Friday, 24th June, 2011
The club was jam packed with legitimate superstars such as Cousins, Chris Judd, Glen Jakovich, and current champion Dean Cox and had missed the finals only twice in the previous 13 years.
The Eagles were winners and I remember feeling over the moon when they drafted me.
Growing up I was a Carlton fan, but in my teenage years when my AFL dream was looking possible, I decided I really wanted to be drafted by the West Coast. I’d never been to Perth and WA was a footy state so I thought it would be a great challenge.
Sure it was tough early on - it always is when you move away from family and friends - but I consoled myself with the thought that my loved ones and others important to me were only a phone call away.
I made a habit of trying to turn the negatives into positives. If I was feeling isolated I would jump in the car and head to one of the magnificent beaches in Perth and marvel at the natural beauty.
The famous Margaret River wine growing district was also a short drive away and I’d escape the hustle and bustle of the city with a quick trip there, which also helped me acquire a taste for fine red wine.
Most of all though, it was 72-year-old Kathleen Keating - my local host Mum - who helped me settle in. She was a terrific mentor.
Sadly, I was the first and last footballer she helped in this way. She had five kids of her own and when they had all grown up and left the family home Kathleen decided to help out the Eagles and took me under her wing.
I was privileged to have two years under her roof and soon after I moved out Kathleen sadly passed away.
I have some great memories from my time with Kathleen. She would always give me a clip behind the ear if I tried to lick my knife at the dinner table and whenever I asked if I could bring a guest home for a meal it was never a problem. “I’ll throw another cup of water in the stew so we have enough to eat,” she’d laugh.
Then there was the time she made me sit through the classic movie “Gone with the Wind”. It didn’t mean a lot to me at the time, but now I cherish that memory.
My own parents, Allen and Rosemary, also played an invaluable role during those early days - even if they were on the other side of the country.
Dad was always a steadying influence, reminding me to keep my head down and do what the coaches told me. “Don’t get too far ahead of yourself”, was his message down the phone line more often than not.
Despite the distance factor, Mum could always tell how I was travelling emotionally. Just from my voice she immediately knew if I was up or down, whether I was tired or not.
“Just keep John Worsfold (head coach) happy”, she’d advise, “and do your best”.
I really enjoyed “Woosher” Worsfold as a coach. You may have heard the story/myth that he came up to me at training one day early in my career and said; “I’ve got some good news and some bad news for you.
“The good news is that I think you are talented enough to take over at centre-half-back from (club legend and renowned tough man) Glen Jakovich - the bad news is that you have to go and tell HIM that”!
I can’t say that is 100 per cent how it happened, but the origins of the myth are along similar lines and don’t want the truth to get in the way of a good story.
In next week’s BDT we’ll bring you the story behind Brent Staker’s move from Perth to Brisbane and how Aussie Rules is judged in the rugby league heartland of Queensland.