Covering the Goulburn and Murray valleys

Hicks loves being back in a Nathalia jumper

Brett Hicks, 25, broke his neck while playing football in 2010 and came back so he could play one game alongside his brother, Alex.

GEORDIE COWAN July 14, 2014 3:49am

Brett Hicks with his brother Alex after Brett's first game back with Nathalia.

Brett Hicks is just enjoying playing football again.

The 25-year-old broke his neck on the football field four years ago, when he was playing with Picola United in the Picola and District Football League.

Playing against Berrigan at centre half-back, Hicks tried to take a mark going back with the flight of the ball.

‘‘I marked it and the ruckman from Berrigan came through and put his knee into my back,’’ he said.

‘‘I hit the ground and I couldn’t move.

‘‘I had no feeling in my body.’’

The reserves match was called off after the incident in the second quarter.

Hicks told everyone not to touch him and he was then taken by ambulance to Goulburn Valley base hospital.

‘‘I got feeling back that night — really bad pins and needles,’’ he said.

‘‘They couldn’t put a sheet on me or touch me because I would start tingling.

‘‘They tried to discharge me on the Sunday but mum asked for a second opinion.’’

He was eventually sent to the Alfred hospital, where he spent a week and then wore a neck brace for three months.

The next few months he went back and forth to Melbourne but it was not until Christmas Eve that year when the doctors told him he had fractured his fifth and sixth cervical vertebrae, that he had a narrow spinal canal and he could not play any more contact sport.

‘‘That was pretty tough news,’’ he said.

His Picola reserves teammates went on to win the premiership that year and Hicks ran water in the grand final after he took his neck brace off.

It was not the first time Hicks had suffered a neck injury, with the first one coming while playing at Undera when an Ardmona player collected him while he had his head over the ball.

At Nathalia the following year, he flipped over and landed on a collarbone, suffering problems with his arm.

He then became an umpire for a short while before being cleared to play football again and had another knock at Nightcliff in the Northern Territory, before the Picola incident.

A born and bred Nathalia local, Hicks played all his juniors with the club before stints at Undera, back at Nathalia, Mathoura, Nightcliff and Picola United.

After 2010, he got a desk job in Kyabram and found it ‘‘pretty tough going’’ not being able to play football.

He did play one game with Merrigum at Undera, alongside legendary footballer Jack Anderson, before Anderson became a quadriplegic after an onfield incident about a month later.

His path back to sport came through one of his workmates who got him involved with Kyabram Cricket Club, before becoming a runner at Kyabram Football Club in 2012.

He also helped set up Kyabram’s youth girls football team in his second year of coaching it.

Hicks thought he would never play again.

‘‘Then, on Easter Monday, dad suggested to try and play a game with my brother Alex,’’ he said.

Alex is 18 and just come out of the thirds team this year.

Hicks’ dad, Raymond, was a former coach of Nathalia and Picola United and had played football with his three older sons — Brett, Todd and Corey.

‘‘Originally dad wanted to play a game with all four of us, but he had just turned 50 and, with one brother playing seniors at Tallangatta, it just didn’t all come together,’’ Hicks said.

‘‘And with the eight-year gap between me and Alex, we hadn’t played any footy together.

‘‘It was something we’d discussed in the past, so I set myself a goal to come back.’’

Hicks returned immediately to training and, after speaking with the club and Nathalia senior coach Jason Limbrick, spent two months training before finally getting a shot at a game.

‘‘The game was against Finley at Nathalia and Alex was coming back through the reserves after having an operation at the start of the year,’’ he said.

‘‘We won by two points, Alex got best on and I really enjoyed the day. It was good fun.’’

Having fulfilled his goal to come back and play one game with his brother, Hicks was left with a big decision about whether to continue playing.

He had commitments to continue commentating on radio — and then there were the risks involved with taking to the field.

‘‘One of my brother’s mates is in a wheelchair because he injured himself racing motorbikes and then you see the likes of James McQuillan and Casey Tutungi,’’ Hicks said.

‘‘It was the toughest decision of my life. I thought about it long and hard.

‘‘I know where I stand, I know the risks when I play.

‘‘Pretty much footy’s my life and I really enjoy playing it.

‘‘I never thought I’d wear a Purples jumper again.

‘‘It is fantastic to be back at my home club and playing with the boys again.’’

After the first match, Hicks said he spent the whole of the next week deciding whether he would play again.

‘‘I went to training and it just felt right,’’ he said.

‘‘You’ve only got a short time to play footy, so I thought I’d regret it if I pulled the pin.

‘‘I thought I would never play again.

‘‘With my career, I feel like I haven’t achieved what I want to out of footy yet and I didn’t want to have any regrets.

‘‘I love footy, I love being involved. The feeling I get when I’m out on the field.

‘‘It’s something that I really value.’’

Hicks has now played four reserves games with Nathalia, but he plays in a different way to what he originally did.

‘‘I talk to dad after each game about how I went and whether to approach certain contests a different way,’’ he said.

‘‘Because of my neck I’ve had to change the way I play completely.

‘‘I’m not allowed to put my head over the ball, or go back with the flight, which I used to do.

‘‘In the first game against Finley I just sat in the forward pocket and got through the game.’’

Hicks also said Nathalia coach Limbrick had played a big part in guiding him through various times of his football career.

‘‘He does a great job with Nathalia Football Club,’’ he said.

Hicks hopes to play out the rest of the year but decides whether he will run out with the team on a ‘‘week-to-week basis’’.

‘‘I’m proud and happy I played with Alex and I’m proud of what I’m doing with girls footy,’’ he said.

‘‘I’m just happy to be back playing at Nathalia, where I’ve got a lot of family and friends and is definitely my home club.’’

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