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  1. #1
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    Ryan ‘Plugger’ Gardner has found his groove

    Ryan ‘Plugger’ Gardner has found his groove

    Ryan Gardner’s first AFL game in the backline triggered online abuse, and the second and third only brought more. How did the young Western Bulldogs defender — and his girlfriend and family — cope with the trolls?



    Ryan Gardner sometimes feels like he has more names than the phonebook in Smithton, Tasmania, where he is from.

    “From my last name there’s “Gardy”, “Garden Weed” or “Garden Gnome”,” the Western Bulldogs defender said.

    “The Geelong boys call me ‘Plugger’ after that Carlton (VFL) game, where I kicked six.

    “And then the one that’s stuck here at the Dogs is ‘Plums’.”

    That nickname dropped at pre-season camp, when Gardner emerged from a rock pool diving challenge with his Speedos repositioned.

    It should be as risqué as it gets.

    Sadly, some Bulldog supporters have come up with their own hurtful names for Gardner this year, and loaded them on social media.

    The nasty comments flooded the Dogs’ Instagram, Facebook and Twitter feeds after Gardner’s first three games in the backline.

    Some trolls contacted the 23-year-old directly.

    “I got my fair share of direct messages on Insta,” Gardner said.

    “Obviously with COVID people are at home more and watching more footy and they’ve probably got more stress … I don’t really know what their intentions are.”

    Gardner’s family — sisters Ella and Monique and parents Steven and Marelle — couldn’t help but read, and squirm, at what was being said.

    His girlfriend, Lana, tried to block it out.

    “I don’t even know if she likes (follows) the Bulldogs’ page anymore, because of that reason,” Gardner said.

    “She doesn’t want to see it. They’re (family) a lot better now.

    “It’s probably something that you don’t want to happen, but it’s part of the game.”

    It shouldn’t be, and Dogs coach Luke Beveridge said it was “extremely disappointing” that a minority of fans turned on their own.

    “I’m sensitive and aware to some of the things that happen with some of the trolls, even some of our supporters who get down on our players at times,” Beveridge said. “I’m hoping he (Gardner) doesn’t think about it too much.”

    Thankfully, he doesn’t. The trolls are thickheaded, but Gardner is thick-skinned.

    “When they came up it was more just straight in the trash — delete, delete button,” he said.

    “I don’t really read it. On the flip side I’ve also had plenty of positive messages as well saying, ‘Keep your head up’ or ‘You played well this week, really like what you’re doing’.”

    As teammate Aaron Naughton said: “He’s someone that doesn’t take it to heart, but you shouldn’t be copping those messages”.

    Dig deeper and the abuse that Gardner has fielded becomes even more inexplicable.

    Rewind 18 months and he was as busy as he was inconspicuous.

    Delisted by Geelong at the end of 2018, Gardner settled on Footscray over Casey after being impressed by coach Daniel Giansiracusa.

    Outside of training under lights at Whitten Oval the humble VFL player was juggling three jobs and a university degree.

    He was pouring beers at Yarraville’s Railway Hotel, steam-cleaning carpets and bulk packing sports gear at a factory in Hawthorn.

    “I’ve gone from being on an AFL list on good money to being back in the real world,” Gardner said.

    “I was working somewhere between 30-40 hours a week as well as playing footy and trying to get picked back up.

    “Obviously doing three jobs a week isn’t a life you want to live.”

    Gardner was making $27 an hour on weekdays at the Railway and a few extra dollars cleaning carpets with David Johnson, who Gardner met through Geelong’s welfare program.

    “I got to go on trips with him to NSW and it was hard work, because you’d be going through big schools trying to get it done as quick as you can,” Gardner said.

    “It was a bit of pre-season fitness as well.”

    Gardner would often start cleaning carpets at 8am and close the pub at midnight on the same day.

    Shifts at the factory included a 90-minute commute from Geelong, where Gardner lived with Nakia Cockatoo.

    Gardner grew up on a dairy farm — his parents would milk 1000 cows twice a day — and so the long journeys didn’t faze him.

    Instead it was the dose of reality which got to him.

    “Coming straight from school into AFL I hadn’t really lived in the real world apart from being a footballer,” Gardner said.

    “It was definitely a real eye-opener to know that I’ve got to do my study so I’ve got a pathway after footy.”

    Gardner is completing an advanced diploma of building design and then it will be on to an architecture degree.

    That career should come as no surprise to Beveridge, who lauded Gardner’s attention to detail.

    In 2010 Chris Grant said Josh Hill should never play for the club again after he walked away from the mark as Daniel Menzel approached for a set-shot.

    Gardner is the opposite.

    In Round 13 Gardner got a finger to Jake Melksham’s set-shot and last week he jumped so high that Jack Darling failed to clear the spring-heeled defender.

    “Two similar examples of a young player who plays the game right to the line,” Beveridge said.

    “We’ve won two games and it’s possible that if someone else is on mark we might have dropped them both.

    “He’s very attentive to instruction. I think he’s been outstanding.”

    Supporters were surprised Gardner made the Round 1 team and even more surprised when, 12 weeks later, he played again in Round 2.

    When Gardner earned a recall in Round 11, the day Eric Hipwood kicked five goals, the keyboard cowards cut loose for a third time.

    Matthew Lloyd said Beveridge gifted Hipwood the bag by picking Gardner although defensive coach Rohan Smith was forgiving in the review.

    “Going back through the edits I was in the right spots,” Gardner said.

    “It was more just the execution of me going to wrestle him and grabbing at the jumper or things like that.”

    Since then Gardner has kept Taylor Walker and Tom McDonald to one goal each and held Darling goalless.

    He has also spent time on Tom Hawkins and Jordan De Goey, with no challenge seemingly too big or too small.

    ‘Plugger’ is now plugging the Bulldogs backline.

    “Some of the opposition key forwards he’s been able to either blanket or help defend in recent times has been very encouraging for us,” Beveridge said.

    “He’s rarely in the wrong place with the way we want to defend,” said.

    Gardner was thrilled when Geelong drafted him at pick No. 59 but it proved to be a double-edged sword.

    The positive was he was learning from the likes of Harry Taylor, Tom Lonergan, Andrew Mackie and Corey Enright and defensive coach Matthew Scarlett.

    The downside was he was competing with the likes of Taylor, Lonergan, Mackie and Enright for selection.

    “I knew it wasn’t going to be an easy task to get in the team, which I found impossible in the end,” he said.

    In 2018 Cats coach Chris Scott swung Gardner forward, leading to his bag of six and the nickname “Plugger Gardner”.

    But after for 52 VFL games and zero AFL games in three years the Cats cut him.

    This is Gardner’s fifth consecutive season on an AFL list, but his first real one at the Bulldogs.

    In May last year Gardner’s luck completed the sharpest of U-turns.

    On a Monday night he was selected in the mid-season draft — taking Tom Boyd’s (retired) place on the Dogs’ list — and the very next day Beveridge told him he would be making his AFL debut that week.


    Fancy that — three years at Geelong for no games and a few days at the Dogs for one game.

    “He was pretty quickly taken off the roster,” Railway owner Jason Snedden said.

    “He was literally serving beers one weekend and playing the Eagles in Perth the next.

    “He’s gone from behind the bar to up on the wall on TV.”

    Gardner also celebrated his 22nd birthday the day before his debut although only played one more match for the season and suffered a knee injury.

    It was understandable.

    While Gardner’s AFL opponents were training full-time over summer he’d been pouring beers and cleaning carpets.

    “I’m never going to be a high possession player, it’s more just how much impact I have in each contest,” Gardner said.

    “That’s my strength. I’m someone who enjoys getting in those big contests and trying to either spoil or take a mark.”

    Gardner was confident he had done enough to “tick off getting a new contract”.

    How does Beveridge see his new stopper?

    “He’s a player who has great athletic qualities, an enormous amount of courage, he’s highly skilled with his feet and, like any player who’s introduced at the highest level of our game, it takes them a little while to settle,” Beveridge said.

    “He’s a bright light, we feel like we’ve found a little diamond in the rough in Ryan and he’ll only continue to get better and better.”

    In other words, a big tick.
    Start each day with a task completed. Find someone to help you through life. Respect everyone.
    Know that life is not fair and that you will fail often. But if take you take some risks, step up when the times are toughest, face down the bullies, lift up the downtrodden and never, ever give up — if you do these things, then the next generation and the generations that follow will live in a world far better than the one we have today.
    And what started here will indeed have changed the world — for the better.

  2. #2
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    Re: Ryan ‘Plugger’ Gardner has found his groove

    I enjoyed reading that G. Thanks for uploading. Social media can be very cruel to all players young and old. We all have to be careful.

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  4. #3
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    Re: Ryan ‘Plugger’ Gardner has found his groove

    Brilliant story thanks for sharing. From cleaning carpets and pulling beers to playing the Eagles in a flash.
    Online trolls; just why?

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    Re: Ryan ‘Plugger’ Gardner has found his groove

    Hopefully he keeps developing. Seems to be gaining more and more confidence each week.
    Premierships: AFL 1954, 2016 VFA - 1898,99,1900, 1908, 1913, 1919-20, 1923-24, VFL: 2014, 2016 . Champions of Victoria 1924. AFLW - 2018.

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    Re: Ryan ‘Plugger’ Gardner has found his groove

    Quote Originally Posted by Grantysghost View Post
    Brilliant story thanks for sharing. From cleaning carpets and pulling beers to playing the Eagles in a flash.
    Online trolls; just why?
    Some of the commentary here sometimes is no different.
    They come after one,
    They come after all,
    They can't handle all,
    Lets go....

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    Re: Ryan ‘Plugger’ Gardner has found his groove

    Imagine taking the time to direct message abusive content to a young player who plays for the team you follow. What a pathetic waste of space you'd have to be.

    Fantastic story. Now some people understand the lengths he's had to go to in order to keep his AFL dream alive and pay his bills some of the derision might turn to admiration.

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    Re: Ryan ‘Plugger’ Gardner has found his groove

    Quote Originally Posted by jeemak View Post
    Imagine taking the time to direct message abusive content to a young player who plays for the team you follow. What a pathetic waste of space you'd have to be.
    I love a melt as much as anyone but direct messaging players is mind boggling.

    I'm still not convinced that Gardner is any good but this is still a nice story. Knew I recognised him from the Railway.
    Free Ferg

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    Re: Ryan ‘Plugger’ Gardner has found his groove

    Lots of padding in this and well done to Ryan for the perserverance and aptitude. I'm still to be convinced. Forwards are not kicking bags of goals this year and for mine he has been assisted immeasurably by having wonderful players around him down there and the defensive capabilities of our midfield. I'm glad he's respected but there will be other Hipwood games and I just hope he can play his role well enough to limit the damage when that occurs.
    Josh Schache >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>Jake Stringer

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  14. #9
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    Re: Ryan ‘Plugger’ Gardner has found his groove

    Don't think the article says anywhere he's Matthew Scarlett, it's just a story about the road he's taken and that he's slowly getting better. What more can you ask of a guy ? As a supporter of the team that's what personally I choose to do for Ryan.
    Constructive discussion about where he could improve or what he's doing well is important also. He's not AFL quality I never get that argument. Why?

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    Re: Ryan ‘Plugger’ Gardner has found his groove

    I like his attitude and the fact he said he wants to contest every contest. That’s what I see him as. Mr Reliable. Which is what you want from a key back. I know that might sound silly as he hasn’t been reliable but given time I can see him getting there. We have great half backs so he can be our reliable spoiler. There’s nothing wrong with that.

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    Re: Ryan ‘Plugger’ Gardner has found his groove

    Quote Originally Posted by Grantysghost View Post
    Don't think the article says anywhere he's Matthew Scarlett, it's just a story about the road he's taken and that he's slowly getting better. What more can you ask of a guy ? As a supporter of the team that's what personally I choose to do for Ryan.
    Constructive discussion about where he could improve or what he's doing well is important also. He's not AFL quality I never get that argument. Why?
    I'm not saying he's not AFL quality. I'm just saying I'm not convinced. Can we not voice our opinions amongst friends?

    He has been very shaky a number of times under a high ball - most games. I'll admit that last game was his best and his composure under pressure was way up. He's just a smidge behind other AFL players with his ability to think and deliver quickly, but that will come you would think.

    I'm not expecting Matty Scarlett but I do get concerned when he starts to look shaky (repeat entries, a bigger bodied or faster forward for example) because for me, every game is critical and important and we've seen so many games come down to the wire that you really need your most experienced / best players playing, especially when those players are playing on the opposition's best forward.

    I like just Keath and Cordy and for mine, Lew Young or even JT ahead of him. But what do I know!

    I'm happy to wait and see because he's clearly doing what is asked of him and I'd really love to eat my words on this.
    Josh Schache >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>Jake Stringer

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    Re: Ryan ‘Plugger’ Gardner has found his groove

    I'm another who isn't convinced with Ryan but good on him for sticking at it & hope he sticks it right up me & everyone else who doesn't think he'll get there. I just hope he can learn to keep his feet more often. I hate seeing players go to ground so easily.

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    Re: Ryan ‘Plugger’ Gardner has found his groove

    Great effort to persevere and get back on a list, no one can begrudge that sort of drive and work ethic. Doesn't mean he's immune from criticism or that we can't point out the good and the bad things he does on a footy field.

    DMing on social media is bordering on mental illness territory, though. Anyone doing that needs some help.
    Our 1954 premiership players are our heroes, and it has to be said that Charlie was their hero.

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  22. #14
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    Re: Ryan ‘Plugger’ Gardner has found his groove

    Quote Originally Posted by 1eyedog View Post
    Can we not voice our opinions amongst friends?
    Certainly agree. That wasn't directed at anyone in particular. This forum is generally great for constructive discussion.
    How's the nickname ...Plums. Classic.

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  24. #15
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    Re: Ryan ‘Plugger’ Gardner has found his groove

    Quote Originally Posted by 1eyedog View Post
    Lots of padding in this and well done to Ryan for the perserverance and aptitude. I'm still to be convinced. Forwards are not kicking bags of goals this year and for mine he has been assisted immeasurably by having wonderful players around him down there and the defensive capabilities of our midfield. I'm glad he's respected but there will be other Hipwood games and I just hope he can play his role well enough to limit the damage when that occurs.
    I agree with pretty much all you've said, though I reckon most key backs need support from the midfield or their defencive colleagues as the game is heavily geared towards protecting forwards in one on ones (unless you're Aaron Naughton, of course).

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