Footy still a main­stay in Wheat­belt

Countryman - - COUNTRY LIFE - Liam Croy

The AFL jug­ger­naut may have a few weeks to go be­fore the big one but in the Wheat­belt the stars and stal­warts of coun­try foot­ball played for sheep sta­tions.

Last week­end, hun­dreds of fans made their way to Narem­been for the grand fi­nal clash be­tween Bruce Rock and Cor­ri­gin in the Eastern District Foot­ball League.

A patch­work of green wheat and yel­low canola fields sep­a­rates the three neigh­bour­ing towns with fewer than 2500 res­i­dents be­tween them.

There were five other coun­try grand fi­nals on the same day, from Esper­ance to Fitzroy Cross­ing, where for­mer West­ern Bull­dogs player Zepha­niah Skin­ner led his Nookan­bah Blues against the Bayulu Bull­dogs.

Though some of the towns are shrink­ing, the pas­sion for foot­ball is a con­stant.

The teams are made up of mostly lo­cals, but some clubs hold train­ing ses­sions in Perth for their city­based con­tin­gent. Re­tired WAFL play­ers bol­ster the tal­ent and pro­fes­sion­al­ism of many clubs.

The foot­ball is more man-on­man than many fans have be­come ac­cus­tomed to in the AFL but that is hardly a crit­i­cism.

Af­ter an un­de­feated sea­son in the EDFL, the Bruce Rock Mag­pies were favourites to win their first premiership in 17 years.

Ban­ter and fri­vol­ity aside, the stakes were as high as they could be for two clubs with gen­er­a­tions of play­ers who have never won a grand fi­nal.

The black-and-whites lived up to their billing by edg­ing their op­po­nents 12.13 (90) to 9.9 (63).

For Mag­pies vet­eran Matthew “Dogga” Heas­man, 40, it had been one last chance at glory, and marked the per­fect end­ing to his ca­reer.

Heas­man left Bruce Rock to at­tend Hale School in Perth then re­turned to the town and the foot­ball club aged 18.

He was on a hol­i­day in Europe in his early 20s when the Mag­pies won their last premiership in 2000.

“I was still young, so I still thought I had plenty of time to have a win and it just hasn’t hap­pened,” Heas­man said.

“Last year was my first grand fi­nal at the age of 39, which we lost. I thought I’d go around one more year.”

There have been some dark days and win­less sea­sons since that flag but re­cent suc­cess has spurred him on. He has chil­dren play­ing foot­ball, so he will still be in­volved with the club.

“The older you get the harder it is to get up each week,” Heas­man said. “So, yeah, the win meant ev­ery­thing.”

The Tigers were led by play­er­coach Brad Bootsma, a for­mer Fremantle Docker and WA cap­tain, who kicked three goals in the fi­nal.

At 44, Bootsma must be one of CBH’s fittest work­ers.

But he has not missed the rig­or­ous struc­ture of AFL foot­ball, on and off the field.

“I said it to a bunch of kids the other day that the foot­ball I’ve en­joyed the most has been coun­try foot­ball,” Bootsma said.

“That’s more be­cause it’s about a com­mu­nity and all of those sorts of things, whereas AFL’s pretty much a busi­ness.”

Pic­tures: Sharon Smith

Cor­ri­gin league play­ers in­clude for­mer Fremantle Dock­ers player Brad Bootsma, fel­low CBH of­fi­cer Kaine Wright, Dustin MacGre­gor and Toby Smith.

Pho­tos avail­able at west­pix.com.au

Bruce Rock play­ers at their fi­nal train­ing ses­sion ahead of the grand fi­nal.

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