Former Docker Harley Bennell (right) with Andrew Krakouer. Picture: Josie Hayden
Former Docker Harley Bennell (right) with Andrew Krakouer. Picture: Josie Hayden

Made for the MCG: Krakouer tips Harley to succeed

NEWLY-signed Demon Harley Bennell is made for the MCG spotlight, according to his mentor Andrew Krakouer. 

Bennell, who started training with Melbourne in November, is confident specialists have cracked the code to reignite his stalled 83-game career after he earned a third opportunity at AFL level on Tuesday. 

Bennell, 27, has undergone multiple bouts of surgery on his troublesome calves since breaking down again playing WAFL on June 23 but was given the all clear by doctors to start running again late last year. 

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"There were times when I needed some time off, but I've never given up," Bennell said.

"I grew up dreaming of playing AFL football, and I think I've still got plenty to give.

"If I can get the body right, anything can happen."

Harley Bennell takes possession during a rare appearance for Fremantle.
Harley Bennell takes possession during a rare appearance for Fremantle.

Tendons pushing onto nerves in both of Bennell's calves have been removed as part of his radical rehabilitation plan.

"At first I was a bit iffy about it, but I'd heard other players like Sam Reid at Sydney had done it, so fingers crossed it will all work out," Bennell said.

The 2010 No. 2 draft pick reunited with long-time mate and mentor, "fellow Noongar man" Andrew Krakouer, as he settled into life in Melbourne.

"Harley is in the best mental and physical shape of his life," Krakouer said.

"And I truly believe that Melbourne is the best place for him. The MCG is where he belongs.

"As a goalkicking midfielder - if he gets his body right - I have no doubt he'll tear up AFL games again."

 

While Bennell has done it tough at times, he doesn't hide his love for his old coach, Ross Lyon.

"He's like my dad, because he cares about me," Bennell says.

Two games across four injury-plagued seasons left Fremantle with little choice but to cut Bennell adrift, but he's grateful for the faith Lyon and the Dockers placed in him.

Bennell, his partner Amy and their infant daughter Carter Ivy shifted to Melbourne in November ahead of the pre-season campaign that would make or break an 83-game career - that started at the Gold Coast Suns nine years ago.

"There's a bit of nervousness, but I'm also excited to be in Melbourne," he says.

"I feel comfortable here. We think this is the right place to be.

"Hopefully it all works out."

 

Harley Bennell in full flight for Gold Coast. Picture: Michael Klein
Harley Bennell in full flight for Gold Coast. Picture: Michael Klein

An electrifying talent at his best, even Bennell's most optimistic backers suspected it was all over when he trudged of Lathlain Park in suburban Perth on June 23 having broken down yet again playing for Peel Thunder in the WAFL.

But a new approach led by Geelong-based injury specialist Peter Stanton, who arranged for a Brisbane surgeon to remove tendons pushing onto nerves in both of Bennell's calves, has led to another AFL chance. 

Melbourne high performance boss Darren Burgess gave Bennell a light fitness program before he officially joined the club on December 3. 

Another secret weapon in Bennell's corner has been mate and mentor Krakouer.

Krakouer, 36, now in the construction game with Multiplex, went to prison midway through his own AFL career and knows all about the road to redemption.

"Harley is older now, he is wiser and he understands the opportunities that he has let slip," Krakouer says.

"During my time in football, I let a unique opportunity slip when I was at Richmond.

"I was fortunate enough to be presented with a second opportunity at Collingwood and I took it with both hands, and I'm sure Harley will be no different.

"If he gets an opportunity, Harley will return the faith in spades.

"He is an enormous talent, and is ready to make a big impact on the competition.

"I think football clubs are in the best position they've been in to manage players from different backgrounds and experiences.

"And being a fellow Noongar man, we connected well pretty early. I'm a huge wrap for him, not only as a footballer but as a person.

"You do have your dark times, once you have injuries, there's no doubt there are times where you think it's all too hard, but you realise it's a process."

 

Bennell has had his share of off-field trouble, too, but Krakouer says "people are quick to judge".

"I don't think the publicised culture of the Gold Coast was conducive to Harley being the best he could be," he says.

"Equally, I don't think Perth was necessarily the right place for him."

But Bennell says he has no qualms with Fremantle's medical team, who failed to fix his injured legs.

"I did my four years there, we tried everything, but I just needed a fresh start and a new set of eyes," he says.

"It was miserable at times, suiting up and going to games.

"You want to be out there with your boots on, not sitting in the box watching on, because you know what you can do to help the team to win; and all I want to do is win. I hate losing."

Bennell revealed his former Suns teammate Steven May had played a role in helping him secure his pre-season opportunity at the Demons.

"He's fit and he's flying. I haven't seen him like this since the early days of the Suns," Bennell says.

With a dose of long-overdue good luck, Bennell might get the chance to remind the football world of his own special talents.


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