From ‘poisoned chalice’ to back-to-back premierships: Cam Shepherd reflects on nine seasons with Peel Thunder

Aaron KirbyMandurah Coastal Times
Cam Shepherd.
Camera IconCam Shepherd. Credit: Daniel Wilkins/The Sunday Times

Cam Shepherd was warned on his first day there was every chance he would join Peel Thunder’s revolving door of coaches after signing on for his first WAFL gig in 2012.

Peel had had nine head coaches in 15 years at that point, with only one, Chris Waterman, lasting more than three seasons.

And it did not start well.

“We started off pretty bad, finishing last in my first year,” Shepherd said.

“I think in all honesty, when I joined it was a bit of a poisoned chalice to coach Peel Thunder; they’d had a lot of coaches in their first 15 years and came last eight times.

“There was a bit of a drinking culture when we started and close enough was good enough, so we had to change attitudes.”

Shepherd and his recruitment team went after professional, experienced players such as Gerald Ugle that would pull the culture along while improving on-field results.

And nine years later, it is all just history.

“Over time, we managed to develop our young ones and develop a relationship with Freo,” Shepherd said.

“It’s quite pleasurable to go from a perennial cellar dweller to, I think, respected in the comp.”

Departing Peel Thunder Coach Cam Shepherd.
Camera IconDeparting Peel Thunder Coach Cam Shepherd. Credit: Aaron Kirby/Coastal Times

There is no doubt the master plan peaked in 2016 and 2017 with seven straight finals victories, including two grand finals over powerhouses Subiaco.

“In the first stage we were just so desperate for success we never dreamt of winning two grand finals,” Shepherd said.

In 2016 Peel came from fourth to claim their maiden flag.

“We played very well in that first grand final and I thought we deserved that victory,” Shepherd said.

“It was groundbreaking because the club had never played in a grand final and it was just a great day.”

They reached the big dance from one place higher the following year but found themselves in trouble, 16 points behind in the third term with Zac Dawson out of the game and Josh Deluca hobbling with a cork.

“Subiaco came to play. I think they had 100 more possessions than us and 20 more inside 50s, but we kept them pretty wide,” Shepherd said.

“I knew Jarrad Schofield was livid and wild we won that game because all the stats indicate Subicao should have won, mind you; Zac Dawson got injured at the 15-minute mark and Deluca was struggling with a bad cork, so we were men short, and to the credit of the players we managed to get over the line.

“If we hadn’t won those two years, I think Subiaco would have won six straight.”

Cam Shepherd with Harley Bennell in 2018.
Camera IconCam Shepherd with Harley Bennell in 2018. Credit: Daniel Wilkins/The Sunday Times

COVID has left Peel Thunder high and dry over the past few seasons with their Fremantle alignment, meaning they can not recruit like other clubs, but it has given them the chance to play homegrown gems that has Shepherd feeling Peel are in a good space and ready for him to step away.

“Peel are really around the mark and in a good spot for the future,” he said.

“I think I would like to stay in football, but I don’t exactly know the role.”

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