A liberating year abroad on a diet of no footy has Jobe Watson primed for a return to AFL in 2017.
Essendon captain Watson escaped the AFL bubble during his suspension this year, leaving Melbourne to expand his horizons.
In New York, Watson went to dancing spin classes, frothed almond milk at a hole-in-the-wall cafe, and held deep and meaningful chats as he sought to figure it all out.
“I had to get away and think about what I wanted to do with life,” Watson told reporters on Friday.
“I had lived in this football world since I was 17.
“What we’ve been through, so much of it is about speculation – what might happen or what is going to happen.
“If you spend your life living in that world of speculation you miss the moments.
“I removed myself from it and lived in moments. It was liberating.”
Watson said his open-minded outlook led him down a rabbit hole.
“If someone asked me to do something I’d say yes, whatever it was,” he said.
“It took me out of my comfort zone.”
That included group fitness classes of dancing on his exercise bike, “talking about politics, comic books, all sorts of things” and getting to know another city.
Holidays to Europe – including a long stay in Croatia with some of his Bombers teammates – helped too.
The end result was a clear head, and the ability to make a decision on his own terms.
Watson said his father, club great Tim Watson, wasn’t a huge part of his decision-making but his childhood friend and housemate in New York – former teammate Scott Gumbleton’s girlfriend – was.
“My housemate was someone I was able to open up to and someone I could trust completely and be really honest with and to be able to talk through how I was feeling,” he said.
“I learned a lot about myself through that and through that process, how liberating it is to be able to speak openly and honestly with someone, how good it is for your mental health.”
Watson said the final piece of the jigsaw was a chat with Bombers boss John Worsfold this week.
Coming away from the meeting with the “really inspiring” coach, who Watson is yet to play for, the midfielder declared himself ready to commit.
But he can’t promise how he’ll play.
“The first time I touched a footy was when I got back here so I don’t know how I’m going to go but I feel good,” he said.
“When you’re feeing good in your mind then your body acts accordingly.”