He might only be the tender age of 27, but Darren Pfeiffer has been around the football block and back a few times.
His footballing journey has seen him on three AFL club lists, a SANFL list, a NEAFL list, and has now been appointed senior coach of the UQ Red Lions for season 2015, his second QAFL club
It has been a career plagued with shoulder complaints, but with an extremely optimistic outlook on life, Pfeiffer is ready for his next footy challenge.
It all began when he was drafted to the Adelaide Football Club with pick 17 in the 2005 AFL National draft.
After a difficult couple of years, with continual injury setbacks leading to a lack of senior opportunity, the Crows delisted him at the end of the 2007 season.
“That delisting really hit home. It probably changed me as a person a little bit, inside and outside of footy, I think I’ve matured a little bit more and I think that really improved me as a person,” Pfeiffer said.
Remaining positive on his football future, Pfeiffer didn’t drop his head or lose hope in that off-season, rewarded by being picked up by Carlton in the 2008 AFL Pre-Season draft.
He would go on to make his AFL debut that year in round 2, playing six more games before seasons end.
He was moved to the rookie list for 2009, but after a nasty shoulder dislocation, any hope of senior football was dashed.
“I had a really good pre-season at that stage, so when I went down with the shoulder that affected me a fair bit,” he said.
“I had a month off after dislocating it, and just tried to strengthen it up so I could continue to play because I was on the fringe, they’re the kind of things that you have to do.
“I tried to play again after a month and it went again second game back in, so I had to have the surgery and didn’t get back in until round 17.
“I think they had already made their decision by that stage, so that affected me a fair bit in terms of selection.”
After being delisted by a second club, Pfeiffer had to weigh up his playing future.
That’s when he made the move to the sunshine state.
He played the 2010 season with Southport in the QAFL, proving his worth by finishing second in the Grogan Medal.
In yet another change of location, Pfeiffer went home to Adelaide for a stint in the SANFL, still with eyes firmly on a return to AFL ranks.
Two delisting’s wouldn’t be easy to swallow, he could have easily thrown in the towel on his AFL dream, but his optimism kept him up beat, knowing he had matured from each process.
“I knew that I was still up to the level to play a role in the AFL. That’s what drove me,” Pfeiffer said.
”I just realised that it was a bit more of a job now and I knew what I had to do to be successful at the AFL level.”
After turning heads in his SANFL return, Pfeiffer found himself on the Port Adelaide rookie list for the 2012 season.
In his best year of football yet, he played 16 games for the Power, cementing a regular spot in the starting lineup despite being a rookie.
“To get that experience in the AFL over a year was great, I was really happy to play that much football,” he said.
The next year played out like a broken record, it was the same old same old, with more surgery required.
“That next year I had another shoulder reco, with Darren Burgess coming in and really getting the fitness level up of all the guys, it probably put me behind a little bit,” he said.
“I was playing every week dislocating a shoulder, so it wasn’t probably going to work.
“At that point I probably realised my shoulders weren’t up to the AFL game.”
It was time for a return to the place he now calls home, Brisbane.
At the end of 2014, following a season with Redland in the NEAFL, an opportunity came across his desk that would change his whole approach to football.
“I was sitting down with Phil Lovett, he came across the UQ advertisement for a coach, I felt that now was the perfect opportunity,” Pfeiffer said.
“I saw that they had only won two games, I saw that it was a club who had plenty of improvement in them, and being a university team I like the idea of the fact that its not just all about football, it’s also about career.”
This ‘career’ aspect is something Pfeiffer himself places great importance on.
Along with his senior coaching role, he is studying an environment management degree, which he will complete his honours in.
Balancing these two aspects of his life has been tricky.
“Its time consuming, you get a lot of the little things which add up during the day,” he said.
“It hasn’t changed too much in terms of talking to a group of players. I was always getting out and talking to a group of players so in that respect I’m just doing it a little bit more often.
“It comes down to the organisation and now I have got to really concentrate on using the people around me, in terms of the assistant coaches and things like that.”
Through experiencing the likes of Neil Craig, Brett Ratten, and briefly, Ken Hinkley, Pfeiffer has seen first hand how good coaches operate, and hopes to bring this with him to the Red Lions.
“I have had some brilliant coaches in the past and they have all been brilliant for their different reasons, so I have been able to take a little bit from each of them and do what I feel is best,” Pfeiffer said.
Above all else, being a playing coach, he believes he understands what the players want.
He holds realistic expectations for his time at UQ.
“Personally I just want to get UQ footy club to a stage where they have a good functioning footy club, and the seniors are winning games of football and are competitive each week and are aiming for finals,” he said.
“You get a lot of players who just play but I’m trying to get them thinking of the situations in games rather than just thinking about having the football in your hands.
Pfeiffer’s impact upon the Red Lions is there for all to see.
They had a successful pre-season, and despite a disappointing loss to Mt Gravatt in round 1, they showed in patches that they will be a handful for other teams in 2015.
By Andrew Wiles