No cap for potential for Premiership player

Alex Neal Bullen Large

For Melbourne Football Club player Alex Neal-Bullen, a passion for inclusive opportunities is all in the genes.

Alex is rolling off an extremely successful year playing at the Australian Football League’s (AFL’s) highest level. Coming out on top with the Melbourne Demons’ first Premiership win since 1964, Alex described the win as the best day of his life.

Acknowledging he had one of his greatest years during a time that's been extremely challenging for many, Alex anticipates he’ll reflect on these COVID years knowing he learnt a lot about himself and how he sought out new opportunities.

“I wanted to better progress my personal development away from footy.”

2021 AFL Premiership Win | Alex Neal Bullen | Torrens University | Large

“It's been a rollercoaster year.”

For all the triumph on the field, it is study that has kept him balanced. Alex has kicked some personal goals in his academic life completing his first year studying Bachelor of Business (Sports Management) at Torrens University Australia.

“We had a successful year in 2021 and for me to also put time into my personal development made it easier for me to balance the rigours of the AFL lifestyle, while also keeping my mind sharp,” said the seven-year veteran of the Melbourne Demons club.

Alex sings praise for online study and the ability to structure his week around his sporting commitments.

“On a Sunday night in season I'll look at my schedule for footy and find opportunities when I can invest in Uni.”

“I enjoy the connection I have with my lecturers at Torrens University, they’re very supportive,” says Alex who feels very fortunate to be partnered with lecturers who understand his sporting commitments. “With their support I get through each subject at a high standard.”

Crossroad made studies a new-found priority

Only a year prior in 2020, Alex found himself in the "crossroads” of his football career when he was put up for trade by the Demons to potentially move to another club.

This uncertainty planted the seed for Alex to reconsider his priorities – and to start planning for a career after football.

It was the crossroads that pointed Alex towards Torrens University Australia to serve his desire for personal development after putting it on the back burner during his 8 yearlong professional sporting career.

“It’s important to discover what you’re passionate about, then navigate ways to prepare for a direction post professional sport.”

Support networks fuel success

As a proud education ambassador for Australian Football League Players Association (AFLPA) Alex is a role model for merging studies with the demanding rigours of a professional sporting career.

Alex says AFLPA is a support network of experts, with great resources.

“They unite us and lead the way for anything we want to conquer.”

“I can’t speak highly enough of how they absorb challenges on behalf of more than 800 players in the league, representing us, especially through these times with COVID.”

He points to his family also as a massive support.

“Only my inner circle understands how hard I have had to work and I'm very, very fortunate. I've got people around me who are in my corner to support me through tough times as a professional athlete,” said Alex.

“But at the end of the day, it's my passion. It's my job and it’s shaped me into the character that I am.”

It is all in the backstory

When asked who his heroes are, Alex points to any individual who has overcome challenges.

“I love the underdogs. If I'm watching a boxing fight or any one-on-one individual sport, I will always barrack for the underdog just because I love stories like that.”

“A person’s back story is very relatable, because you can see them other than just the athlete.”  

Alex’s backstory is what ignited his passion for inclusivity and accessibility. It was his grandma, Cheryl, a professional jockey, who had a bad fall when she was in her late 20’s. The accident left her in a coma for six months, resulting in her becoming quadriplegic when Alex’s mother was a young child.

It is his firsthand view of someone living with a disability that has spurred a deep empathy and a strong ethos for all to achieve.

“Working with people with disability is something I definitely have a passion for,” said Alex, who is open to any opportunities in this space post his AFL career.

Dream big

Before he was drafted in the National Draft as an 18-year-old Alex studied a Bachelor of Education (Disability Studies and Special Education), and during his professional career with the Melbourne Demons he has jumped at any chance to get involved with young people with a disability.

“I think it's powerful as an athlete to support and promote what these young people can do. Others might think they're capped at what they can achieve in life, but for me - just a kid from Adelaide who loves footy and now playing at the highest level – I believe they should think the exact same.”

When relaying an opportunity to work with Special Olympics Australia enjoying a day with a group of excited kids on the hallowed MCG turf you can visibly see that this dedication to use his sporting profile for good runs deep for Alex.

“That was just fantastic. The energy and the excitement make you really realise no matter who the individual is we've all got strengths and you can definitely work with any individual and get the best out of them.”

Leadership is key on and off the field

“As a professional athlete I've seen firsthand the importance of strong leadership, and it is something at the Melbourne Football Club that has improved year on year.”

“Post my AFL career I want to work with a group of people who understand the importance of great workplace culture, and also for setting goals where teams can come together and work towards achieving success at the highest level,” said Alex who has his sights set on leadership.

He is always looking for new ways to achieve and leadership and accessibility are two areas of focus moving forward as he continues his studies this year and as an AFLPA role model who is preparing for a future that will fulfil his passion for engagement.


Keen to learn more about how sport can be a platform for change? Check out our free short courses, Sport for Good: How sport can drive change for a better world.

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