‘I got a tip on Dustin Martin ….’ All in a day’s work for an AFL reporter

AFL reporter Mitch Cleary. Picture supplied.
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“It is a lifestyle choice, but I absolutely love it.” AFL journalist Mitch Cleary talks to Benjamin Millard

When did you realise that sports journalism was for you?

In Year 8 or 9, when I realised my footy talents wouldn’t quite cut it, I thought writing about it would be the next best thing. In Year 10 there was an eight-week program run by The Geelong Advertiser for local schools that involved going into the paper and doing workshops. From there I was sold on the whole thing and at the back end of that year I got to cover the local footy.

How did you gain access to the industry?

In my first year of my journalism course at Deakin, I got an internship at Crocmedia. I was taken in by Damien Barrett and spent five to six years at the company, until the AFL approached me to work full-time as a journalist there.

What are some of the sacrifices you have had to make to be where you are today?

The long Saturday nights spent at Channel 9 when I was 20/21 were tough, especially when all your mates are out on the town. I would be in at the office until midnight and have to be back in at 6.30 the next morning to film. The truth is if a journalist says they work a 38-hour week they’re probably not being honest. If you’re not working the phones, interviewing people, reading or writing stuff then you should be researching.

What is the highlight of your career so far?

In 2013, I got a tip during preliminary final week that Dustin Martin was meeting with GWS as he was out of contract at the Tigers. Channel 9 flew me to Sydney at 7am on a Sunday morning, and had to almost guess where Dustin would be. We tried the Giants’ new training facility and we caught him there and got some critical shots of him, as well as an interview with Stephen Silvagni. It aired on The Footy Show and was a big talking point all throughout the week, and that was huge for me.

What has been a lowlight?

It’s always tough when you’ve got a story and someone beats you to it. The ones that hurt you the most are when you’ve got an inkling, or you’ve been told something, and you haven’t been able to get it to the line. One that jumps out for me is Gary Ablett at the end of 2017 when I was told he requested a trade back to Geelong. I initially dismissed it, but when I was on holiday, I checked my phone and saw Caroline Wilson had reported it, and it ended up being a huge story. It still burns.

Do you sometimes find it difficult writing about the AFL while working for the AFL?

You just have to be aware of who you’re working for. In the case of [Brooke] Cotchin [retweet], there was an agreement in place [with the AFL], and I didn’t check and I … fired off that tweet without having full knowledge of the business decision. I’ve got a better awareness of it now.