Hayden Crozier has become one of the most eye-catching defenders in the AFL since moving from Fremantle to the Western Bulldogs at the end of 2017. If he isn’t taking towering pack marks, he is pumping the ball forward on his left foot.
And he is no stranger to the RIXX Eyewear family. The 26-year-old was drafted four picks after co-founder Tommy Sheridan was also taken by the Dockers at the 2011 National Draft.
The pair packed up their lives in Victoria and moved to Perth at the age of 18, quickly becoming close mates who have since travelled the world together and ridden the highs and lows of AFL football.
Crozier spoke to The Journal from inside the Western Bulldogs’ hub on the Gold Coast to chat about a few topics - including his life changing decision to return to Melbourne a few years ago.
COVID-19 has dramatically impacted the AFL season. What has it been like being a player from a Victorian club in 2020?
It has been obviously a really different year. We’d had a really solid pre-season leading into the season. I remember it was late Feb and we got an email from our club doctor providing information to players and staff around the coronavirus that was going on overseas. Pretty quickly it affected Australia and us. It was an indifferent week leading into Round 1 because we didn’t know if we’d be playing or not. We got smoked against Collingwood in Round 1 and went into eight weeks of lockdown stewing on that loss, which was pretty tough. We then moved up to Queensland and into a hub when things restarted. We originally thought we’d be up for about six weeks, but we then knew pretty quickly that we were going to be there for the rest of the season.
You have spent a few months inside a hub with the Western Bulldogs. Tell us what hub life has actually been like on the Gold Coast?
The first two weeks in quarantine wasn’t as bad as we thought it was going to be. We were able to be outside and hang by the pool and have dinner as a group, which made it a lot easier. After the first two weeks we moved to Royal Pines where we are at the moment. It is a beautiful resort with a golf course and a big pool. We have to live under the stage three Victorian restrictions. We can play golf, we can surf, we can go to cafes for takeaway only. We’ve just tried to keep busy. I’ve been playing a bit of golf which has only gone downhill since I’ve been up here to be honest. Footy is the No. 1 priority, obviously, so that’s been the major focus. But it has been important to get away from it when we can to clear our minds.
Take us inside the biggest career decision you have to make yet. How did you decide it was the right move to depart Fremantle and request a trade to the Western Bulldogs?
It was something that I was weighing up a fair bit in my last year at Fremantle. I loved WA as a state and loved Fremantle as a club, I’ve made some lifelong friends from Freo and a lot of close friends outside of football over there, so it was never a thing about missing home and I was well set up over there. But I felt from a personal level football wise I was playing some OK footy but my career was a little bit stale and I was sitting on the same level. I thought maybe a bit of a change would help.
I got halfway through that year and chatted to my manager about what the options looked like and we decided to wait until the end of the year. I definitely hadn’t made my mind up until the end of the season. I then came to the decision that I wanted to leave and come back to Melbourne. I had some interest from some other clubs and the Western Bulldogs were the first club I caught up with. As soon as I left that meeting, I knew that was the place I wanted to be. I have no regrets. I feel like from a career perspective it is the best decision I have made.
We all know you are a massive fan of America. What are your favourite places to visit in the States?
I love a lot of places in the States, so this is a tough one for me. LA in general is a place I absolutely love going to every time. It is almost a mix of two cities where you can hang around West Hollywood, Beverly Hills to a completely different vibe in Newport Beach or Manhattan Beach. I love warm weather and the beach, and the coast of LA is probably my favourite spot in the world I’ve travelled to so far.
Austin, Texas is up there as well. It is very different to LA. I’ve been to Austin City Limits a couple of times and had some great times at that musical festival. And then somewhere like Miami. It has such a different vibe to other places I’ve been to in America. I haven’t been to South America, but it has a real Latin America vibe to it.
When you can finally go overseas again, where are you heading next?
I’m definitely going to tick off Europe next. The first year I went to the States in 2014 I planned on doing Europe the year after, but I love America so much that I just keep going back. This year was going to be the year I went to Europe – at least half Europe, half America – but obviously due to circumstances I can’t do that. Hopefully next year I can explore a bit of Europe. I wouldn’t mind doing some of Sri Lanka as well; my dad grew up in Sri Lanka for the first five years of his life; he has always been on my back to get over there.
What are the restaurants you’re most looking forward to when you return to Melbourne and things start to return to normal?
I don’t have a go-to, I tend to mix things up a bit. I don’t mind Mr Miyagi; I go there a fair bit over the years. Gilson is up there. The Railway Hotel is near where I live in Port Melbourne and that’s renowned for its steak, so I go there quite a bit. But I actually like to change it up quite a bit. The most popular one I go to with the Doggies boys is Pellegrini’s, which is a pasta bar in the city. That’s probably my favourite out of the lot. They look after us really well there.