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Cup side at the time, but we’re playing this game and there was a hard ball there to be won. Long story short, ‘Nicko’ ended up missing a TAC Cup game with a corky.”
The pair’s trademark physical game style was honed from an early age – usually at each others’ expense, and wherever there was room to move.
“Oh, they were always belting shit out of each other,” Rebels talent manager Phil Partington says.
“Phil and Debbie tell the story about how the boys would put a footy in the middle of the loungeroom and then they’d go back to opposite ends.
“They’d race in to get the footy and the aim was to get a handball out before one tackled the other.
“That’s the way they were. Playing in the Ballarat league when they were young, there would’ve been a lot of contested ball. Being the competitive beasts they are, they would’ve liked to have been the person to dig the ball out of the mud and hand it back to the umpires.
“That would’ve been drilled into them by Phil.”
Phil Crouch was coaching the Beaufort Crows in 2010 when he made the decision to give eldest son Brad, then 16 and playing with North Ballarat in Victoria’s elite under-age system, a run in country senior footy.
“The first reason was, they both wanted to,” Phil says. “They felt they could handle it.
“If they weren’t up to it you could see fairly quickly and I would’ve pulled the pin on it, but they enjoyed it.
“I played my first game of senior footy at 15. It doesn’t happen a lot now but you hear about guys like (Brisbane Lions legend) Jonathan Brown who played senior footy when they were 15 or 16.
“At the end of it I had this idea that when they went back to the TAC Cup that year of playing against the bigger bodies probably wasn’t a bad thing for them later on.”
Franc, who would coach Matt Crouch during the younger brother’s first season of senior football in 2011, says it was evident early that Brad was destined for more than a country or suburban career.
“I remember one game against Daylesford, Brad was only 16,” Franc says.
“It was a wet, heavy day at Beaufort. Daylesford were the reigning premiers and Brad went head to head in the middle with the league medallist at the time.
“Brad’s gone and kicked five goals – so that’s when we knew.
“Because every town’s got a couple, haven’t they? Kids that could be anything. You know they’ve got ability, but until you’ve seen them against men you just don’t know if they’re going to go on with it.
“When you see one do what Brad did that day, that’s when you go ‘oh, shit’.” The reaction was the same from 246-game Collingwood great Shane O’Bree, Beaufort’s longest-serving AFL export, who lined up alongside Matt Crouch when he returned to his home town for a one-off game in 2011 following his 2010 retirement.
“I knew about the Crouch boys – their father had taught me in secondary college,” O’Bree says.
“I just remember this young bloke at the bottom of the packs, feeding me (the ball) all day.
“I was taking full advantage of it because I wasn’t going in to get hurt, that’s for sure. But Matt was right in there, handballing it out every time.
“You could see then he was a contested beast and he still is now.”
Franc says the Crouch brothers’ Beaufort connection and success on the national stage sets a beaming example for youngsters in the town.
“It gives you something to hang your hat on, that as a football club you’re setting up an environment that allows these kids to come through if they’re good enough,” he says.
“That’s the best thing – it shows the kids we’ve got at the club now that if they work hard and do the right thing, they can make it to the AFL, too.”
And while the Crouch brothers remain in the hunt for an AFL premiership that would break Adelaide’s 19-year silverware drought, there was no fairytale ending for their beloved Beaufort Crows in 2017.
Both the seniors and reserves lost their deciders, the B Grade losing by eight points to Buninyong before the A Grade fell 18 points short of Hepburn. ADELAIDE is gearing up to host its biggest AFL match in a decade when the Crows play Geelong in the first preliminary final on Friday night.
The return of former teammate Patrick Dangerfield and Adelaide’s quest to break a 19year title drought could threaten the Adelaide Oval attendance record of 54,468, held by the 2015 August Showdown.
Dangerfield, the Crows’ club champion in his final year of 2015, will receive a hot reception since he tongue-incheek labelled life in his former city “not that good” after kicking four goals in Friday night’s semi-final win against Sydney at the MCG.
Tourism Minister Leon Bignell said drawing Geelong as Adelaide’s opponent was “a good result” because its fans were closer to Adelaide.
“They’ll jump in their cars and drive over, through all those towns and spend money all the way along,” he said.
Mr Bignell said his department would send information about South Australian attractions to Geelong Football Club tomorrow to pass on to members.
“We can give them some examples of good two-day itineraries, or ideas to get out to the wine regions,” he said.
“It’s going to be great to be in SA this week and hopefully next week, too.”
Australian Hotels Association SA general manager Ian Horne said that Friday would be an “extraordinary night” for Adelaide businesses.
“The reality is accommodation will be at a premium because demand will be extraordinarily high,” he said.
“If they (Adelaide properties) don’t reach capacity, they will get very close.”
Mr Horne said there would be a flow-on effect for restaurants, cafes and pubs — and not just in the city.
“Anyone with a big-screen TV (and) every country pub will have a great opportunity to host a preliminary final night,” he said. “It will be a good lead into summer.”
Tickets go on sale tomorrow for the first preliminary final SA has hosted since Port Adelaide defeated the Kangaroos at AAMI Stadium in 2007.
Crows’ and Geelong members will have first access to tickets during a priority sale period from 9am to 1pm.
Tickets will then go on sale to the general public from 2pm.
Tickets are available from Ticketek online, over the phone (132 849) or in person at an agency. For a list of local agencies, visit premier.ticket ek.com.au
REUNITED: Matt and Brad Crouch in 2014, the first season they played together at the Crows, and below, wearing their North Melbourne jumpers – the team they barracked for as youngsters.
Main picture: SARAH REED