Karmichael Hunt is widely-lauded as the current player who’s made the fastest and most improbable transition to an AFL list, but he’s got a Suns teammate whose unlikely uptake of Aussie Rules has been similarly impressive.
Josh Hall’s footballing background was virtually non-existent when he was picked up by Gold Coast in 2011’s rookie draft; to the extent that Hall didn’t know he’d be training alongside the man many pundits say is the greatest to ever play the game.
“As ridiculous as I’m sure it sounds, I didn’t know who Gary Ablett was!” laughs Hall.
“I definitely didn’t understand the hype surrounding him, and there were a lot of young guys who pretty much were too overawed to talk to him.
“It was a positive for me that I just walked straight up and started chatting to him, and ever since then I’ve learnt a hell of a lot from Gary.”
His skipper isn’t the only outlet from which Hall’s soaked up knowledge.
The 23-year-old’s learnt from every conceivable facet of the professional footballing environment he’s become a part of, with his NEAFL coach Shaun Hart deeming him one of the “brightest and most coachable” players he’s mentored.
“His improvement since coming to the club has been out of this world; he’s come along in leaps and bounds,” enthuses Hart.
“He struggled to kick the ball when he first came, and now he has played at an AFL level, and has excelled this year in the NEAFL.”
The story of how Hall came to be a Sun has been well-documented, but it’s worth revisiting, such is its remarkability.
An outstanding athletic talent, Hall was one of the country’s premier High-jumpers, winning bronze in the event at the 2007 World Junior Championships.
After a brief layoff, Hall set his sights on a berth in the London Olympic team, but fell an agonising 2cm short of the “B qualifying height,” and missed out.
Virtually training himself (he’d see his AIS coach once a fortnight), frustrated with his non-selection in major teams, and disillusioned with the sport he’d grown up with, he was considering giving it away.
But trading Fosbury Flops for football was still the furthest thing from his mind.
However, he filled in for a mate in a local league in Townsville, caught the eye of Suns Talent Academy Manager Andrew Johnston, and the rest is history.
“It’s been a massive whirlwind that’s for sure; I never could have envisaged this is where I’d be, and I still pinch myself every day,” Hall smiles.
“I played soccer as a kid with Zac Smith up in North Queensland, and if you had told me as an adult I’d be playing AFL at the same club as Smithy I would have had a good laugh.
“But I love footy, and I’m training the house down striving to make a long-term career out of it.”
Hart, an unequivocally good judge of footballing talent, is confident his young charge can do just that.
“I’m really excited and bullish about Josh’s future; he’s impressed me no end this year,” Hart says.
“He is a fantastic athlete, with a lot of assets most guys just don’t have, and he’s been on the verge of senior selection several times this year with his strong NEAFL form.
“He’s kicked goals, taken big marks, and rucked recently too, so he ticks all the boxes, and I’d love to see him elevated permanently.”
In addition to soccer, Hall dabbled with touch football and Rugby League as a teenager, but the only residual effect of the alternative code is his admiration for former League international Hunt; “I grew up as a big fan of League and of Karmichael, and he still intimidates me a bit, but Aussie Rules is definitely the game for me.”
Hall, who’ll complete his degree in Exercise Science at the end of the year, is certain he’ll never return to High Jump competitively, though he thinks he could still jump “more than two metres” on no training, and occasionally goes down the track to “have a muck around.”
He’s stacked on 10 kilograms since joining the Suns, but his 197cm frame needs more muscle, and he’s yet to perfect the timing to best utilise his prodigious leap in marking contests; “I’ve only really taken one proper hanger,” but as Hart says, the Josh Hall footballing story looks likely to end happily.
“I think there will end up being a massive story in his life, and a thoroughly deserved one at that,” Hart says.
“It’ll be about a bloke who gave away chasing one dream to chase another, and who achieved it because he stepped out of his comfort zone, and backed his ability.”