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Former Lions defender Justin Clarke shares emotional insight about his struggles with life post-football

Clarke was forced to retire from the game last March at the age of 22 after an incident at training left him seriously concussed and affected his memory and mobility.

The incident in January 2016 saw Clarke’s forehead collide with the knee of another player as he went for the ball and he was consequently knocked out for 15 seconds and lost all memory of the incident and the following three weeks.

"But I guess I’m incredibly lucky," says former @brisbanelions recruit Justin Clarke. "I have an identity other than football." #InsightSBS

— Insight on SBS (@insightSBS) April 11, 2017

A rookie draft selection in 2012, Clarke had played 20 games in 2015 to make for a career total of 56 games before doctors advised him he should never play contact sport again after the incident.

Speaking on last night’s episode Insight on SBS — which focused on athletes coping with life after sport — an emotional Clarke said he was still heartbroken by the fact his career was cut short so savagely.

Justin Clarke reveals on going struggles

“I knew that I had, I believed that I had, six to eight years of good footy, probably the peak of my career to come ahead of me,” he said.

“And so I guess that part has been the hardest part to deal with. It’s something that I still struggle with. I wish I was able to go out there and run around and play sport with the boys.

“But I guess I’m incredibly lucky in the fact I have an identity other than football and I think that’s something that’s incredible important to develop outside of your sport, is an identity.”

Now 23, Clarke is studying aeronautical engineering.

The program highlighted a 2015 Australian study which surveyed 224 elite athletes after retirement and found mental health issues such as depression, eating disorders and general psychological distress were most common.

Former St Kilda, Sydney and Western Bulldogs forward Barry Hall, who also featured on the SBS program, said he had never thought about depression during his 289-game career but it hit him soon after his retirement in 2011 and he struggled with it for some time.

“Did I struggle after the sport finished? Absolutely,” Hall said.

“Just getting out of bed, (I had) nothing to get out of bed for anymore. So I really struggled. I didn’t answer mate’s phone calls, I was eating terribly, I was drinking heavily.

“It was a tough time. And look, I didn’t know it at that time but that was a form of depression. I didn’t know anything about it because we’re big, tough, burley men who don’t get depressed.”

So proud of Jase Clarke on @insightSBS tonight – sharing his story is painful but it helps so many others. Well done mate #legend

— Steele Tallon (@SteeleTallon) April 11, 2017

Knew about the Justin Clarke story when it happened @brisbanelions, but seeing him speak tonight… What an absolute legend. ?? #insightsbs

— Trent Copeland (@copes9) April 11, 2017

Blown away by Justin Clarke’s emotion while sharing his story on #insightsbs @brisbanelions
There’s more to life than sport ?

— Craig Moore (@Moore17C) April 11, 2017

Man, seeing Justin Clarke tear up, having been ripped out of the game due to concussion. So talented, so young #InsightSBS

— Davis Harrigan (@DeadlineDavis) April 11, 2017

Incredibly sad to hear Justin Clarke recount his sudden retirement from @AFL footy but glad he got to share his story. So brave #insightsbs

— Archie Bañez (@ABanez_31) April 11, 2017