Callan Ward is unfulfilled.
Don’t get him wrong: the GWS Giants’ former co-captain and inaugural club champion knows he has plenty to be grateful for and proud of.
He’s married to his high school sweetheart Ruby, they have a son Romeo and another child on the way, and he will play his 250th AFL game on Sunday against Richmond at the MCG.
Ward’s father, Greg, told him after his 50th match – when he was still a Western Bulldog – that he would have had a “great” career if he reached 150.
Imagine what Ward snr, who celebrated his birthday this week, thinks now.
But there’s a gaping hole in Ward’s life and it has everything to do with him never playing in a premiership.
He even admitted this week to feeling “jealous” each September when he watches two teams battle it out for football’s ultimate glory.
A knee injury cruelly robbed Ward of the chance to play in the Giants’ 2019 grand final, while there must have been a tinge of regret surging through him when he saw his old Bulldogs teammates claim the 2016 flag.
Ward’s desire to win an AFL flag has only increased the deeper he’s journeyed into his career.
“I’m not satisfied at all. We all play for premierships and team success and every year I watch teams playing in the grand final and wish that was me so bad,” he said.
“I am 15 years in now and the main reason for coming to the Giants (after the 2011 season) was because I was confident we could play in a premiership – and I still am.
“But until I can win a premiership; I definitely won’t be satisfied.
“Everything we do right now – every pre-season we have, every training session we have and every meeting we have – is based around playing on grand final day and winning on grand final day.”
Ward found it difficult to explain why GWS, which contested five of the past six finals series, hasn’t gone all the way.
Defending better was one. Improving their ball movement was another. In the end, he settled for the Giants just not being “good enough”. Yet, anyway.
Ward extended that harsh appraisal to his own achievements, even if everyone else is full of praise.
The 31-year-old is undoubtedly one of the most important figures in the club’s decade-long life span, not only as a leader but with his on-field contributions.
One of his closest friends and fellow inaugural co-captain Phil Davis used “tough” and “courageous” to sum him up in a video narration ahead of Ward playing his milestone match.
He received the Robert Rose award in 2018 as the AFL’s most courageous player, if you don’t want to take Davis’ word for it.
Another teammate, Tim Taranto, who plays his 100th game this weekend, called Ward “a complete player” for his rare cocktail of skill and courage but also “the most-loved bloke I’ve ever met”.
“I’d say there were probably a couple of years there where I was consistently good but not great,” Ward said of his own performances.
“I probably didn’t reach the heights that I always strived for and continue to strive for, but I think overall my consistency has been at a pretty good level.”
Doubts swirled in Ward’s head about whether he was still in the Giants’ best team when they played in a grand final without him while he was recovering from an ACL rupture.
A string of injuries limited him to only seven games the next season as well, so that didn’t help.
Turning 30 in April of that year was a mental barrier, too, triggering Ward to start thinking more often about his football mortality – and that premiership pursuit.
But something he has never lacked is belief, and he hit back with a vengeance last year to play all 24 games and prove he was still a vital piece of the GWS puzzle.
Ward is proud of his ability to fight off his mental demons and cement his spot.
He is also proud of his decision to leave behind everything he knew, including family and high school friends, to tackle a new challenge and start a new life in Sydney, and in the leader and person he’s become.
“The most important thing when you get to my age is you really want to enjoy football and, obviously, winning and playing in premierships is the best thing,” Ward said.
“But you really want to enjoy your life and enjoying life for us, because football is such a big thing, is enjoying the day-to-day grind of playing AFL football.
“It gets hard and there’s so much pressure, but to bring the enjoyment out, with especially the younger boys and the guys who are in those leadership positions, is really important for me.”