My story: Kyron Hayden shares his tough road to an AFL career

Kyron Hayden has had to fight harder than most to start an AFL career, from his dad’s time in jail to being delisted after one season and his act of insane bravery against Richmond. The Kangaroos youngster shares his story of determination.

There’s a lot my dad has missed out on the past five years.

Big milestones like my 18th birthday, getting drafted to North Melbourne, my 21st birthday, my senior debut and my high school graduation were all occasions he wasn’t able to be a part of.

Unfortunately, he spent five years in prison and was only just released.

That impacted not only me but my two younger brothers and the whole family, really.

But despite him missing five years, I feel our relationship is even stronger now and he’s more invested and involved in my life and my brothers’ lives.

The last time he watched me play a game in person was when I was 16, so I’m looking forward to him hopefully getting to a live game soon.

For him to finally get some freedom and to be able to see me and my brothers and my grandparents is huge.

It’s especially great for my brothers as they won’t miss out on the things I did.

Dad went away when I was still a teenager, but I was never going to go down the wrong path.

He made some mistakes in his life and I’ve got other family members that have been in and out of jail.

I’ve witnessed a fair bit, but both my mum and my dad have both been very good parents.

They gave me every opportunity to succeed and instilled in me the right values and morals.

Not being a good person was never going to happen.

North Melbourne footballer Kyron Hayden with his father Clive.
North Melbourne footballer Kyron Hayden with his father Clive.

EARLY DAYS IN WA

It was dad who got me into footy as a young tack.

I grew up in Perth and he played for Subiaco in the WAFL.

We’d go to the park and kick the footy and go for runs around the block most days.

I’d watch him play most weeks, and before games he’d take me into the rooms and I’d help him with his warm-up.

I was around footy a lot and he taught me everything I knew.

In most old photos of me, there’s a footy in my hands.

Growing up I supported Hawthorn as my uncle is former Hawk Mark Williams, who is my dad’s first cousin.

GOING BUSH

I loved school holidays as a kid.

For me, it always meant taking off for the Western Australian bush with my dad and grandfather, who was a champion sprinter growing up.

We’d get in the car and just go disappear for a couple of weeks.

We’d ride bikes and just go shooting and live off the land.

I have fond memories of camping down by a river and catching marrons.

It’s really special to me and helped me get in touch with my culture.

I certainly miss that now that I live in the big smoke of Melbourne.

There’s nothing better than getting out to the bush, it’s like my safe space.

North Melbourne footballer Kyron Hayden (front) as a kid in Western Australia.
North Melbourne footballer Kyron Hayden (front) as a kid in Western Australia.
Kyron Hayden has had to fight his way to an AFL career. Picture: Michael Klein
Kyron Hayden has had to fight his way to an AFL career.

GOOD STRIKE RATE

By the time I was drafted to North Melbourne, I’d only ever attended three AFL games in my life.

You see, I never really watched AFL footy too much growing up.

It was more local footy, the WAFL, and my other love basketball that attracted my interest.

Although, to be fair, the three games I saw live were top shelf with two of them being AFL Grand Finals.

I was only nine for the first one — the 2008 Grand Final in which my uncle, Mark, played in the Hawks’ win over Geelong.

In 2013, I was in the crowd in Perth when Eagle Nic Naitanui kicked a goal after the siren to beat my future club.

Then there was the 2017 Grand Final when Richmond beat Adelaide, which I got to while in Melbourne for the AFL draft combine.

So I didn’t see many, but I sure picked some good ones.

COMBINE RECORD

In my underage year, my draft prospects took a huge hit.

When I was invited to the initial WA under-18 squad, it meant undergoing medical screenings.

It was then I realised my groins just had no strength.

Scans revealed osteitis pubis, which meant I couldn’t run or do any sports for about 12 months.

In the pre-season of my draft year I lost a stack of weight, dropping from 100kg to 86kg.

That period was really tough because I was an active kid and sports and exercise was what kept me sane.

So did school, as I was at the Hale School and they were great for my development and helped build my character.

They were big on making sure I was getting the best out of myself.

Thankfully I was able to get to the AFL draft combine, where I set a record for the vertical leap.

To hear I beat the previous best set by “Nic Nat” and Jared Brennan was a shock, and it probably did my draft chances no harm.

Going into the draft, I’d had a few clubs tell me they were interested.

I knew I was in the mix, but then on the night the draft kept going and I was still without a club.

I thought I was going to miss so I actually turned it off and went outside to go play with my little cousin.

It wasn’t until the phone calls started coming did I realise I was a Kangaroo.

There were mixed emotions to be leaving Western Australia.

I was a bit daunted to be moving away from my family, but at the same time I knew it was a good thing.

I wanted to be independent and learn to be an adult as I was a young kid who didn’t really know much about the world.

LIFE AT ARDEN ST

I’ll be honest, I was thrilled North Melbourne took a punt on me.

Although the only player I’d heard of from the Roos prior to joining them was Majak Daw.

And that was only because I’d seen the famous photo of him in the Speedos with his rig out.

Other than that, I didn’t even know who the coach or the captain was.

It was a bit surreal when I arrived at Arden St.

Particularly because I had to undergo shoulder surgery in my first week at the club.

It meant I missed all pre-season and came in about Round 5 of the VFL.

When I did return, I felt like I was a mile off it.

DELISTED IN YEAR ONE

The first year was hard. I missed my family, I missed my friends and I wasn’t enjoying Melbourne.

It meant I was moping around a bit and it was affecting my work ethic and motivation levels.

The club probably picked up on that, too.

It resulted in a few stern chats, and at the end of the year I was told I was being delisted from the main list and I’d be re-rookied.

Kyron Hayden was injured in his first AFL game. Picture: Mark Stewart
Kyron Hayden was injured in his first AFL game.

MY FIGHTBACK

It was the kick in the arse I needed.

It hit me square between the eyes, and made me realise I needed to take this caper a lot more seriously.

In the off-season I went home to Perth and got a lot fitter.

When I came back to the club I’d dropped 7kg.

I found a good work ethic and found a routine that worked for me.

And it wasn’t only that.

I realised I just wasn’t having any fun in my footy.

My mindset had to change.

If I was going to be there, I may as well make the most out of it.

I needed to put my energy into my football rather than feeling sorry for myself.

My mum and dad were instrumental in helping me find a better head space and rediscovering that drive again.

Football was what I wanted to do, so I had to do something about it.

RHYCE AND I

A big turning point for me was when Rhyce Shaw arrived as coach.

From day one, he felt like a good fit for me.

He brought a different vibe and different culture to the club, I thought.

More than anything, he instilled a lot of confidence in me and he also believed in me.

That kind of spurred me on, and I started to feel comfortable in Melbourne.

Kyron Hayden hasn’t missed a game since breaking into the North Melbourne team in Round 2.
Kyron Hayden hasn’t missed a game since breaking into the North Melbourne team in Round 2.

ROLLERCOASTER DEBUT

My AFL debut was a bit of a funny one.

The memories are fairly mixed, which is probably different to what most debutants experience.

It was against Collingwood last year and I was stoked to get the opportunity.

Then in the second quarter I did my achilles, which was just pure frustration.

I’d had a lot of injuries and setbacks prior to that, such as my OP and my shoulder injury in year one.

I felt like I’d finally got past those issues, had been given a chance and now I was set to start all over again.

But I quickly realised the trials and tribulations I’d had with my dad being inside and my injury setbacks had really helped build up a resilience and a perseverance in me.

I feel like that helps me play footy today and it’s shaped me as a person as well.

BECOMING A DEFENDER

The coach said he wanted a word.

It was during the pre-season and he put it to me he wanted to try me down back.

In his words, he said I had some good defensive qualities such as being hard to play against one-on-one.

I was drafted as a midfielder and in my second-year I played as a tagger, so this was a new challenge and one I was open to.

I wasn’t against it, but it was a steep learning curve.

I’ve had some tough jobs but I’d rather play on the good players because it’s only going to make you better.

Playing on Isaac Heeney is a different challenge to playing on Eddie Betts and Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti.

I’m learning all different styles of play and I’m enjoying it.

Kyron Hayden fearlessly runs back with the flight into the path of charging Tiger Tom Lynch.
Kyron Hayden fearlessly runs back with the flight into the path of charging Tiger Tom Lynch.

NO BACKWARDS STEPS

I didn’t want to take the easy option.

That’s what was going through my head last month when I was running back with the flight of the ball and saw Tiger Tom Lynch coming the other way out of the corner of my eye.

In the days before that game, our coach had said to the playing group: “It’s easy to take the easy option when things aren’t going your way.”

He asked for buy-in from the playing group.

So, in that instance, I guess the easy option would have been to get front and centre.

But I’m fully committed to the team and what we’re trying to do.

I didn’t want to not put my body on the line and I’m glad I did the right thing.

It would have been a bad look had I pulled out.

I think I gained a bit of respect and trust from the playing group for it.

I’d do it again.

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