Bulldogs build flag on youth policy
TWO years ago Bunbury implemented a youth policy which saw 17 players make their league debuts.
The loss of players like Jesse Gribble, Marc Re, Jordan Adamson-Holmes, Sam Miles and Aidan Parker had bled the club dry of experience and they knew they had to turn it around.
A colts premiership in 2014 showed the young talent was strong, so the next year then-coach Ryan Pitts began to debut them at a cost of winning.
The 2015 season was not a good one on paper for Bunbury, winning just two of their 18 games. Of those 17 debutants, 11 played in Sunday’s 16-year drought breaking premiership.
Long-term president Tom Busher said the club had decided they would concentrate on the local talent to ensure the future of the club.
“We just really needed to get back to pushing the local talent and the youth,” he said.
“We had gone too far with the recruits from Perth.
“It was a case of we just needed two or three to top up the team as we have this year.”
Bunbury began to see the benefits of the youth-first policy last season when they made an elimination final, but their finals campaign was cut short in the first week.
Change was still to come for the Dogs, with Pitts stepping down as coach after six years due to personal reasons.
“We said maybe the boys need to hear a new voice,” Busher said.
“Pitts was still around the club all year and he has made a significant contribution to this (premiership).”
This allowed the club to bring 2001 Hayward Medallist Jamie Nani to the club.
At the time Nani credited the young list and its potential.
“I want to continue building the club and see these kids continue to develop and get senior heads around them,” Nani told the South Western Times last year.
“I thought the time was right to come back and try something new.
“Bunbury’s list is still very young but maybe that’s the exciting part, and they also seem to be building a good culture.”
Nani proved to be the right choice for the club, continuing the youth-first policy.
He added key defender Travis Justins, and the return of Aidan Clarke and Jordan Falco from Swan Districts added run and depth to the midfield.
Nani’s biggest coup came in the form of friend and former AFL player Brett Peake.
Not only was Peake’s talents perfect for the Dogs’ line-up, but his ability to work with the group and buy into the culture added to his worth.
Nani added experience to his coaching line-up and worked closely with strength and conditioning coach Peter Stokes to get his side at its fittest and most motivated.
Young forward Patrick Farrant was given the licence to show his aerial ability, so much so that he is now a smokey for the AFL draft.
Nani helped develop the likes of Kyle Bassett, Braiden McMullen, Blair Della Franca, Cullen Boyd and Connor Walker into strong league players.
Busher now believes the club is heading in the right direction and more success both on and off the field is still to come.
“If you get everyone rowing in the same direction, then you have a future,” he said.