Josh Dunkley: The worst part of playing professional sports

MOST FOOTBALL fans would probably assume that losing an important game is the worst feeling a player can have. I can certainly confirm it's a horrible experience to go through, particularly when you feel responsible for the outcome. The anguish of letting your teammates, coaches and supporters down is unrelenting and can keep you up at night replaying every little moment over and over in your head, cursing yourself for any mistake.

But as difficult as it may be, in my opinion, nothing rivals a serious injury when it comes to overwhelming emotion, disappointment and raw despair within a club. For us players, it's even more painful than a heartbreaking loss.

I guess the biggest difference is that no matter how difficult some losses are to accept, there's always another game, another season, and another opportunity to make amends. It might be eating away at you, but you do manage to push through and get on with life.

A serious injury on the other hand, either to yourself or a teammate is completely different. At the end of the day, football is just a game and long-term injuries impact livelihoods. Fans might move on and forget about injuries, but the players have to live with it every single moment from day one until the end of rehabilitation.

On Monday morning, a few minutes before the club released a statement to the media, our playing group was informed that Josh Bruce had ruptured his ACL and would miss the next 12 months of football. Obviously, it was the news we didn't want to hear, but I'd be lying if I said we didn't expect it after the big fella went down clutching his knee late on against the Bombers.

The first thing Bevo mentioned when we were back in the rooms after a dirty day out was that the early signs for Brucey weren't good. Nobody quite knew what to say or how to react. It's a shattering situation to be in and the mood was as sombre as it gets. It honestly would have been no different even if we had have won the game.

Brucey is usually one of the louder, bubbly characters in the rooms, always cracking jokes and smiling. Seeing him so quiet and void of any emotion was something completely foreign to me. It's heartbreaking to so vividly see one of your mates having to process such terrible news.

These injuries to teammates can be very delicate to navigate. On one hand, you desperately want to throw your arms around the person who is suffering, and let them know you are there for anything they may need. But having been in that position before, and having 22 blokes telling you the same thing can be overwhelming, particularly when you haven't yet come to terms with what's just happened.

Thinking back to when I did my shoulder against the Giants earlier in the year, all I wanted to do was escape and be alone. I just felt numb. You know everyone truly cares and feels for you, but nothing anyone says or does really helps to ease the pain you're experiencing. If anything, it makes you more emotional.

Within 24 hours of the club confirming I would require surgery, I reckon I had about 500 messages across all the social media platforms. It might seem strange, but you almost don't want to read them and believe what's happening is real. You just want to switch the phone off and ignore everything, as it does little to comfort you. Not to mention you certainly get tired of saying the same thing over and over again. And remember, this was only for a 12 to 16-week injury as opposed to 12 months!

The things which I found helped most when I was at my lowest were the little unexpected gestures. I remember my best mate Adsy (Treloar) bringing me a burrito after my surgery, something which I had been craving! A few days later, Bont came around to my place with Hayden Crozier and one of our other good mates from the club, Jayden Shea. He'd only gone and made us all risotto!

There's no doubt we'll be doing similar things for Brucey to help ease him through what's going to be a difficult 12 months.

But if there's one positive which comes out of a serious injury, it's how it can really galvanize a playing group. With so much emotion flowing around the room, it naturally brings you all closer. Brucey is the one who is physically dealing with the injury but it hurts every single person at the footy club.

I remember in my first season, back in 2016, when our skipper Bob Murphy went down with an ACL of his own. It was Round 3 and the mood in the rooms was almost identical to what we had last weekend. We were all shattered for Bob and unsure as to what to do next.

A few days later we had a team meeting to discuss what had happened and how we were going to pick ourselves up and continue on with the season. If you had told us at the time we would go on to be premiers, there's no way I would have believed it, but it's proof of how a group can grow in the face of adversity.