NICK Franc is stand­ing out the back of his Beau­fort farm­house, 30km off the high­way to Bal­larat, ex­plain­ing how the Crouch broth­ers got to be so bloody good. Talk­ing back­bone and bush tough­ness when, right on cue, an­other icy blast of spring rain blows in from the west. “See, Cen­tral High­lands footy – when you’re play­ing in weather like this, it’s not open, free-flow­ing footy,” says Franc, a mem­ber of Beau­fort’s 1996 and most re­cent se­nior premier­ship side. “They’re heavy grounds, small grounds around here – spud fields, a lot of ’em, with that red mud you get in win­ter. “So she’s hard, con­tested footy. There’s nowhere to hide. “And those kids – even as 16year-olds play­ing se­nior footy against men – they never took a back­wards step.” Which is why the Sun­day Mail is here in Beau­fort, a for­mer gold­fields town in Victoria’s west – and home to 800 peo­ple, two pubs and a sin­gle set of traf­fic lights – to dis­cover how life chis­elled out Ade­laide’s boom mid­field duo, broth­ers Matt and Brad Crouch. Be­cause Beau­fort, folk­lore says, is where this young Crows pair – help­ing spear­head Ade­laide’s push to­wards a first grand fi­nal ap­pear­ance in 19 years – learnt their footy. Where, from the late 1990s, two tack­ers aged just 15 months apart – and dressed head-to-toe in the red, blue and gold of the Beau­fort Crows – would shadow their dad, Phil, a teacher at the town’s high school, as he coached the lo­cal footy team. And where, barely seven years ago, each had their first taste of se­nior foot­ball as teenagers, play­ing in the same Crows colours they would carry into their AFL ca­reers.

“But they’ve never ac­tu­ally lived here in Beau­fort,” says Phil, cur­rently serv­ing as the club’s foot­ball man­ager.

“I teach at the school here but we’ve al­ways lived in Bal­larat, so that’s where the boys played all their ju­nior footy.

“They grew up around the footy club with me, so they’d come along and ask me for money to buy a Coke and pie at the can­teen, they’d have their footy with them, and away they went.

“We’re not re­ally big on talk­ing to the me­dia so we’ve never re­ally said oth­er­wise. I think the boys are just happy enough to go along with the story that they’re from Beau­fort.

“To them, this is their footy club.”

And, for ev­i­dence, take last Saturday’s Cen­tral High­lands grand fi­nal at Bal­larat’s Mars Sta­dium.

It was an his­toric day for the club, bat­tling in both se­nior and re­serves grand fi­nals for the first time in 52 years.

This was an oc­ca­sion nei­ther brother could miss. So be­tween Ade­laide’s qual­i­fy­ing fi­nal win over Greater Western Syd­ney at Ade­laide Oval and a three­day train­ing camp on the Gold Coast, they won a leave pass for a fly­ing visit to Bal­larat to watch the de­ciders.

“They haven’t got their heads up their ar­ses,” fam­ily friend and long-time Beau­fort sup­porter Ross Day says.

“Phil and (mum) Deb­bie did a good job there. They haven’t changed. Back here, they’re just Brad and Matt.

“They en­joy their foot­ball and that’s what Phil al­ways said: ‘As long as they’re en­joy­ing their footy, that’s all that mat­ters’.”

This 2017 AFL sea­son has been a wa­ter­shed year for both broth­ers.

For Brad, now 23, his 18 games rep­re­sents a long-awaited vic­tory over nig­gling in­juries that had pre­vi­ously kept his im­mense po­ten­tial be­yond reach.

And for Matt, 22, his Al­lAus­tralian se­lec­tion de­fies doubt from an early age that he lacked the leg speed to reach the AFL level.

In a telling statis­tic ahead of Ade­laide’s cru­cial pre­lim­i­nary fi­nal against Gee­long on Friday night, the sib­lings have this year com­bined for more dis­pos­als in a sea­son than any set of broth­ers for as long as the AFL has kept those num­bers.

“We knew they would go places,” Day says.

“The knock on Matt was al­ways that he wasn’t quite quick enough. And Brad, we al­ways said he would win a Brown­low.

“You never know, it might turn out the other way around.”

Ask any­one who knew the Crouch boys be­fore they were on an AFL list and the yarns fol­low a com­mon theme.

Com­pet­i­tive. Com­bat­ive. De­ter­mined. Foot­ball, cricket, didn’t mat­ter.

Child­hood mate Mat Beg­bie re­mem­bers front-yard footy games in­volv­ing the Crouch pair and friends in­clud­ing for­mer Essendon player Nick O’Brien and Scott Spriggs, who has played SANFL with Glenelg.

“That was al­ways a pretty com­pet­i­tive en­vi­ron­ment,” Beg­bie grins.

“It was usu­ally Brad and Nick on to Matt and me.

“‘Nicko’ was cap­tain of the (North Bal­larat Rebels) TAC

PROUD: For­mer Beau­fort player and pres­i­dent Nick Franc.

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