Footy still a mainstay in Wheatbelt
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.”
Corrigin league players include former Fremantle Dockers player Brad Bootsma, fellow CBH officer Kaine Wright, Dustin MacGregor and Toby Smith.
Bruce Rock players at their final training session ahead of the grand final.