St Kilda coach Brett Ratten has opened up about the moment he found out his son Cooper had been killed in a car crash, and how he’s coping with the tragedy five years on.
Cooper Ratten, 16, was in the back seat of a car that veered off the road and rolled at Yarra Glen, northeast of Melbourne, in 2015.
A Victorian teenager was later sentenced to at least three years behind bars for the drunken, high-speed joyride.
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The 18-year-old - who was a 17-year-old learner driver at the time - also had ecstasy in his system and had failed to turn on the headlights of the car he was driving when he lost control.
Brett Ratten, who was an assistant coach at Hawthorn at the time, said he found out about the tragedy when the police knocked on his door in the early hours of the morning.
“I was at home, we’d just played Geelong at the MCG and it was a night game,” Ratten told Tackle Your Feelings.
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Brett Ratten shares how important it is to tackle your feelings. pic.twitter.com/TLjggylrsL
“It was about five, 5:15 in the morning, the doorbell rang, there was a police officer there, I thought 'Well what's going on?'
“Cooper was staying up at Yarra Glenn, they'd made the finals Yarra Glenn under-18s, first time in 12 years or something.
“He came in and said, 'Coop's been involved in an accident.'“
Ratten said by the time the conversation was over his son had died.
“So I went into the bedroom to get some clothes on, he said he was going to check on where he was at in the ambulance, but by the time I got back to the door he'd got to the door and said he'd passed away."
Ratten, who won a flag with Carlton in 1995, said Cooper had always wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps and play in the AFL.
“Coop was a real competitive kid, liked to always win when he played sport or played games,” Ratten said.
“Probably a trait that I've got where as a kid I couldn't sit still and he couldn't do that, he was always wriggling on the couch, upside down, running around with balls and things like that as a little kid. They were the things he did and he did very well.
“He could really play (football), he could jump and take big marks and wanted to play at the club that I played at and my brother played at as well.
“He was happy go lucky in the way he went about things, cheeky in his own way but always smiling and kids would gravitate to him.”
Brett Ratten thanks AFL community for support
Now head coach at St Kilda, Ratten says he was able to grieve and cope with the tragedy through the support of the AFL community, including the staff and players at Hawthorn.
“I had some very good people around me, very supportive some great mates, but probably the biggest thing that helped me was the game,” he said.
“They never said come back or you have to coach or you have to do anything but you don't sleep, you think about it a lot so footy played a part for me to maybe just remove myself from the grieving process to maybe think about something else just for a little bit which helped me move maybe this much forward.
“It's sort of a little bit of a motivation to think that could we win the premiership and my energy could go towards that to help the Hawks but really trying to do it for Cooper a little bit too.
“So I went out to the gravesite that morning and spoke to him and said we're going to try and win this for you mate, Benny McEvoy had Cooper on his hand. There was some great people, some great players and it was a special day.
“Whether you're the person that's having some hardship and needs some help or you know there's someone out there in your group, I think asking the question and prodding it goes two ways but I think you've gotta talk about it a bit, find out, show you care, not just get this relationship that's 'G'day mate' and that's about it.
“It's really getting to know the people around you and have a deeper relationship and especially when it's the hardship times we ask the questions and see how they're feeling because it might be the 10th one for the day that says it but that's the time they feel the most vulnerable and express exactly how they're feeling and that person can support them. Sitting there and suffering in silence I don't think is going to help anybody.
“I'm very fortunate to get my second chance at being an AFL coach. I'm far from perfect just because I've got a title.
“People have things going on in their lives and I think we should be caring for our people and the people around us so I think this is a great initiative and I'm rapt to be a part of it.”