It’s time for country folk to get their kicks

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Liam CroyThe West Australian
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VideoBruce Rock and Corrigin will face off in the Eastern District Football League Grand Final on Sunday

The AFL juggernaut has ground to a halt this weekend but in the Wheatbelt the stars and stalwarts of country football are playing for sheep stations.

Tomorrow, hundreds of fans will make their way to Narembeen, 285km east of Perth, for the grand final clash between Bruce Rock and Corrigin in the Eastern District Football League.

A patchwork of green wheat and yellow canola fields separates the three neighbouring towns with fewer than 2500 residents between them.

There are five other country grand finals happening today, from Esperance to Fitzroy Crossing, where former Western Bulldogs player Zephaniah Skinner will lead his Nookanbah Blues against the Bayulu Bulldogs.

Though some of the towns are shrinking, the passion for football is a constant.

The teams are made up of mostly locals, but some clubs hold training sessions in Perth for their city-based contingent.

Retired WAFL players bolster the talent and professionalism of many clubs.

The football is more man-on-man than what fans have become accustomed to in the AFL but that is hardly a criticism.

Bruce Rock players gather for their final training.
Camera IconBruce Rock players gather for their final training. Credit: The West Australian

After an undefeated season in the EDFL, the Bruce Rock Magpies are favourites to win their first premiership in 17 years.

They were already talking through the ground rules of Mad Monday in the change rooms after training on Wednesday night.

Banter and frivolity aside, the stakes are as high as they get for two clubs with generations of players who never won a grand final.

For Magpies veteran Matthew “Dogga” Heasman, 40, this is one last chance at glory.

Heasman left Bruce Rock to attend Hale School in Perth then returned to the town and the football club aged 18.

He was on a holiday in Europe in his early 20s when the Magpies won their last premiership in 2000.

“I was still young so I still thought I had plenty of time to have a win and it just hasn’t happened,” Heasman said.

“Last year was my first grand final at the age of 39 which we lost. I thought I’d go around one more year.”

There have been some dark days and winless seasons since that flag but recent success has spurred him on.

He has children playing football so he will still be involved with the club.

A win tomorrow would be the perfect ending to his career.

“That’s what you play for, the ultimate prize,” Heasman said.

“Until last year I’d never even played in a grand final,” Heasman said.

“Realistically five or six years ago I never thought I’d get that chance again because the older you get the harder it is to get up each week.

“So, yeah, it would mean everything.”

The Magpies have beaten their rivals to the south three times this year by margins of 48, 46 and 47 points.

Despite those big losses, there is a lot of belief among the Tigers, led by player-coach Brad Bootsma, a former Fremantle Docker and WA captain.

At 44, Bootsma must be one of CBH’s fittest workers. But he has not missed the rigorous structure of AFL football, on and off the field.

“I said it to a bunch of kids the other day that the football I’ve enjoyed the most has been country football,” Bootsma said.

“That’s more because it’s about a community and all of those sorts of things, whereas AFL’s pretty much a business.”

Bootsma is confident his team can reverse their form against Bruce Rock with a few minor tweaks.

Teammate Kaine Wright, another CBH worker, predicts a repeat of their 2012 boilover win against Kulin-Kondinin.

Past players from the club’s 2012, 1996 and 1976 premiership sides will be barracking from the sidelines.

”We weren’t supposed to win that one either but we had a team a bit like we do now,” Wright said.

”Just determined, good mates and we played as a team.”

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