Lions in Focus: Mitch Podhajski

Growing up in Melbourne’s north-west suburbs, Mitchell Podhajski played a variety of sports including cricket and basketball as well as football.

‘I grew up playing a bit of everything lucky enough, my family moved around a little bit when I was really young but we settled in Greenvale when I was five or six,’ he said.

‘Mum has a horse riding background and is still riding horses now. We have a farm in Lancefield where we keep all our horses and other little farm animals.’

‘Dad always played footy; I think he played over 300 games for East Keilor in the Essendon District Football League.’

Despite his mothers attempts at swaying him to an equestrian career Podhajski’s heart was set on playing football spending his junior years at the Greenvale Football Club in the EDFL as an Under 8 before joining Aberfeldie.

‘I grew up playing for Greenvale from the age of seven until I was 12. When I was 13 I went to school at St Bernard’s in Essendon and then I swapped over to Aberfeldie to play with my mates,’ Podhajski said.

In 2016 Podhajski’s football pathway took him to the Calder Cannons in the then TAC Cup where he remained the next three years.

‘I got invited down there, I don’t know if anyone saw me or whether I was nominated but it was something everyone knew about growing up. I was really privileged to play there’ he said.

‘I got into the Calder Cannons program when I was 15 and stayed there for three years with my third year being an Overage player.’

In his last season with the Cannons (2018), Podhajski was named co-captain with his best friend Jake Bytel after being vice-captain the year prior.

He too was awarded the Robert Hyde Medal; Calder’s best and fairest after playing only 13 games as he was selected to play for Coburg on seven occasions.

AFL footballers like Cameron Guthrie, Rory Atkins, Richard Douglas and former Coburg player Ben Ronke were previous winners of the award.

‘It was an awesome honour to win the best and fairest last year at Calder, looking back at the history of all the players who have won it you just know how highly regarded that medal is,’ he said.

‘It is something I will remember for years but I can’t settle on that, I’m not going to just bow out on that.’

‘At the time it was awesome getting some recognition of playing well at Calder Cannons but you have to move on, I am at Coburg now and I’m trying to be the best player I can here.’

Coming to a VFL club from a Talent Pathway system can be a challenging proposition but Podhajski feels that he has earned the playing groups respect after being the new kid on the block last season.

I think initially I may have rub some people the wrong way as some kid coming in from Under 18s and playing straight away,’

‘I felt pretty guilty about that when some players had been on the list for a couple of years but I thought the best way to get around that was show them that I can come in and fit into the team and play good footy and not be selfish,’ Podhajski said.

‘We still highlight that today and that’s how you get a game by playing to the team values.’

‘I think I played pretty good last season but this year I’ve put the expectations and bar high on myself, I think I’ve reached that level in a couple of games but maybe the consistency of every single week have I hit that standard, probably not.

‘I’m a really motivated person and hold myself to high standards; I am always trying to push the bar.    That’s the goal; to keep on improving this year.’

‘I was lucky enough that Coburg played me for those games last year and I made the most of those opportunities. I’m still here and still love it.’

Despite being overlooked for two AFL National Drafts, Podhajski still is hopeful of achieving his dream in the near future.

‘When I was a bit younger you do get excited by the prospect of it all, it sort of does feel “all or nothing” but last year it became clearer to me on what I need to do if I want to get there and that’s my development of my midfield craft,’ Podhajski said.

‘I think from now whether I’m close or not close at all I still want to be the best footballer I can and whether that gets me drafted or not, that is out of my hands.’

‘The goal is to still get drafted but to do that I still need to become the best footballer I can and I think I’ve shown that being able to play in the backline, forward line and midfield.

Although Podhajski realises his best chances of being drafted may come as a midfielder he is happy to add further strings to his bow and do what is required for the Coburg Football Club.

‘Josh Guthrie once told me I’m a jack of all trades master of none. I think one of my strong attributes is that I can fit into a team and help no matter where I am on the ground,’ Podhajski said.

‘Whether I’m superbly elite at it or I can just do a job, I’m comfortable with that.’

‘I think over the last couple of weeks I’ve been through most positions on the ground, it doesn’t fuss me to much where I play as long as I can make an impact for the team.’

‘Even playing as a ruckman, if that’s going to help the team I’m happy to do it.’

While Podhajski still has many years of football left in his body, the 20 year old realises that planning for the future is an important part of life. Outside of football Podhajski is a third year student at La Trobe University, Bundoora and is studying to become a podiatrist.

‘I’m studying podiatry so I think it would be fitting if I got a job in that field when I’m finished with football, that’d be pretty cool,’ Podhajski said.

‘One of my subjects this year was about anaesthesia and surgery, if I could go down the path of becoming a podiatric surgeon that’d be great but that might be hard to get into, or something to do with biomechanics.

‘There are a lot of ways I could go with podiatry, hopefully I finish there, live a pretty good life, be happy and surround myself with lots of good people.’

‘If I’m doing that in 20 years time I am a happy man.’

Podhajski also works at the Railway Hotel in Yarraville (who are also his sponsors) a couple of days per week.

‘I love working there a couple times a week sometimes even after games if they need me,’ he said.

‘It has been a really good experience, the boss and all the managers are really good with footy, they understand our commitments.’

Even though Podhajski is learning to play in many different positions he has narrowed down his choices of footballers on who he tries to model his game off and like many of his teammates share an interest in one particular AFL player.

‘When I was playing as a defender I didn’t really know what sort of player I was but I really enjoyed Ryan Burton, especially as a tall rebounding half back who could intercept mark,’ Podhajski said.

‘As a midfielder I really enjoy watching Patrick Cripps and the way he goes about being an inside midfielder, I think I still have a lot of room for improvement in that area but my outside stuff is getting better.’

Having football play a major part of his life, Podhajski’s most memorable moment doesn’t come from his cherished Essendon Bombers, but from attending last year’s AFL Grand Final and seeing his brother; a West Coast supporter, celebrate their Premiership success.

‘I was lucky enough to go to the Grand Final last year, I have a lot of good mates who go for Collingwood but there were three or four supporters behind us who were getting into us all, grinding my gears,’ Podhajski said.

‘To see West Coast come back like that and be able to celebrate with my brother and my family was a really cool moment …. It will be a moment I’ll cherish forever.

As well as having a keen focus in football, Podhajski has a range of interests outside of the game he loves including a hidden talent.

‘I do like my basketball, I go for the New York Knicks but we haven’t had that much success the last few years and I’ve sort of found myself being a bit of a neutral basketball supporter even though I still support them,’ he said.

‘Having the ability to work at a pub I get to chuck it on the TV every now and then or whenever I am home.’

‘I used to do a bit of Downhill Mountain biking when I was younger with my cousin who’s a cyclist.            I also get down to the beach every now and then. Two of my best mates in “Jacko” (Jackson) McDonald and Luke Di Lizio have beach houses down at Ocean Grove and Barwon Heads, they all surf and I’m a swimmer, we have fun, it’s good.’

One of the good guys, Podhajski has a genuine personality and one that considers himself a man of the people.

‘I think one of my best attributes is that I can get along with a range of people and really open myself up,’

‘I can get to know people quite well and I’m a really caring person, dedicated to what I do whether that is football, school or being the best person I can. I think I’m someone you can have a good time with.

‘There is a quote on Dylan Buckley’s podcast which is “Be yourself” and being true to your values. Don’t be someone you are not, I think that is the best way to be happy. Embrace yourself and who you are.’