Former AFL footballer Tony Armstrong has revealed it took him several years to emotionally recover from being sacked, an experience that left him “gutted” and briefly disillusioned with the sport.
Armstrong, who currently serves as a sports presenter for ABC News Breakfast, was snapped up by the Adelaide Crows at the No. 58 pick in the 2007 National Draft, but did not make his AFL debut until 2010.
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“I finished school, I did my last exam, a media exam on the Friday, got drafted on the Saturday, moved to Adelaide on the Sunday, started on the Monday,” he told ABC’s Take 5 with Zan Rowe.
“I didn’t spend any time in the real world.
“It’s a really weird one, they’re like, ‘Be an adult, act like an adult, be super mature.’ But then also, ‘This is what you’re going to eat tomorrow, and you’re going to eat it at this time, and this is how much of it you’re going to eat, also this is what time you’re going to go to bed.’
“So it’s like you are an adult, but you’re also getting treated like a kid. All the decisions are made for you. You basically don’t have to think, and so you’re not out there making mistakes.
“You might not grow up emotionally as much, just because you don’t have to.”
In 2012, Armstrong was traded to the Sydney Swans, who he supported as a child, and played 15 games for the club over two seasons.
The defender played alongside child hero and two-time premiership player Adam Goodes, which Armstrong described as a “sick” experience.
“It was the coolest thing ever,” he said.
“I didn’t have many good moments on the footy field, but we were at the MCG, we were playing a grand final rematch against the Hawks in 2013.
“There were like 75,000 people in the MCG, it’s packed. I pick the ball up at halfback, dodge someone, then hit Goodesy with this 55-metre kick.
“It was like the only time I ever stopped and smelt the roses. I was like, ‘This is pretty cool
I’ve just kicked it to Goodesy.’
“He’s like Aboriginal superman. The guy is the best.
“It was a really ‘pinch me’ kind of time, to be playing with someone who you idolised so much.”
Armstrong was delisted by the Swans at the end of the 2013 season and picked up by the Collingwood as a delisted free agent.
He played six games with the Magpies before being delisted once again, ultimately ending his professional career.
“I didn’t retire. I got sacked because I wasn’t good enough, and that’s fine,” he explained.
“But it’s pretty brutal because you’re like, ‘I don’t have a contract, you just drafted a couple of halfbacks, this isn’t looking good.’
“And then you get the call into the office … and they basically say, ‘We’re not going to renew your contract. Good luck.’
“And that’s it. I basically just got shown the door, and I was an athlete, so I knew how to walk out, and I did.
“It’s pretty brutal … I was gutted.
“It took me years to get over, because I was like, Far out, I’ve wasted eight years of my life.
“You’re sold on this dream where it’s like, ‘If you work hard and try your best, it’ll work out, and it doesn’t always work out.
“But with a bit more perspective now that I’m a bit older, it’s fine. And it’s fine to fail.”
Armstrong has since built a successful media career, commentating for ABC Radio and making appearances on Fox Footy.
The 33-year-old won the Graham Kennedy Award for Most Popular New Talent at the 2022 Logie Awards for his work on ABC News Breakfast.