Youi Stories.

Joe Daniher: The challenge of pushing through injury

After a bright start, Joe Daniher’s AFL career was stalled by injury before bouncing back with the Brisbane Lions.

Portrait of Joe Daniher

At Youi, we take the time to listen. We get to know people and find out what matters to them; what makes them an individual. We do it with our customers and now we’re proud to do the same through our Stories of Change series.

Joe Daniher: The challenge of pushing through injury

Joe Daniher comes from an impressive AFL pedigree. His father, Anthony, played 115 games for the Sydney Swans and 118 for Essendon and his uncles Terry, Neal, and Chris also played for Essendon in the AFL.

“Growing up, I was acutely aware of the role that my dad and uncles played in AFL,” Joe says. “That sparked my interest in the game from an early age. But it wasn't until I was in my late teens that the opportunity to play AFL as a career presented itself. It was something I was very excited about, and I started to put my energy into it.”

While understanding the big roles that his father and uncles had played in AFL, Joe says he felt it was like a fresh start for him. 

“I was obviously very proud of what they were able to achieve in their careers. But, for me, it was just about going in and doing the job as well as I could and competing as hard as I could. That’s something I've held right throughout my career. I am very proud of what they achieved, and I was hoping to achieve similar,” he says.

Essendon offered support from family and friends

With his father having played for both the Swans and Essendon, Joe explains what tipped his choice towards the Bombers. “I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to choose between the Sydney Swans and Essendon, given that dad played for both great football clubs. 

“I was living in Melbourne at the time, surrounded by my family, and the most appropriate decision was for me to play AFL while having the support of my friends and family. Coming out of high school and starting a professional career is challenging, and I felt it was important to have that family support around me,” he adds.

Joe’s first four years in AFL with Essendon were extremely successful. He was the club’s leading goalkicker for four straight seasons and won a number of awards and medals. However, his 2018 AFL season started poorly, averaging less than a goal a game and having less of an impact on the oval.

Scans after Round 7 revealed the early onset of inflammation of the pubis, which is characterised by loss of flexibility in the groin and sharp stabbing pain when running, kicking or changing direction. This caused him to sit out the rest of the season.

‘Injuries a part of AFL’

Joe’s 2019 season was also plagued by injury. After a strong pre-season, he sustained a calf injury in training, which meant he missed the first four games. He played a further four matches but then suffered a groin injury, which caused him to miss the rest of the season.

Despite the injury setbacks that put the brakes on his career for a spell, Joe remains philosophical. “Unfortunately, injuries are a part of AFL,” he says. “If you play the game for long enough, you're bound to get injured. I had some reasonably serious injuries for a number of years, and it was a challenge to get through and get back to playing to a certain standard.

“It was a really important experience for me to work through and understand the challenges that come with being injured. I was reasonably pragmatic about it,” he adds. “I knew that I would come out the other side at some stage if I just stuck at it.

“It was just a chapter of my journey and something I look back on reasonably proudly, that I was able to get through, come out the other side, and get back to playing football.”

Joined Brisbane Lions in 2021

After recovering from his injuries, Joe completed the 2020 season with Essendon, then exercised his rights as a free agent and joined the Brisbane Lions. He made his debut for the Lions against Sydney at the Gabba in Round 1 of 2021, where he kicked two goals. He became the only player to kick at least one goal every game for the 2021 season.

Talking about his switch to the Lions, Joe says: “I was very fortunate to play for Essendon for a number of years and over a long period of time. We had some challenges while I was playing at the club, and it got to the point where my injuries were dragging on a little. It felt like the right opportunity to have a fresh start in a different football environment,” he explains.

“I had the opportunity to meet with the Brisbane Lions over a number of different occasions, and it just felt like the perfect fit for my personality, where I was at in my career, and what I wanted to achieve out of the game. I was very fortunate that the Lions were happy to have me,” he adds. “I'm very happy with my decision to move up North and play for another great football club.”

Criticism can cause growth and education

Reflecting on being in the public eye as an elite sportsman, Joe considers it’s “just part of the game. It's something you sign up for, and you have to be a part of. “I'm really clear on the reasons why I play the game and what I enjoy about it, and that's where my energy goes,” he explains. “It's about playing the game in the right spirit. 

“Being in the public eye is not my favourite thing,” he confesses, “but playing the game is what I really like doing, so I focus on that. Being involved in a league environment, you are open to criticism, and that is part of a really valued game. It's really important to people, the community, and the media. 

“For me, it always comes back to why I keep playing the game, and that's for enjoyment and to try and improve. The criticism can be something that helps you grow and educates you rather than something that brings you down,” he adds.

Despite using social media when he was younger, Joe doesn’t have much time for social channels in his life anymore. “It's not something I need to do my job,” he says.

“It's something I see a lot of younger players using quite a bit, and it is part of the world and the game at the moment. If it’s used in the right way, it can be a great asset to people's lives and the game, but it's not something I particularly enjoy,” he adds.

Reflecting on what he loves most about the game, Joe says: “My favourite thing is the pure side of the game, which is the contest between two teams and the opportunity to go out and play with teammates you've worked so hard with. 

“You build an incredible connection and spirit with each other, and each week you get the opportunity to go and test it out. You do that week in, week out, until hopefully, you're playing in the last game at the end of the year. That's the best part of the game and why I keep coming back and playing,” he concludes.