Western Bulldogs coach Luke Beveridge says the pressure on Tom Boyd due to his enormous contract has weighed heavily on the premiership hero, who is taking an indefinite break from the AFL due to clinical depression.
Beveridge expects the 21-year-old power forward to return to the sport at some stage, although he is not putting any timeframe on it.
Teammate Travis Cloke also took a break last month after going public with his mental health issues, although he is likely to return in the reserves on Sunday.
After just one season with the GWS Giants, No.1 draft pick Boyd joined the Bulldogs before the 2015 season on a six-year, $6 million deal, which instantly made him one of the highest-paid players in the game.
After initially struggling at his new club, Boyd came of age in the 2016 Grand Final victory over Sydney, where he kicked three goals and was just shaded by Jason Johannisen for best-afield honours.
But he has struggled to emulate that form in 2017, kicking only seven goals in 11 matches for the 10th-placed Bulldogs.
“I think over a significant period of time Tom has been grappling with this,” Beveridge told reporters on Wednesday.
“It’s been a real challenge for him.
” … obviously he is a young man who through circumstances has become a high-profile player well before his time.”
Beveridge asked Boyd several times last year how he was coping with the innuendo around his on-field performances, only for the player to assure him it wasn’t a big issue.
“But in hindsight I think he was putting on a brave face,” said Beveridge.
“Ultimately it was a pretty incredible feat or an amazing effort for him to finish last year the way he did under all that pressure.
“We marvelled at that really.
“It’s a great thing for him to do and I think at that point in time we probably felt it was onwards and upwards from here.
“But the mind, mental health, having that sort of clinical imbalance there at times, it’s a constant struggle.
“He hasn’t been able to get on top of it fully this year and it’s affecting him to the point that he’s needed some time out.”
The Bulldogs have committed to providing an extensive support framework to help Boyd manage his mental illness.
He will train away from his teammates on Thursday with club officials Brent Prismall and Mathew Inness.
Beveridge said it was difficult for anyone else to see when a player battling mental issues had reached the point of no return and needed to step away from the sport.
“If you ask me could I see the last week or so coming – I’d have to say no because Tom is such a big guy, he’s Goliath-like and sometimes the bigger individuals are the ones you’d least expect to have the mental grind,” said Beveridge.
“But he’s dealt with it in his own way for a long time, with a lot of support.
“It’s just become too much in recent times.”
Australian readers seeking support and information about depression can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.