Essendon coach James Hird stands proud with Dyson Heppell on draft night.
Essendon coach James Hird stands proud with Dyson Heppell on draft night.

This could change Tiger’s mind about Cats MCG finals

Playing in the AFL for the team you love is every footy fan's dream.

Sadly, in the cut-throat AFL industry it rarely happens. But that doesn't mean we can't imagine what the competition would look like if recruiting had an element of romance.

Toby Greene would be a Bomber, James Sicily would be patrolling half-back for the Bulldogs and childhood Geelong fan Trent Cotchin might change his mind about the Cats hosting home finals at the MCG.

Scroll down to see the teams we've picked made up of players who barracked for Essendon, Geelong, West Coast and the Western Bulldogs as kids. And check back all week as we reveal what more teams would look like if AFL (and AFLW) stars could pay for the team they grew up barracking for.

 

ESSENDON

It's not every day your AFL hero walks into your family's tent on a camping trip and says you'll get to play for your favourite team.

Even Dyson Heppell admitted "it was a bit weird" after his first meeting with new coach James Hird at the Burleigh Heads caravan park just before the 2010 draft.

"I've idolised James Hird since I was a kid and now to be playing under him and him as coach is just amazing," Heppell said at the time. "It was like a dream, it was just fantastic."

Heppell's dream continued to the becoming captain of the team he grew up supporting, so he gets the armband for this team of childhood Essendon fans.

And it's a strong side all over the ground, with a stellar spine and two premiership players on the interchange bench, plus the best player in the AFLW.

Another huge Hird fan was GWS star Toby Greene.

"I was obsessed with James Hird as a kid," he said in 2017. "I used to wear long sleeves to school because of him."

Full-back Harris Andrews had a different hero - 400-gamer Dustin Fletcher. We can see the resemblance.

Other former Bomber supporters we couldn't squeeze in include Riley Knight, Jarrod Berry and Essendon's top pick at last year's draft, Harrison Jones, plus retired champions Cyril Rioli, Matthew Scarlett and Andrew McLeod.

BOMBER FANS BEST 22

Team of players who grew up barracking for Essendon

B: Riley Bonner, Harris Andrews, Trent Dumont

HB: Emma Kearney, Ben Reid, Jack Billings

C: Steele Sidebottom, David Zaharakis, Mitch Duncan

HF: Jacob Townsend, Aaron Francis, Toby Greene

F: Jayden Laverde, Harry McKay, Jack Gunston

Ruck: Drew Petrie, Callan Ward, Dyson Heppell

Inter: Kane Lambert, Luke Dahlhaus, Maddy Prespakis, Brandon Matera

Emg: Dayne Beams, Will Setterfield, Cam Rayner

Coach: Kevin Sheedy

Assistant coach: James Hird

 

 

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GEELONG

Geelong has a couple of big advantages over other teams when it comes to recruiting.

One is the go-home factor for players who grew up in the region, and an added incentive is a lot of those players were also childhood Cats fans.

"I've been waiting all my life to pull on this guernsey," Patrick Dangerfield said after arriving in 2011.

"I am looking forward to going down to the Cats, they were the team I grew up barracking for," Cobden junior Gary Rohan said in 2018.

You get the idea. Although you don't have to be a local to grow up with blue and white in your veins, as Joel Selwood (Bendigo), Trent Cotchin (Reservoir) and Dale Thomas (Drouin) prove.

The Cats are also big fans of the father-son rule - Tom Hawkins can trace his Geelong heritage back three generations and nearly 100 years. After he kicked three goals against Carlton on debut, his mum Jennie said Tom was excited: "not because he played well but because Geelong won. You have to remember, he's an incredibly one-eyed Geelong supporter, just like the whole family.'' (she added he was "a polite young man with the right values").

 

Gary Ablett Jr in Geelong colours in 1996.
Gary Ablett Jr in Geelong colours in 1996.

But one father-son success is missing - Hall of Famer Matthew Scarlett, even though he grew up a drop punt from Kardinia Park.

"I loved Essendon," he recently confessed to the Herald Sun. "I remember being at the MCG watching the '93 premiership as a mad Essendon fan. I was a member for about 20 years. Even though I was a passionate Essendon man, I wanted to play for my home town so I was lucky, bloody lucky."

CAT FANS BEST 22

Team of players who grew up barracking for Geelong

B: Jake Lloyd, Mel Hickey, Lachie Ash

HB: Shaun Higgins, Max Rooke, Will Gould

C: Joel Selwood, Trent Cotchin, Nina Morrison

HF: James Worpel, Charlie Curnow, Oscar Brownless

F: Gary Rohan, Cameron Ling, Hugh Greenwood

Foll: Tom Hawkins, Patrick Dangerfield, Gary Ablett

Inter: Dale Thomas, Brent Harvey, Michael Barlow, Ben Cousins

 

WEST COAST

The Eagles had a trump card in its bid to land Tim Kelly in a mega trade with Geelong.

"I grew up barracking for West Coast," Kelly told the West Australian. But there was a catch.

"I was diehard until my favourite player, Chris Judd, left to go to the Blues. We all followed him and started supporting Carlton. After he retired I swung between the Eagles and the Blues but just became more of a footy fan after that."

If you were an AFL fan in WA between 1987 and 1995 there was one team to support.

Premiership Tiger Liam Baker grew up on a wheat and sheep farm in Pingaring, 333km from Perth (where he spent several weeks in isolation before a 3000km drive back to Punt Rd).

"I loved Daniel Kerr, number one," he said last year. "Then Ben Cousins and Chris Judd."

A team of childhood West Coast fans has the best onball division of any side in this series, featuring Nic Naitanui, Patrick Cripps (who has described himself as "mad Eagles growing up") and Kelly.

 

Tim Kelly was a childhood Eagles fan.
Tim Kelly was a childhood Eagles fan.

 

Chris Masten was let go by the Eagles after 215 games, but the one-eyed fan can't be left out of this side.

"I started working for the West Coast Eagles in 2004 in the team store. I sold more ponchos than anyone in history," he said after being delisted last year.

"And I end up leaving it having played a few games and most importantly won a premiership for this club that I have always loved."

EAGLES FANS BEST 22

Team of players who grew up barracking for West Coast

B: Liam Baker, Trent Rivers, Jordan Clark

HB: Connor Blakely, Chelsea Randall, Daniel Rich

C: Blake Acres, Stephen Coniglio, Chris Masten

HF: Dom Sheed, Travis Colyer, Sam Powell-Pepper

F: Jack Darling, Sabrina Frederick, Warren Tredrea

Foll: Nic Naitanui, Patrick Cripps, Tim Kelly

Inter: Deven Robertson, Simon Black, Andrew Swallow, Sharrod Wellingham

 

 

WESTERN BULLDOGS

Patrick Lipinksi was pinching himself when he watched his beloved Bulldogs claim the 2016 premiership.

Things got even more surreal two months later when he was drafted by the team he grew up supporting.

"I was just so ecstatic, I just couldn't believe (I was selected by the Bulldogs) to be honest," Lipinski said.

"It was amazing (Grand Final day) because when I was younger I wasn't sure I'd ever see a (premiership).

"It's a dream come true."

He could play alongside Dogs hero Brad Johnson (who also fulfilled his childhood dream on draft day) plus a host of stars from other clubs if AFL recruiting was based on which team players barracked for.

They say premiership teams are built on defence and this line-up is spoiled for choice for key defenders. James Sicily, Daniel Talia and Jake Carlisle all grew up barracking for the Dogs along with Jordan Roughead, who we have thrown into the ruck.

 

 

The Dogs have an advantage of strong father-son connections, but for Lachie Hunter the path wasn't straightforward. He barracked for Essendon - where his cousin Mark McVeigh played - until switching to the Dogs at age eight.

"Ever since I switched over to the Dogs I've always wanted to play for them and I was really rapt to end up here," he said.

BULLDOG FANS BEST 22

Team of players who grew up barracking for the Western Bulldogs

B: Fischer McAsey, Daniel Talia, Trent McKenzie

HB: Jake Carlisle, James Sicily, Zaine Cordy

C: Lachie Hunter, Kyle Langford, Patrick Lipinski

HF: Mitch Wallis, James Podsiadly, Zak Butters

F: Brad Johnson, Barry Hall, Rhylee West

Foll: Jordan Roughead, Tom Liberatore, Zach Merrett

Inter: Ned McHenry, Rohan Smith, Lukas Markovic, Ricky Olarenshaw

Coach: Kevin Bartlett

 

Originally published as This could change Tiger's mind about Cats MCG finals

Geelong fan Joel Selwood after being drafted by the Cats.
Geelong fan Joel Selwood after being drafted by the Cats.

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