“I’ve dreamt of playing in a flag with Ararat my whole life. Stepping away was the right decision for me and to now come home and experience what I have this year, I wouldn’t change it for the world,” he said.
“I wouldn’t go back and play AFL footy now if I had the chance, I just don’t think it was right for me. Outside looking in you mightn’t think it [because I’ve played AFL] but the last few months have been the best of my life.
“In Melbourne, how I felt anyway, it was basically a job and I was so anxious with performance anxiety. Here, you play for your mates, your town and community. You rock up, nobody cares if you had a bad game, your mates are still your mates and everyone who loves you for who you are not because you’re a footballer.
“When the siren sounded on grand final day, I was an emotional mess, just crying. Everyone ran on the ground, family come up to you, your partner, hugging my closest mates straight away is just something I’ll never forget.”
Williamson is simply “Tommy” around town and at work nobody cares what he used to do for a living.
“Scott Turner [Ararat legend and former 144-game Richmond player] works at the prison as well and the first few couple of days he asked me if anyone knew me. They didn’t,” he said.
“It’s a very interesting job, obviously I hadn’t been inside a prison before. I’ve been into a few cells and some have all Carlton stuff on the walls, it’s a bit weird.”
By sharing his tale, Williamson hopes those struggling might tap into their own courage.
“I think there’d be athletes all over the world, and just people in general, who feel similar, you live it and do it every day and it becomes you and I think that’s where a lot of the struggles come from because there’s a person behind all that and that’s the most important bit.
“At Carlton, it was always ‘you’re a person first and footballer second so put all your time and effort into that first and footy and your life will improve off the back of it’.
“You’ve got to just listen to yourself, know what you’re feeling and have the courage and support around you to work out what it is that’s making you unhappy and make changes to your life.”
Williamson and his dad, a former Richmond supporter who became and remains a passionate Bluebagger, will tune in together on Saturday evening.
“I still keep in contact with a few people and look, you just can’t miss what they’ve done this season, it’s been pretty amazing. Hopefully they can get into a grand final and then anything’s possible.”
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