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There aren’t many current, let alone former, AFL players with a trophy named in their honour, but Adam Saad is one.
Through the Adam Saad Pathways program, a multicultural and indigenous football academy for boys and girls aligned to Carlton’s Next Generation Academy, the Adam Saad Schools Cup is held in October.
Dashing Blues half-back Adam Saad takes enormous satisfaction from helping youngsters.Credit: AFL Photos
“I have always said, it’s not about me. I know it has my name on it, but it’s not about me. It’s about giving back and trying to make a difference,” Saad, 29, said.
“It’s hard to put into words because I am so passionate about helping these kids come through. If I have helped one kid, it means our pathway is working. We love giving back to the community, and making a difference.”
More than 180 participants took part in the schools cup this year, giving Saad immense satisfaction.
The six-week program focuses on helping youngsters improve themselves and learn life skills, and includes an academy Unity Cup game, and an AFL game-day experience. There is also the Iftar dinner – the fast-breaking evening meal of Muslims in Ramadan – which was attended this year by Blues coach Michael Voss.
“It’s something that I am really passionate about, and something that I love doing. I want to continue doing it,” Saad, a devout Muslim, said of his academy.
Saad has worked closely with great friend Bachar Houli, the three-time Richmond premiership star, also a devout Muslim, running his own foundation.
“We just lean on each other, and give each other advice. He has been massive for me, and all Muslims, paving the way for us. He is doing amazing things in the communities … hopefully, we can follow in his footsteps,” Saad said.
The joy in Saad’s face is obvious when he discusses the program. So is the thought of one-day holding aloft a trophy of a different kind; the one presented to the winning AFL team come the final Saturday of September.
“It’s pretty exciting when it gets loud, the woof when I get the ball. I just try to … bring my flair which is my speed, run and dash.”
“You always hope. You play footy to win grand finals. It would be special. There is a process in place for us – we just need to keep sticking to that. Having a good pre-season, building connection, working hard, and we’ll see where that takes us,” Saad said.
Saad knows all about building connection. The dashing half-back is instrumental in many an attacking burst, last season averaging a career-high 4.8 rebounds from his team’s defensive 50-metre zone per game, ensuring plenty of “woof” calls from Blues fans. While his kicking efficiency, and intercept marks and possessions dipped slightly, Saad’s strong work led to him finishing eighth in the John Nicholls Medal count.
“It’s pretty exciting when it gets loud; the ‘woof’ when I get the ball. I just try to play my role, bring my flair which is my speed, run and dash, and, hopefully, I can keep continuing to do that, keep the fans excited,” he said.
The woof, of course, is the crowd mimicking the sound of the ball coming off his boot and flying through the air. Blues fans began this with defender Val Perovic in the 1980s, then it was onto Ang Christou in the 1990s, and now Saad. While Saad’s flair is obvious to all, he also enjoys one-on-one contests.
Carlton’s Jacob Weitering is the leader of the Blues’ defensive pack which includes the dashing Saad.Credit: Getty Images
“Beating someone one-on-one, going on the dash … turning defence into offence, I really build my game around strong defence, and the offence really builds off that,” Saad said.
“Good players take you to the footy. If you can beat them in the contest, and get the ball and rebound, it’s something I love doing.”
That full-back Jacob Weitering and fellow defender Nic Newman topped the best and fairest count, highlighted the focus Voss and his selectors have on stopping the opposition.
“Vossy touches on that in every single meeting … our team defence, the contest and pressure, everyone is just really playing their role,” Saad said.
“There is just a belief that if we play our way, we are hard to beat. The contest, that pressure … we are just going to keep building synergy out on the ground, and keep strengthening our game plan, which is what we are doing at the moment.”
That game plan led to the Blues turning mid-season despair and an honest chat around a campfire at Ed Curnow’s beach house into 11 wins from their final 13 matches, falling just shy of their first grand final since 1999. They kicked the opening five goals of the preliminary final against the Lions in Brisbane, only to be overrun.
“Even when we lost six [games] in a row, the belief was there, we were united as a whole club. We just had the honest conversations, nailed down contest and pressure, kept it simple, and we just got on a roll,” Saad said.
“For me, being a Muslim, it’s all about God has a plan for you. Everything happens for a reason; you just try and take the learnings out of the experience, and then just the gratitude to be playing AFL footy and living our dream. It’s something that you shouldn’t just take for granted.”
Adam Saad tries to give Brisbane’s Charlie Cameron the slip last season.Credit: Getty
When the Lions and Collingwood met in the grand final, Saad could only wonder “what if”.
“That would have been one of the biggest games of the modern era,” Saad said.
“A Collingwood and Carlton grand final, there, obviously, would have been over 100,000 there. It would have been amazing. Like I said, we learnt from that game [the preliminary final]; it’s going to make us better and stronger.”
On the connection front, Saad already has a couple of handy targets to kick to when he dashes off half-back and launches the ball forward for the Blues.
Charlie Curnow has won back-to-back Coleman Medals and finished third in the club’s best and fairest award, but he didn’t have the impact he wanted in the finals, kicking a combined total of just three goals.
“If he can go back-to-back-to-back, it would be amazing. His selfless attitude, getting everyone else involved, he just rises to the occasion. He is a barometer for us,” Saad said.
“He works as hard as anyone out on the track. He just needs to keep playing his role, getting his job done. Charlie and Harry [McKay], [I] just put it [the ball] in their area, and they will make it work.”
Just as Saad is on and off the field.
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