You won’t meet a more grounded or wise footballer than Burleigh Bears halfback Jamal Fogarty and it is his work away from the playing arena with disadvantaged youth that has given him perspective about the rugby league rollercoaster he's experienced.
Fogarty will be one of the key men for the Bears in Sunday’s Intrust Super Cup grand final at Dolphin Stadium after a stellar season where he has showcased his craft with style and professionalism.
The 25-year-old signed with the Parramatta Eels in 2017 on a two-year deal but came home to the Gold Coast for family reasons before he got the chance to show his wares in the NRL.
There was a silver lining in his return when he signed an NRL contract with the Gold Coast Titans and played two games against Wests Tigers and Sydney Roosters, but he was not utilised in 2018 when Garth Brennan took over as head coach.
Away from footy Fogarty is a youth worker with the Gold Coast Youth Justice Service, where every day he gets a first-hand view of what real hardship is. He said his work had made him a more rounded person and footballer.
"I work with kids from all kinds of backgrounds that have often had a traumatic and extremely tough home life and are in and out of custody," Fogarty said.
"We try and give them a bit of insight and life experience to try and keep them on track and to understand that while things might be tough at the moment, if you work hard you can come out the end of it.
"As footballers we beat ourselves up if we lose a game, if we don’t train too well or if we get injured, but the kids I work with have issues that are way bigger every single hour of the day and night as a result of events that are beyond their control.
"They could be sleeping in the bushes and not have a home to go to at all. I might complain about having steak for dinner but they don’t have any food or even hot water for a shower. That really balances me out as a footballer and has played a massive part in how I approach my football these days."
That is why Fogarty didn’t kick stones when he came back from the Eels early in 2017. His dream of continuing his NRL career is still alive, but he is not tossing and turning at night worrying that it may not come.
"If I worry about that I don’t think that the opportunity will come. We have a philosophy at Burleigh where if you just put your head down and bum up, and work hard, the rugby league gods will tap you on the shoulder when your time has come,” Fogarty said.
"In the mean time you’ve got to keep putting in consistent performances. If the opportunity did come up I would take it with both hands, but I have a job to do with Burleigh."
Fogarty has a young family and does not regret his decision to leave Sydney. It was a case of having the right priorities.
"It was just family stuff to be honest. At the time I was 23 and me and my missus didn’t have family and friends down there," Fogarty said.
"We had two little girls under two-and-a-half. It was quite tough and I had to have that ‘family first’ mentality and put them before myself."
Instead of viewing his Eels experience as an opportunity lost, Fogarty is more interested in the knowledge he gained.
"When I went down to Parra I learned how to tackle properly," Fogarty said.
"Being a small half on the edge teams target you and when I went to Parra I wasn’t the best defender. That club is big on first-up contact and drill after drill you had big bodies running at you and you had to get good at tackling. I learned a whole lot at Parra about tackling and game management. Those learnings are still showing in my game now. I put those details in my own game and keep tampering with it until I get my own groove."
Burleigh coach Jimmy Lenihan has watched his star half take his game to another level this year. Lenihan is certain Fogarty can return to an NRL system and flourish.
"I think Jamal is someone who is perfect for a top 30 in any NRL club. He’s got the perfect skill-set - he can run and kick, he has great communication and his organisational skills are outstanding," Lenihan said.
"At the moment the NRL rewards potential, but he is someone who has worked through his potential and deserves the opportunity to go to the next level.
“He has done a really good job defensively this year. We have just focused this year on him defending well and running the ball and those other parts of his game that come naturally to him have blossomed as a result."
Fogarty said he was driven by Lenihan and the coaching staff to never take his position for granted.
"There is no room for complacency. If you don’t improve and evolve as a player then they are happy to give someone else an opportunity who is willing to do that," he said.
"I have that drive to maintain my spot in the Cup team."
Fogarty’s immaculate kicking game was on show in Burleigh’s preliminary final win over Sunshine Coast. He is an outstanding game manager and light on his feet in a way that former Titans captain Scott Prince was in his illustrious career. Fogarty was in the Titans youth system when Prince was winding up his career and said he had admired the 2005 premiership winner’s play.
The Burleigh half, who played touch and Oz Tag growing up, has taken the best aspects of halves he watches across the game and is not too proud to learn off the young guns in his squad.
"We have a few little freaks running around in the under 20s and I watch some of the stuff they do at training and I think 'man, I need to learn how to do that' because they are cutting our edges and middles up,” Fogarty said.
“I try and pick up little things from individual games that I think would work well for me and try and embed it in myself."
Fogarty won the 2016 premiership with a core of Burleigh teammates that are still on board. He knows what it is like to taste success and wants to taste it again.
"We are a completely different team to 2016 and there are guys who haven’t played in grand finals and we want to make the most of it for them, for ourselves and our club and coaching staff," Fogarty said.
"We rock up in November for pre-season wanting to be there in the grand final the next year. We have put in all the hard work. We are there, but the job is not done.
"We can’t be complacent and just be happy to be there. We want to compete against the best and hopefully we can do that against an awesome Wynnum team on Sunday."
Match: WM Seagulls v Bears
Grand Final -
Venue: Dolphin Stadium, Brisbane