Senior football writer for The Age Michael Gleeson explores religion in the AFL and the players who let faith rather than football define who they are.
Guy McKenna has finished his final address to the team. Players mill about, some with headphones listening to music, others handballing, some kicking to each other.
It’s a standard scene in any change room before any game.
Off to a side Gary Ablett, Zac Smith and Aaron Hall drape arms over each others shoulders.
They invite anyone else in – players, coaches – to join them and often at least several more gather in the huddle. They bow their heads and pray.
They recite scripture and ask for strength for the game ahead before they run out to play.
'I am a Christian by faith. I am a man of God. I trust in Jesus every day just to help me through,' Smith explained.
Gary Ablett last year posted a photo on social media of him, Smith and Hall praying ahead of the Western Bulldogs game and accompanied by a quote from 1 Corinthians 10:31: 'So whatever you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.'
Australians typically wince when someone publicly mentions God and Ablett made some move a little uneasily in their seats on Brownlow night when he thanked God for his win.
The group prayer before a game was not so unusual in football though. At Essendon in the late '90s some of the players, predominantly the Catholics, prayed with the longtime club chaplain Allan Dunn before games.
At North Melbourne, Daniel Wells plays on a wing with a prayer.
He is a spiritual man in a country where sport is religion. Wells was raised with a belief but not in a church, he now has a family of his own and he is a converted and devout Catholic.
Wells attends mass without fail every week. When he goes to Utah for the club’s altitude camps he treks off on a bus an hour or so away in the snow to find a small church to attend mass.
'It does set me up for the week. If I don’t go to mass I do feel very empty. It is something that is compulsory for me and my family and we make sure we get there regardless,' he said.
His faith is a bigger part of him than football. One is what he does, the other is who he is.
Read full article and watch video: AFL's growing band of religious players (The Age)