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Tuesday, October 2, 2018

AFL grand final 2018: Fifteen boys from the bush, seven city slickers in West Coast Eagles’ premiership

If you’re hoping to spot West Coast players celebrating a premiership in the coming weeks, you won’t need an overseas flight — just fill your car with petrol, pack a tent and start driving.
This group of Eagles isn’t interested in the glitz of Las Vegas or the party towns in Europe. These players prefer small beaches, campfires and the smell of fresh country air.
Fifteen of West Coast’s premiership team are from country towns and they haven’t forgotten where they come from.
Instead of hobnobbing with celebrities after becoming a West Coast premiership captain, Shannon Hurn will be shearing sheep in Angaston, South Australia.
Lewis Jetta is planning a family camping holiday to Lancelin where they’ll build a bonfire and wash down a meal of kangaroo with a cup of tea.
Mark LeCras is eagerly anticipating a fishing trip to Cervantes, while Northampton pair Jamie Cripps and Josh Kennedy have booked holidays at Horrocks Beach. Kennedy bought a block of land there in 2007, built a house and couldn’t imagine going anywhere else.
“Horrocks Beach is the greatest place on earth,” Kennedy said.
“I love it up there. There’s not many people. It’s a nice little bay that’s reasonably protected, so it’s good for the kids with swimming.
“You can camp in the bush, go four-wheel driving, fishing and surfing. It’s got everything you need.”
Joining them in the country crew are Dom Sheed (Kalgoorlie), Jack Redden (Keith), Nathan Vardy (Yarram), Jeremy McGovern (Albany), Tom Cole (Bendigo), Scott Lycett (Thevenard), Liam Duggan (Bacchus Marsh), Willie Rioli (Tiwi Islands) and Liam Ryan (Geraldton).
Will Schofield is from Newtown, near Geelong, which can be considered regional.
Hurn said the country upbringing aided his development.
“Country life has always been community-biased,” Hurn said.
“You always have a bit more time before, during and post-school so you’re running around kicking the footy and riding motorbikes. That can help your skills and problem-solving abilities. Country people go with the flow and I think that helps a little bit, too.”
The Eagles are fiercely loyal to their home towns. Duggan’s phone ran hot after Bacchus Marsh’s reserves team won the premiership.
When Sheed’s former club, Mines Rovers, played in the Goldfields Football League grand final, he spent the day monitoring scores online and cheering his former team to the flag.
This year’s grand final hero made his senior debut for the Rovers at just 13 and remembers earning every kick.
“Country footy is ruthless, but that’s how you learn the best,” Sheed said.
“I really enjoyed it. It definitely helped my footy, especially in the early stages of my career. I was getting hit by big bodies and the pace of the game was pretty quick.”
Many of Sheed’s teammates have similar stories.
Lycett played for Thevenard at 14, Redden and McGovern were 15 when they first tasted senior football, while LeCras and Kennedy were 16.
Kennedy wanted to play earlier but his mum refused. She would have felt justified after an older opponent slung him to ground on debut and he ended up with a broken hand.
“I got rag-dolled,” Kennedy laughed.
LeCras’ passion for Cervantes meant he played colts football with West Perth on a weekly permit to retain his eligibility for senior finals. The veteran Eagle is proud that he is a premiership player for both the Eagles and Cervantes.
“You’ve got that footy loyalty to your home town,” LeCras said.
“There’s rivalries. I had the opportunity to play colts but I had a lot of mates up there and wanted to play with them.
“I’m not sure West Perth was all that happy about it at the time but there were guys who helped to shape me as a player and I looked up to them.”
Country pubs were filled with people who had a big influence on the Eagles’ players on grand final day. They never forget their people.
Cripps said though the players had been taken from the country, the country would never be taken from them.
“If you ever want to go and do something, there’s always a bloke who wants to do it with you,” he said.
“When we have a day off, there’s usually about eight blokes out there mucking around.
“That’s what happens when you’re from the country.”