Tom Bell of the Blues celebrates after kicking a goal during the round 17 AFL match between the Western Bulldogs and the Carlton Blues.
Tom Bell of the Blues celebrates after kicking a goal during the round 17 AFL match between the Western Bulldogs and the Carlton Blues. Scott Barbour / Getty Images

The real Bell shows he's game

HE'S as big as they say he is. He runs as fast and far as they say he does.

And those tackles that make impartial observers squirm in their seats yet lift the Carlton faithful out of theirs - they are anything but one-offs.

Yet, behind the enforcer, the raging bull or whatever names you might have for him, Tom Bell behind closed doors is quiet, humble, economical with his words and witty in his humour to the point of a giggle; polarizing the tough exterior personified when he goes to war.

It's not hard to wonder why Carlton recruiting manager, Wayne Hughes, licked his lips in anticipation when 'Belly' - all 187cm and 98kg of him - slipped through the fingers of Brisbane and Gold Coast and ended up as our first pick in the 2011 Rookie Draft at pick number 14 overall.

With those two clubs in line to face the Blues in the final four rounds of the 2012 season, Belly has made it no secret that he'd love to play both the Lions and the Suns, just to show them what they missed.

It's one of those classic stories of persistence and the gobbling up of opportunity that is now presented to aspiring AFL footballers.

Belly wasn't the golden child who was snapped up in the National Draft amidst the considered 'best of the best' of raw 18-year-old talent four years ago.

In reflection, it probably made Belly that much more hungry in his attitude toward football.

Being overlooked gave Belly an opportunity to enjoy life, experience what life after-school offered and to give real thought to what he wanted to achieve.

Years later, I've now been privileged enough to work alongside "The Bull", as he was known to Morningside team-mates back in Brisbane.

Belly's drafting is a win in more ways than one, particularly for AFL football in Queensland.

The induction of the Gold Coast Suns into the AFL as the 17th team came just as timely as the introduction of Northern-Eastern Football League - the best competition outside the AFL - with the VFL (Victoria), SANFL (South Australia) and WAFL (Western Australia) competitions harbouring AFL-listed players.

Clubs such as Northern Territory Thunder have formed to represent the top end of Australia, as well as direct-affiliated reserves of Sydney Swans, Brisbane Lions, the Suns, and now, Greater Western Sydney.

On top of this, the best clubs in the Queensland State League, as well as those out of Sydney and the ACT, have entered the competition, giving an avenue to those from 'non-AFL' states, the best chance at succeeding their dream of getting on an AFL list.

Belly's Morningside team came runner-up to the NT Thunder, yet had many players invited to draft camps and screenings and, most importantly, added to AFL club lists.

Belly took everyone by storm at his draft camp testing, showing immense aerobic capacity for a man of his size, running a 15.1 seconds beep test.

Together with his size, Brett Ratten had no hesitation in labelling Belly as someone who "can definitely help Carlton from the outset".

For a while, that statement looked a little ominous.

After saying goodbye to devoted girlfriend, Shanna, in the midst of making the commitment to move from 'the Sunshine State' to the home of AFL, Belly's pre-season became more than a little interrupted when stress fractures in his back immobilised him.

He was forced to move back to Brisbane to rest and recuperate and to contemplate what was to come in the approaching months as he began rehabilitation.

It's not like Belly hasn't come face-to-face with adversity before.

He openly admits that he owes more to his father, Stephen, than most sons.

His mother sadly passed away, a victim to bowel cancer, when Belly was still in primary school.

Stephen took it upon himself to raise his son to achieve his potential in whatever area he chose.

Until being introduced to the Sherrin by former-Victorian mates back in Brisbane in his mid-teens, Belly's focus was soccer; his athleticism and then-slight frame excelling him at the sport.

But then, as now seen, Belly grew - upwards and outwards - into the monster he is today.

Wayne Hughes wasn't the only one excited by his physique; Carlton strength coach, Stuart Livingstone, couldn't wait to further Belly's physical development.

And once he got over that old back, it wasn't going to be too long 'til everyone saw what we were so desperately keen to witness.

Fast forward to three rounds into the VFL season, where Belly wowed everyone in a ruthless performance with his ball-winning ability, hard running, but most noticeably, his aggressiveness to tackle.

Belly tackles to hurt. Just ask Western Bulldog, Mitch Wallis, who was laid out by the big, raging, "Bull", feeling the full brute force of Belly who came charging at him from 15 metres back.

Since then, having completed three full games of AFL at the highest level, Belly's presence is now becoming a wanted thing amongst Carlton supporters, whilst the man himself is so desperate to up his games tally by season's end.

Upon discovering that he was destined for the Navy Blue, Belly made this promise: "I'm very committed, I'm one of those people who'll never give up and I'll give 100 per cent in every aspect of the game."

I can tell you, from inside walls, no one has questioned that and I pity the fool that is the first to do so.



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