Dixon regains love for footy after private mental health battle

Some may describe the news of a three-year contract extension as an early birthday present for Charlie Dixon.

But it's the potentially late gift to himself that's driving Port Adelaide's power forward.

And it's not the 1967 Ford F100 that he's chipping away at in his shed, or his prized 2003 Holden Monaro that's closer to being finished. It's much smaller and he wants to wear it around his neck.

Charlie Dixon has struggled with his mental health off the field for the past 18 months. Credit:Getty Images

"Everybody has been asking what the hell I'm doing for it and I said, well, for once I'll actually be working on my birthday," Dixon laughed.

"That's something that I want to be doing."

When Dixon celebrates his 30th birthday on September 23rd, Port Adelaide should be minor premiers and he could be the Coleman medallist. But that will mean little if Dixon and his teammates can't turn it into a grand final performance on October 24.

The prospect of Dixon extending his Port Adelaide career came as no surprise. After all, he is one of the few true monster full forwards remaining in the game. But it wasn't all that long ago that the thought of Dixon playing any more games seemed illogical. He had reached a stage where he didn't want to be a footballer. In fact, he didn't want to be much.

Charlie Dixon considered walking away from football. Credit:Getty Images

On the surface, the Queenslander is your typical alpha male. The two-metre giant has one of the most impressive physiques in football, he rebuilds old cars in his shed while listening to alternative heavy metal and on the weekends he straight lines a pig skin, destroying anything in his path. But there is an added layer of complexity to Dixon the person, who has opened up on one of the most challenging periods in his life.

"I want to let everyone know that I've struggled with my mental health over the last 18 months and the love for the game just wasn't there," he told The Age.

While Dixon was wary to go into too much detail when describing his struggles, a mixture of injury and off-field events has taken him on a challenging journey in recent years.

Eyes on the ball: Charlie Dixon, right, in action against the Hawks in round 13. Credit:Getty Images

"Not being able to train and then produce the way I wanted to; I would isolate myself from the group and not buy into it," he said.

"I was not happy with the way I was going. I couldn't find the motivation to be honest.

Fine physique: Charlie Dixon is one of a dwindling number of giant forwards in AFL. Credit:Getty Images

"It took me finding a bit of passion outside the game and purpose with my cars and really pushing that to bring myself back to a good, happy place."

For Dixon, rebuilding and restoring older model cars is a form of meditation.

He talks down his ability as a mechanic, laughing that he usually sends the cars down the road on the back of a tow-truck when he makes a mistake he can't fix himself.

But it's not the end result that he yearns for, it's the process.

And if he's not working on engines, he's out driving, whether that be on four wheels or two.

Dixon has a Harley Davidson, a passion he shares with former Port Adelaide star and now close friend Chad Cornes. The two have ridden from Sydney to Adelaide, a journey that spans nearly 1500km.

"We just clicked, he's helped me a lot in these last 18 months," Dixon said.

It's Cornes and senior coach Ken Hinkley that Dixon credits as being the major reasons he got back to loving footy.

Dixon went from the Gold Coast to Port Adelaide with Hinkley in 2015 and they have developed an extremely close bond. For someone who still misses home, it's these relationships that have moulded Dixon as both a footballer and a person.

Hinkley is more than Dixon's coach and Port Adelaide is more than just his club.

"It's a home for me," he said.

"I live by myself, I'm a long way away from my parents and family, so this club has become a family for me. It was an easy decision to stay because of the family I've got here."

Dixon is also part of a much smaller family in football that seems to be reducing in numbers every year. Along with Tom Hawkins and Josh Kennedy, he's one of the steam train full forwards that opposition defenders have nightmares about.

"There's still a few of us bigger bodies out there that are still flying the flag," Dixon said. "But I've still got a way to go to catch Hawkins, he's in some serious form at the minute."

Dixon doesn't shy away from his uncompromising style of play. He embraces it.

"That's my role, to bring a presence out on the field because people know when you're around. And I'd like to think that my teammates love the way I play the game and they can build off the way I play.

"If there is a pack, I am going to split it and I am going to halve most balls and try not to get out-marked."

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