AFL legend speaks at flood recovery events

Member News image Former AFL player Tom Boyd. Photos: Supplied


Former AFL star Tom Boyd has shared his journey with mental health and resilience at a series of events to acknowledge the efforts of volunteers during Victoria’s 2022-23 flood emergency.


Tom, 27, recently spoke about the importance of seeking support at the events which were designed to enable CFA members to reconnect following their role in responding to the floods.

Tom Boyd was barely out of high school when he was picked up by AFL club Greater Western Sydney Giants as their number one draft pick in 2013. Having excelled in junior competition, Tom aspired to be the best and had high expectations for his career. However he soon realised it might not be what he expected.

A year after his first senior game, he requested to be traded to Western Bulldogs, returning to Victoria on a record-breaking $7 million, seven-year contract. He was instrumental in helping the Bulldogs to a premiership against Sydney Swans in 2016, kicking a goal in last quarter to seal the win - the second in the club's history and first since 1954.

Tom Boyd 201 gf

While to outsiders he seemed to have the world at his feet, the pressure to perform week after week on football’s greatest stage caused him to suffer depression, debilitating panic attacks and insomnia. In 2017 he took a leave of absence from the game after going weeks without sleeping. In 2019, during his sixth year in the AFL and as one of the highest paid players in the competition, Tom announced his retirement from the game.  

“Being young, I made mistakes,” Tom said. “I had to face the fact that there was stuff going on that I needed to deal with.”

Tom is now an author and mental health advocate, committed to sharing his story in the hope that it will help others and encourage them to speak out and seek help if they are struggling with their mental health.   

CFA members have attended events for Terrick Group (at Serpentine), Loddon South Group (Bridgewater), Wedderburn Group (Wedderburn) and Gannawarra Group (Kerang), hearing from Tom about his experiences and how he learned to acknowledge and then manage his mental health. 

During his presentation, Tom spoke about the similarities between being a CFA volunteer and professional sportsperson.

“The nature of the work is high stress and high pressure, but the difference is football isn’t life and death,” Tom said.

“If CFA members have days when they may not be feeling their best, all of that is pushed aside. The consequences of me failing on the field was being embarrassed; the consequences for people on the frontline can be far worse.

“If you get a physical injury as a footballer, you see a doctor or a physio straight away – that type of thinking has not always existed on the mental health side of things but it’s so important to reach out for support.”

Tom Boyd

Tom also spoke and how he learned to build resilience within himself.

“My mindset growing up was you stick it out, you tough it out. But you can only do that for so long. It has to come out somewhere, and I certainly wasn’t a better person for doing that,” Tom said.  

“Life will always throw stress. Any form of resilience for me only came when I became honest with myself and others.

“Sometimes talking to mates, community members or people you work with is the first step to solving any issues – it doesn’t always need to be a therapist.

“Looking out for each other physically and emotionally; asking each other ‘how are you doing’ and actually listening to the answer is so important.”

Tom said it was great to be able to spend time talking to volunteers at the flood recovery events.

“We’re so lucky to have people like them in Victoria and I feel quite humbled by the amount of work CFA volunteers do,” he said.

“Hearing stories of campaign fires, traumatic incidents and brigade camaraderie has given me far more insight into the experience and sacrifice that our CFA members make.

“I got to see firsthand that when the beepers go off, they sprint to action, protecting our properties and people.

“Their stories really linked in with my journey. When I was playing I felt so responsible to keep turning up and I wasn’t paying due attention to how it was affecting me.

“Thanks to CFA for making these sessions possible, and for all the Peer Support members who look after our fireys.”


The events were organised by CFA’s Peer Support team and Organisational Wellbeing at the request of brigades to provide the space for members to come together, share their stories and celebrate their contribution to the flood response. 

District 20, 2 and 18 Peer Coordinator Gloria Turner said Tom had been a great addition to the events, talking to members and their children, signing autographs and treating everyone with the utmost respect.

“Tom’s story told of the impact of mental health challenges and the difficult decisions that people are often faced with in order to maintain their wellbeing,” Gloria said.

“Bringing speakers to wellbeing events requires trust in the speaker, trust that they will treat our volunteers with respect and empathy; Tom certainly did all of that.”  

Flood recovery event at Wedderburn

In addition to organising the events, members of CFA’s Peer team oattended to offer support to members if needed.

CFA received funding from the State Government to organise and host the wellbeing events in districts hardest hit by the floods. The next events will be held for Deakin Group, Whipstick Group, Coliban Group and Mt Alexander Group, and more events are in the planning stages.

For information on CFA's Wellbeing support services visit the Wellbeing Hub or call 1800 959 232. 


Submitted by Shaunnagh O'Loughlin