It could be called a fairytale if not for the grim reality that lay behind it, but Majak Daw’s struggle to return to AFL football will have a very happy ending this weekend.
Almost two years since a distraught Daw plunged from Melbourne’s Bolte Bridge, the Sudanese-born North Melbourne player, 29, was confirmed on Wednesday as part of the Kangaroos team to face Adelaide on Saturday.
The bridge plunge shattered Daw’s hips and pelvis, and the chances of him ever returning to AFL seemed beyond remote.
However his perseverance and desire paid off on Wednesday, as he punched the air in delight when his selection was announced at training, before being mobbed by teammates who had been witness to his long struggle.
‘It’s tested my character, my resilience, how I can bounce back from setbacks,’ Daw said in a club video after training.
‘It’s the ultimate reward for all the hard work personally, and my mental health battle. Today when all the boys got around me I realised I couldn’t have done it myself.’
Kangaroos captain Jack Ziebell confirmed what will be Daw’s first AFL game in 706 days.
‘One of our own has been through a pretty substantial period in his life no doubt, but we’ve all been a part of the journey,’ Ziebell said.
‘We’ve seen how much work he’s done to get back to this point. It’s been an incredible journey and this feat that he’s going to achieve this weekend is going to be one of the great stories in AFL footy.’
Daw enjoyed a breakout season in 2018, playing 18 matches as defender, before he was pulled from the Yarra River with devastating injuries, eight days before Christmas.
He had reportedly fought with his partner and taken prescription drugs before he abandoned his car in the stopping lane on the Bolte Bridge and plunged into the shallow river below.
Two 15 centimetre rods were inserted into each of his hips after the fall, with Daw having to learn how to walk again in his recovery process.
Daw, who has become a father to son Hendrix since he last played, said he felt a responsibility to show others who are struggling with mental health – particularly through the lockdown – that there is a way through their despair.
‘I wanted to be able to help give them hope, that they can do things that never thought possible, or going back to living the life they have always enjoyed,’ Daw said.
‘Life is pretty hard, there are a lot of things that get in the way. There are a lot of people struggling, but you have to have the belief its going to turn.
‘The incentive is that I can help people, people I don’t know. There have been so many people show have shared their battle with mental health, and for me that is a pretty big responsibility, and I want to do it right.’
Daw was on the cusp of selection for Round 1 this year but was forced out by illness, and the competition was then suspended due to the coronavirus outbreak.
He then ruptured his pectoral muscle in the gym in May, which further delayed his return.