Amongst the thousands of students studying with OUA, you may be surprised to find Matthew Leuenberger – quietly and conscientiously making his way towards a future in business. Despite his busy schedule, he lent us some time to talk footy, family, future ambitions, and what it means to be an Australian.
Matt has now hit eleven years playing in the AFL- spending nine years with the Brisbane Lions, and is now in his second year as a ruckman with the Essendon Bombers. He certainly knows what it means to be dedicated, and how to persevere through the tough times. Knowing that a footballer’s career span is only so long, Matt was always looking ahead, planning for a life after football. He’s looking to “jag another year or two” out of his football career, then put his Swinburne Business Degree to use, which he attained through Open Universities Australia.
“If you’re playing footy, and that’s all you’re doing, you’re putting all your eggs in one basket. If it’s going well, it’s happy days, but if you’ve got an injury and it’s not doing too well, then it’s mentally quite challenging” says Matt. “So I found uni was awesome for me in that regard. I’m glad I started back in 2008 and managed to stick it out and see it through.”
With a busy, high-profile career, Matt found the ideal solution in OUA, and completed his degree slowly over nine years. “The reason I loved it so much is that there are four study periods” says Matt. This provided Matt with four opportunities per year to start new units, as opposed to the traditional two-semester structure. “It gave me the opportunity to get there a little quicker” says Matt. He’s finally crossed the finish line, and is soon to don that well-deserved graduation cap. “My parents will fly over from Perth for [the graduation] and it will mean a fair bit” says Matt with a smile.
Matt is the son of a Swiss migrant, who arrived in Australia when he was 28, and now works as a chef/catering manager. “He’s got a fair old accent on him,” says Matt. His parents didn’t get the opportunity to study, so Matt is grateful that he’s been able to take control of his career path. Matt’s fiancé Jess is finishing off a law degree while taking care of their son, two-year-old Luca. “He’s pretty cheeky at the moment” says Matt, “but it’s a dream, and I love every minute of it”.
There are certainly challenges working full time, studying and being a father, but Matt has applied himself and balances life as best he can. The AFL schedule can chop and change from day-to-day, so flexibility is key for Matt. “With online study, it’s on me to look at the lectures and do the tutes, get involved with the discussion boards, things like that. That worked for me, I found that I was able to do it in my own time”
“I’ll be 29 next season and not too many guys get to play after that” Matt admits. “I’ve had 12 years in the system and played 128 games. When footy ends for me, I’d like to ultimately hit the ground running, so if I do have 2 years, I’d like to think I could find something that interests me – spend some time trying to develop my craft in that industry, so that when I do retire or get de-listed, I can phase out of the AFL and pick that up.”
As Matt awaits his graduation, he admits he’s got a lot to look forward to, and a lot that he’s grateful for. This Thursday, Matt will be celebrating Australia Day with friends and family – thankful to be living in a lucky country. “The thing I love about Australia is how accepting we are” says Matt. “Dad has fit in wonderfully, his son’s playing the indigenous game of Australia, and he loves footy more than anyone”.
While Matt still has many exciting games in front of him, he’s looking forward to kicking goals in the business world, and ensuring a bright future for his young family.