the rest of the season. The physiotherapists at the club gave me a good program, so I never had any more problems with the stress fracture once I started playing.
How many games did you miss at the start of the 2011 season after the knee injury?
I played the first game but I had a few niggling problems. I ended up missing 10 games last season through niggling injuries. It was a sort of frustrating season, but this pre-season things have been really good.
Kangaroos coach Brad Scott said at the end of the 2011 season that he rated you as a 10-year player for the club. That’s not a bad rap from the coach. What do you think of his comments?
Yeah they’re good comments. They are positive comments. I know I’ve got to work hard to achieve my goals. As I said previously, I want to pay the club back for the faith they have shown in me, that’s why I’ve been really focused on my pre-season training. I also want to succeed for my parents. They have put a lot of time, effort and money into helping me play AFL footy. They watched me play my entire junior footy career. They used to drive me to all my training when I was younger. I will never forget the sacrifices my parents made in getting me to training with the Geelong Falcons and other places when my career was commencing.
Were you surprised that you got drafted to North Melbourne in 2009?
I probably was a bit surprised, but I’m really glad the Kangaroos drafted me. There had been talk that I might be drafted to Fremantle, Sydney or Port Adelaide. I never wanted to get drafted to an interstate club. I knew that I would get homesick. It’s great being at the Kangaroos because I know that I’m only three hours from home. If I have any problems, I know that my parents can be down here within three hours or I can be down there. It would have been really tough if I was drafted interstate. I just know I would not have handled that too good.
Players involved in sport at the elite level often make sacrifices. What sort of sacrifices have you had to make to play AFL footy?
I always wanted to play AFL footy, so when I was young I knew that I would have to work hard to achieve my dream. I don’t have the most ability and I’m not the most skilful player, so I knew I had to work hard to achieve my dream. I’ve had to make various sacrifices on the way, but they are nothing compared to playing footy at the elite level. I’ve been off the grog for a fair while. I don’t think I will have a drink this season. I don’t miss the grog. I just want to stay focused on my footy. When I went home for the two-week break over Christmas, I went down to the Port Campbell oval each night to do running with Sam (brother). After we finished down at the oval, we came home to the farm and did weights in the shed. They are only basic weights, including old tyres, but I knew if I never put in the hard yards at home over the break all my other hard work would go out the window. Things like the trip to Utah that we did in early November would be lost if I never kept on working on my fitness and my skills.
What was the trip to Utah like?
It’s the second time that I’ve been over to Utah. I knew what to expect this time. We were there for more than three weeks. It was really demanding. It was minus 10 degrees over there. It was just freezing. We did a lot of hill running, boxing, wrestling, hiking and cross training. I know my fitness improved over there. The hardest thing I found training in Utah was it was so consistent. We never had any days off until near the end of the trip. We had a day off here and another one off there to do a bit of shopping, but I can assure you it was a tough trip.
Ben, have you based your career on any other player?
Probably the bloke I always look at is Luke Hodge. He’s a tough in-and-under player. He’s a fearless player. He’s tough and one of the best in the league. I just love watching him play. I would like to take some things out of his game and put them into my game. Even though Hodgey is from Colac, I’ve never sat down and spoken to him. I’ve had a few chats with Jordan Lewis. He’s given me a bit of advice, which I have really appreciated.
Would it be fair to say that you came on the footy radar when you kicked 10 goals for Cobden seniors in your debut game against Camperdown as a 15-year-old?
Yeah. Kicking those 10 goals did attract a bit of attention. I started the game on the bench. I kicked two goals in the second quarter and five in the third quarter and three in the last quarter. I’ll never forget that game. I had a couple of opponents in that game.
How many senior games did you play at Cobden?
I only played 10 games. I was also playing for the Geelong Falcons, but I remember playing for Cobden very clearly. I was just a youngster playing against men. I used to think it was really physical. I suppose playing against the men fast-tracked my footy maturity.
Who coached you at Cobden?
Wayne Walsh was my coach. He really helped my career. Walshy offered me a lot of support. He was really good to talk to if I had any questions regarding my footy. Brett Taylor was also very good. Cobden was a really good club. They were great to me. Sam plays there now. He’s hoping to get drafted at the end of this season. It would be great for him if he does get drafted.
Are there any Hampden league players that stick in your mind from your stint at Cobden?
When you are young there are always players that you look up to. Two of those that played in the Hampden league in that era were Koroit’s Joe McLaren and Terang Mortlake’s Matthew “Pud” Irving. I thought they were both excellent players. Both had the ability to read the game really well.
How do you think the Kangaroos will go this season?
We’ll be pretty competitive. We’ve got a young list. I’ve played 34 games now and there are a lot of other young blokes that fit in the range of games from 30 to 50. I’m sure they will all be improved. We just hope that we are not struck down with injuries. Barring bad luck and injuries, I would love to think that we will finish in the top eight.